In March 2015, the quiet town of Vallejo, California, was shaken by a harrowing incident that would later be compared to the plot of the hit thriller Gone Girl. The victim, Denise Huskins, endured a traumatic kidnapping and sexual assault, only to face an even more nightmarish ordeal when law enforcement cast doubt on her story, drawing parallels to the fictional events depicted in the 2014 David Fincher film.
The Netflix true-crime series American Nightmare delves into the shocking details of Huskins’ abduction and the aftermath that unfolded as investigators mistakenly connected her case to the twisted tale of Gone Girl. In episode two, aptly titled ‘Gone Girl’, viewers witness Huskins reliving the disbelief of her release, only to find herself accused and interrogated by the police as a suspect in her own kidnapping.
Matthew Muller, a disbarred Harvard-trained attorney and ex-Marine, broke into Denise Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn’s home in Vallejo, drugged them and took Huskins to the Tahoe area, where he raped Huskins before releasing her two days later in Southern California near her father’s home. Huskins was initially afraid that she wouldn’t survive the ordeal.
Huskins and Quinn recounted the nightmare to authorities. However, the police, unable to believe the extraordinary details, initially leaned towards dismissing the incident as a hoax. As the investigation progressed, the media and an FBI agent began drawing connections to the popular movie, further complicating the search for the truth.
The parallels to Gillian Flynn’s story Gone Girl were unsettlingly reinforced when Vallejo police spokesperson Lt. Kenny Park publicly accused the couple of orchestrating the entire event. The media seized on this narrative, with headlines echoing the association with the film, perpetuating the belief that Huskins and Quinn were real-life counterparts to Amy and Nick Dunne, who were portrayed on screen by Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck.
Huskins’ lawyer, Doug Rappaport, revealed in the documentary that an FBI agent explicitly referenced the movie during an interview with Huskins, questioning the authenticity of her account. Rappaport recalled in the documentary American Nightmare that an FBI agent interviewing him asked blatantly, “‘Haven’t you seen the movie Gone Girl?’’” Rappaport was left stunned, “How could this person who has been charged with investigating this crime think that it is like a Ben Affleck movie? That’s Hollywood. This is real life.” Rappaport added, “He is so sure that he is right – it’s called confirmation bias.”
Despite the scepticism and false accusations, the actual perpetrator, Muller, was eventually apprehended and convicted, thanks to the persistence of investigators like Sgt. Misty Carausu. In 2018, Huskins and Quinn received a $2.5 million settlement from the city of Vallejo, though none of the involved police officers faced disciplinary action.
American Nightmare is yet another reflection of the poor state of law and order in the country that has seen a rampant increase in police violence, misogynistic policies, and wrongful convictions over the years.
Huskins noted in a 2021 interview with People magazine, “When I was kidnapped, I didn’t know if I was going to live to see another day. And then to have people attacking you on social media, the whole ‘Gone Girl’ label – a whole persona was placed on me that had nothing to do with who I am. I don’t know what needs to happen to me… to happen to any woman to be believed.”
You can watch American Nightmare as well as David Fincher’s Gone Girl on Netflix now.