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What’s the True Story Behind the Docuseries ‘American Nightmare’?

American Nightmare sheds light on the disturbing reality behind the so-called ‘Gone Girl’ case, a story that mirrors the plot of a popular film in an almost inexplicable way. When Denise Huskins disappeared in 2015, comparisons were quickly drawn to “Gone Girl,” a movie released just six months prior.

In Gone Girl, actors Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck play a couple, Amy and Nick, caught in a web of lies and deceit. Nick is unfaithful, and when Amy goes missing after a break-in, suspicion falls on him. However, Amy’s eventual return with a fabricated story of kidnapping and assault only deepens the mystery.

American Nightmare, a new documentary on Netflix, examines the true story of Huskins, exploring the damaging effects of false hoax accusations and the critical issue of police bias in handling such cases.

What happened to Denise Huskins?

Denise Huskins vanished from her shared California home with her boyfriend Aaron Quinn in March 2015. Quinn’s report to the police the next day described a bizarre home invasion involving multiple assailants and a ransom demand, with instructions not to involve the police.

Media attention quickly turned to Quinn as the suspect. However, the situation became even more complex when Huskins reappeared at her mother’s house, reporting that she had been abducted and assaulted. The police, instead of supporting her, cast doubt on her story.

The police were openly skeptical of Quinn’s initial report, expressing frustration over the resources used in what they believed was a false alarm. The narrative of a hoax gained traction, leaving the public puzzled about the couple’s motivations. The case took a dramatic turn when the actual kidnapper reached out to the media, annoyed at the misrepresentation of the crime. He provided proof of Huskins’ abduction, contradicting the hoax theory.

What happened to Matthew Muller?

What's the True Story Behind the Docuseries 'American Nightmare'?

The breakthrough in the case came with the arrest of Matthew Muller, a former lawyer, for a different crime. Evidence found later connected Muller to Huskins’ kidnapping, revealing his elaborate scheme involving surveillance, drugging, and deception. Muller was eventually convicted and sentenced to 40 years for the kidnapping.

American Nightmare aptly describes Huskins and Quinn’s ordeal. Huskins, in her role as a physical therapist, spoke about the relief and professional validation following Muller’s capture. Quinn highlighted the interim period’s difficulties, emphasizing the stigma of being labeled a hoaxer.

Despite the ordeal, Huskins and Quinn have moved forward, starting a family with two daughters. In 2018, Huskins and Quinn won a defamation lawsuit against the City of Vallejo, securing a settlement of US$2.5 million.

Discussing the documentary American Nightmare with People, Quinn, who underwent a grueling 18-hour interrogation by the police, expressed his hope that viewers would understand the true nature of their ordeal. He emphasized the bizarre aspect of the case was not the kidnapping itself, but the complete lack of proper investigation by the police. Quinn pointed out that all the necessary evidence to apprehend Muller and other involved parties was present from the start, but the police’s confirmation bias and tunnel vision led to inaction. He asserted that solving the case didn’t require extraordinary detective skills, just basic police work.

The documentary American Nightmare includes comprehensive interviews with Huskins and Quinn, shedding light on the unwarranted condemnation they faced from the police and the public. It features audio and video clips of the intense interrogations they underwent by both local law enforcement and the FBI. Later episodes of the series include insights from a former detective who played a role in Muller’s arrest, drawing parallels between the tactics used in Huskins and Quinn’s case and those employed in another home invasion by Muller.

American Nightmare is now available for streaming on Netflix starting January 17.

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