VALLEJO, Calif. — Imagine a film in which a woman is kidnapped and held for three days. But when she is freed, police question her story. Publicly. Before the media.
Not really a believable premise, right?
Yet, if the authorities now have their facts straight, that appears to be just what happened to a California woman named Denise Huskins.
Accused in the case is Matthew Muller, who an FBI affidavit says is a former Marine and former attorney who attended Harvard Law. Muller was charged Monday with one count of kidnapping in the case.
Crime not reported for 12 hours
The story began March 23. Huskins’ boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, telephoned police shortly before 2 p.m. He reported that several people had broken into his home in Vallejo, California, about 12 hours earlier, kidnapped his girlfriend and stolen his car.
He had not reported the crime earlier, he said, because the kidnappers drugged him before leaving. Rather considerately, the kidnappers had checked his blood pressure before administering the drug.
In the home, police found thin strips of red duct tape on the floor — allegedly put there by the kidnappers to show Quinn what boundaries he could not cross — and a security camera the kidnappers allegedly installed to watch him.
On the morning of March 25, Huskins telephoned her father from a neighbor’s house where she said she had just been dropped off. She had been released unharmed.
To Vallejo police, the story did not add up.
“We know that the statement Mr. Quinn provided was such an unbelievable story we initially had a hard time believing it and, upon further investigation, were not able to substantiate any of the things he was saying,” Vallejo Police Lt. Kenny Park said at the time.
He called the case a “wild goose chase” that had wasted police resources.
Park’s contention that the kidnapping was not authentic “sparked national attention,” the FBI affidavit notes. Essentially, Huskins and Quinn were being called liars on a national stage.
The following day, March 26, Henry Lee, a crime reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, received an email that, as printed in the FBI affidavit, runs to 3½ pages. The writer claimed to represent a group that had previously engaged in car theft, and that had indeed kidnapped Victim F — a reference to Huskins.
“After making the jump from property crime to this, we feel deep remorse and horribly regret our slide into criminality,” the email said. “In particular, we are mortified of the impact it has had on Victim F.”
The writer called it a case of “reverse Stockholm syndrome” — the reverse, in other words, of cases in which kidnap victims come to identify with their captors.
A very long email
Two days later, Lee received an email running to an astonishing 20 printed pages, railing against the way police had treated Huskins and Quinn.
“We cannot stand to see two good people thrown under the bus by the police and media, when Ms. Victim F and Mr. Victim M should have received only support and sympathy,” the email read. “We are responsible for the victims’ suffering and the least we can do is come forward to prove they are not lying.”
The email said the group was made up of three acquaintances, two of them college graduates, who started small in crime without realizing how “horrific” it would become.
The guns used in the kidnapping were fakes, the email said.
During her captivity, the email said, Victim F remained strong, weeping only in the final few hours, after having been shown an article on her kidnapping that included a plea from her father, the writer said.
“She began crying as she read, and I said something like, ‘I know, seeing it in print must make it feel like this is really happening to you,'” the email said. “She said something to the effect of, ‘no, it’s not that, it’s that I can’t imagine how much my family is suffering right now.’ She was bound, drugged and didn’t know for sure if she’d see the sun again. And she was worried about her family.”
The emailer said that, through her strength of character, Huskins had essentially broken up a professional kidnapping ring before it got off the ground.
A second break-in
If the allegations against Muller are proven true, it may be that the temptation to try again simply became too great. On June 5, Alameda County Sheriff’s detectives began investigating a break-in similar to the one that Huskins and Quinn said they had experienced.
A husband and wife were in the Dublin home. The husband broke free and fought back.
The assailant fled, leaving his cell phone behind. Police traced it to Muller. He was arrested June 8.
A search of a stolen white Mustang found at Muller’s address yielded goggles covered with tape, such as Huskins had said she was forced to wear to cover her eyes. A strand of long blond hair, similar to Huskins’, was attached.
And in the trunk, police found a fake gun — a water pistol, spray-painted black.
‘May God have mercy on us’
Huskins’ lawyer said Monday that Muller’s arrest showed his client was telling the truth all along.
“Today is a fabulous day,” lawyer Douglas Rappaport said. “Nearly four months ago, we told you that Denise Huskins was right — that she was not only innocent of perpetrating a hoax, but that she was a victim of a very serious and violent crime. And today there is vindication.”
Both Huskins and Quinn appeared at the news conference. They held hands and did not speak.
When asked whether police were ready to acknowledge they made a mistake, Vallejo Police Capt. John Whitney said: “Not at this time.
“We’re going to wait until the investigation is concluded by the FBI and then go from there,” he told CNN.
It is not known whether Muller wrote the emails to the reporter at the Chronicle. And Muller will have his day in court.
“What we’ll be doing is trying to sort out what evidence they have to prove he committed Dublin, and then what evidence — if any — connects him to Vallejo,” said Thomas Johnson, Muller’s attorney.
He said his client has “suffered significant mental health issues over the past several years.”
Whoever wrote the emails ended one with words that may yet prove prophetic.
“May God have mercy on us,” the email read. “We expect none from you.”