Denise Huskins claims that when she was released on March 25, 2015, by one of the men who had kidnapped her two days before, the last thing she thought about was making sure everything she had gone through sounded plausible. However, almost immediately after reaching safety, Huskins, then 29, realised she had returned not only to a media frenzy, but also to a swarm of law enforcement officers keen on demonstrating she had pulled a real-life Gone Girl.
Huskins and her now-husband Aaron Quinn explain how their lives spiralled out of control when Huskins was stolen from Quinn’s Vallejo, Calif., home early on March 23, 2015. Over the next 48 hours, police shifted from blaming Huskins’ disappearance on her then-boyfriend Quinn to framing Huskins as the perpetrator of a scheme similar to the bogus abduction at the heart of David Fincher’s 2014 thriller Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling 2012 novel of the same name.
The three-part documentary, directed by Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins of The Tinder Swindler, combines interviews, interrogation footage, and audio recordings to tell the story of Huskins and Quinn, who became a harrowing example of what can happen when the justice system fails victims of crime.
The first two episodes of American Nightmare are narrated by Quinn and Huskins, who separately recount how the night Huskins was kidnapped and the days that followed from their viewpoints.
Both parties recollect being awakened in the middle of the night by a brilliant light and the voice of a man warning them that there was at least one intruder in Quinn’s home.
The pair was bound, blindfolded, and sedated, and Huskins was driven away from the house in the trunk of Quinn’s car, while Quinn was left there to await additional instructions on how to deliver a ransom. He was also informed that a camera was watching his movements and that if he called the police, the kidnappers would kill Huskins.
In “Part One: The Boyfriend,” Quinn discusses how he became a suspect in the case, including how investigators did not trust his story for Denise’s disappearance. Footage from Quinn’s conversation with Vallejo Detective Mathew Mustard shows Mustard telling Quinn that he does not believe his narrative and implying that Quinn killed Huskins in a domestic violence fight and disposed of her body. After 18 hours of police interrogation, Quinn’s brother Ethan engaged Dan Russo, an attorney, to secure his release from detention and represent him going forward.
During Quinn’s detention, as he had warned authorities, the kidnappers attempted to contact him via email and phone regarding the ransom. However, cops had switched his phone to aeroplane mode.
Meanwhile, as Huskins recalls in “Part Two: Gone Girl,” her kidnappers confined her in an isolated area. The one man she spoke with revealed that he was an ex-military and a member of a criminal organisation that involved three other people. He also stated that the intended target of the kidnapping was Quinn’s ex-fiancée, Andrea Roberts, who had lived at Quinn’s house until the previous September and resembled Huskins. Huskins was raped again in the next 48 hours by her kidnapper, who videotaped the crimes.
She was finally liberated 400 miles from Vallejo, near the Huntington Beach neighbourhood where she grew up, with no ransom paid. She then went to her father’s house, where she was allowed to enter a neighbor’s home after discovering that her father was not present. The same day she was released, Vallejo Police claimed that the abduction seemed to be a “orchestrated event and not a kidnapping,” forcing Huskins to hire her own lawyer, defence attorney Doug Rappaport.
“Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins have plundered valuable resources away from our community and taken the focus away from the true victims of our community while instilling fear among our community members,” Vallejo police spokeswoman Lt. Kenny Park said during a press conference. “So, if anything, it is Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins that owe this community an apology.”
Apparently feeling bad about how Huskins was treated by law authorities and the media, the kidnappers emailed repeated messages to the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming that the pair was telling the truth. The emails contained images that confirmed elements of Huskins’ story.
“We cannot stand to see two good people thrown under the bus by the police and media, when Ms. Victim F (Huskins) and Mr. Victim M (Quinn) should have received only support and sympathy,” the message said. “We are responsible for the victims’ suffering and the least we can do is come forward to prove they are not lying.”