THE MOST RECENT true-crime documentary to hit Netflix is American Nightmare, a compelling three-part series which recounts how the police investigation into an abduction turned into a media circus in which the victim herself was accused of faking her own kidnapping.
On March 23, 2015, Denise Huskins and her then-boyfriend Aaron Quinn were sleeping at Quinn’s home in Vallejo, California, when they were awoken by an intruder who shone a bright light in their eyes so that they couldn’t be identified. They were both bound and blindfolded, and Huskins was abducted. The kidnapper told Quinn to await ransom instructions.
However, when Quinn eventually freed himself and called 911 to report the kidnapping the next day, police did not believe his story. Instead, he became the prime suspect in Huskins’ disappearance: Episode 1 of American Nightmare includes CCTV footage of his interrogation in which Detective Mathew Mustard accuses Quinn of killing Huskins and disposing of the body. The kidnappers tried to contact Quinn to arrange a ransom and Huskins’ return, but during this time Quinn was in custody, and the police had seized his phone.
Two days later and 400 miles away, Huskins was set free by her abductor without any ransom having been paid, and made her way to her father’s home. What followed was a media frenzy, and the idea soon spread that Huskins had pulled a “real life Gone Girl,” referencing the Gillian Flynn novel which became a pop culture phenomenon when it was adapted into a David Fincher movie. The plot of Gone Girl (spoiler alert) hinges on the female protagonist staging her own murder and framing her husband.
Episode 2 of the docuseries focuses on events from Huskins’ perspective, and includes her account of being held against her will in a remote location for 48 hours, where she was raped twice by her kidnapper, who filmed the assaults. He informed Huskins that he was working with accomplices, that the real target had been Quinn’s ex-fiancée Andrea Roberts, and that Huskins had been taken by mistake.
Once she was released, Huskins then found herself faced with accusations of orchestrating the entire thing, with various theories painting her as either a conniving criminal, or a victim of a violent boyfriend—both of which Huskins and Quinn vehemently denied.
It was only after Huskins and Quinn had been demonized in the press that the kidnapper came forward, contacting the press to corroborate their version of events. Then in June 2015, the kidnapper struck again, attempting a home invasion that was thwarted. He left his phone behind, and this evidence led to the arrest of Matthew Muller, a former Marine, which substantiated Huskins’ assertion that her kidnapper had told her he was ex-military.
Muller pled guilty to kidnapping for ransom, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Later charges were also brought against him for Huskins’ false imprisonment and sexual assault.
Huskins and Quinn, now married, maintain that Muller did not act alone—but to this day, he is the only perpetrator charged.
Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.