Until recently Denise Huskins and her now-husband, Aaron Quinn, would automatically wake up at 3 a.m. — the precise moment an armed man burst into their bedroom some six years ago.
The horrifying violation triggered a chain of soul-crushing events.
Although they are healing slowly, the couple remain traumatized not only by the invasion of their home, but Huskins’ subsequent abduction and rape. Law enforcement went on to name Quinn as the prime suspect in the case.
If that weren’t enough, upon her release, Huskins was accused of fabricating her kidnapping. The press was quick to label her “Gone Girl,” referencing the arch villain who faked her disappearance in the bestselling 2012 novel and smash-hit movie produced two years later.
“When my attorney told me they were calling me ‘Gone Girl’ in the headlines, I asked: ‘Is that a good thing?’” the 35-year-old told The Post, adding that she has never seen the film. “Then I realized what they meant and it was just so insulting.”
Now Huskins and Quinn, 35, have put the record straight in their new book: “Victim F: From Victims to Suspects to Survivors” (Berkley), out now. The pair, who wed in 2018 and have a 14-month-old daughter, Olivia, describe each stage of their suffering before they were proven innocent.
The term “Victim F” — the F stands for female — was chosen as part of the book title because the FBI investigation used it as the somewhat dehumanizing code word for Huskins.
It was in the early hours of March 23, 2015, that the sleeping lovers were disturbed by the sound of at least one gun-toting intruder at Quinn’s home in Vallejo, Calif. Someone shouted: “Wake up. This is a robbery.”
Recalling her terror in the memoir, Huskins noted the way the most talkative criminal spoke like a robot, as if he were trying to disguise his voice. “We. Are. Not. Here. To. Hurt. You. Lie. Face. Down,” he said. The pair was bound with zip ties, forced to wear blacked-out goggles and made to drink sedatives. Shortly before leaving with Huskins, the ringleader, whom Huskins called “The Voice,” played messages recorded in digitally altered speech, which claimed she would be returned after 48 hours.
Another recording with the same synthesized tone warned Quinn not to call the police — otherwise his girlfriend would be murdered.
Packed into the trunk of Quinn’s car, Huskins was driven to a new destination several hours away, where she was once again drugged. She was also raped.
“I was convinced I would be killed,” she said. “But I felt like I had to do what I could to remain as calm as possible. It felt like I was always on the edge of hysteria and, if I got there, I would never return.”
Still, at one point, she resigned herself to death, concluding: “I made peace with that, said my goodbyes to all the people in my life, even talking to my deceased grandparents, saying: ‘If this is the end, please show me the way.’”
As for Quinn, who received an e-mail from the kidnappers demanding a total ransom of $17,000, he took the risk of telling the cops. He was met with hostility from the get-go. The detectives wasted no time in insisting they found his story so far-fetched, it couldn’t be true. They stripped him naked for police photographs, interrogated him for nine hours and gave him a lie-detector test. Afterwards, an officer scornfully remarked that he’d failed it “miserably.”
“I always thought police officers were there to protect the general public, but I found out how quickly the justice system can turn on you,” Quinn said. “The amount of pressure these professionals are trained to put on you is terrifying. They have sheer tunnel vision and absolute certainty that you’re lying.”
Thankfully, at the end of two painful days, Huskins was released. Even though the ransom hadn’t been paid, she was dumped in her mother’s neighborhood some 400 miles south of Vallejo in Huntington Beach.
At least “The Voice” kept his word about freeing his victim 48 hours after she was taken. Looking back, Huskins wonders whether the decision reflected her attempts to “build a rapport” with her captors by engaging them in small talk. “I tried to show the human being in front of them,” she said, “instead of just a kidnapped body.”
Following the assailants’ instructions to count backwards from 10, she heard the vehicle drive away. In her book, she describes the nerve-wracking drop off: “Do I really get to live?” she asked herself as she was let out of the car, her eyes taped shut. “Do I really get to be free and see my family?”
A few hours later, far from being welcomed by the police, she was threatened with criminal charges for staging a hoax. Huskins, who hired a criminal defense lawyer in case she was arrested, feared the worst. “I thought I’d just come out of captivity only [to face the possibility of being] put in a jail cell.”
The feds offered her “immunity” if she admitted that her abduction was a ruse — a proposal she swiftly rejected.
Huskins was outraged, explaining: “I care a lot about my family and friends and to think I would put all these people through this for 15 minutes of fame made no sense.”
In what seemed like a petty act of retaliation, the couple’s reputation was publicly destroyed during a police press conference. The lieutenant stated that detectives believed Quinn and Huskins’ claims were lies. Then he pacified the concerned community by insisting that home invaders were not targeting the local area,
“How can he say that with a straight face?” Quinn writes in “Victim F.” “No one is safe! All I feel is fear.”
Meanwhile, between March and August of 2015, anonymous trolls on social media hounded Huskins. “Damn hoe, we were hoping you were dead,” wrote one. Another sneered: “Show me some p__, I think you owe it to me after having me search for you for two days.”
Some of the critics gleefully referenced the “Gone Girl” analogy, which was originally coined by national media outlets.
Huskins, who called out some of the keyboard cowards with reasoned replies, told The Post: “All this hate was directed at me for reasons that had nothing to do with me. We were objects to throw stones at with those verbal beatings and threats.” It didn’t matter to the cyberbullies that neither Huskins or Quinn was ever charged with an offense.
The couple, both employed as physical therapists, was finally vindicated in August 2015, three months after Huskins’ abduction, when police investigated the case of a masked intruder 40 miles away in Alameda County, Calif. The authorities found damning evidence near the scene including Quinn’s laptop, zip ties and a strand of Huskins’ hair stuck to a pair of goggles blacked out with tape.
They all belonged to Matthew Muller, a former Marine and disbarred attorney educated at Harvard. The 44-year-old pleaded guilty in 2016 to one count of federal kidnapping and was sentenced to 40 years. He now faces additional state charges including kidnapping, two counts of rape by force, robbery and burglary. However, in November 2020, he was found mentally unfit to stand trial and is currently serving time at a secure mental health facility in Solano County, Calif.
Although Muller’s motives remain a mystery, Huskins and Quinn gained some closure when they read their victim statements in court. But, as Quinn points out, the higher satisfaction is knowing their tormentor is no longer free “to hurt anyone else.” However, he disagrees with assertions by law enforcement that Muller acted alone and used voice recordings to make it seem like he had at least one accomplice.
The couple went on to sue the Vallejo Police Department for compensation and were awarded $2.5 million in an out-of-court settlement, but the duo remain distrustful of the authorities that called them liars. They are nonplussed by an e-mailed apology issued by the city of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police last week.
“It was done through the media, but no one has personally apologized to us,” said Quinn. “Honestly, we’d rather see them make cultural shifts and policy changes than anything else.”
Despite worrying the other perpetrators are still at large, the couple refuses to live in fear. Now settled in Santa Cruz, Calif., they are committed to advocacy work supporting other victims of kidnapping and sexual assault.
“We’ve found one of the things that heals trauma is the act of helping people,” said Quinn. “It can give you a fresh sense of purpose when you can give back, even in the smallest scale, and fill your emotional cup.”
And their greatest blessing is Olivia, born on March 25, 2020, on the fifth anniversary of Huskins’ escape from her captors.
“Our daughter keeps us in the moment and reminds us of the little joys in life,” said Quinn. “She is our happy ending.”