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American Nightmare: Harvard Lawyer Turns to Life of Crime

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Updated by A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

In honor of Netflix’s new true crime docuseries American Nightmare, we’re revisiting our original story about the incident that was published in 2015, including a few new developments and some things Netflix left out.

File this one under "lawyers behaving really, really badly."

In one of the strangest cases in recent memory, a disbarred San Francisco lawyer and Harvard Law grad named Matthew Muller was arrested for robbing a Bay Area home, kidnapping one of its residents, and attempting to hold her for ransom to the tune of $15,000 in cash.

That is, if the kidnapping took place at all. Before arresting Muller, the Vallejo police had been convinced that the entire robbery/abduction was a hoax.  

The Hoax Kidnapping That Wasn't a Hoax

Aaron Quinn of Vallejo, California, called police to report that his house had been broken into and his girlfriend abducted. Quinn claimed that a pair of kidnappers bound and drugged him, then took off with his partner. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $15,000, or about 60 billable hours.

The Vallejo PD weren't buying Quinn's story, however. Quinn's girlfriend Denise Huskins showed up, apparently unharmed two days later and right before the ransom was due. She said she had been sexually assaulted, but the FBI found no evidence to support that claim.

The Vallejo police held a press conference, calling the whole thing a hoax. This was a mistake.  

Not All Lawyers Are Sociopaths, But...

The police remained unconvinced until Muller was arrested in the process of committing another attempted robbery of another Bay Area home. A search of Muller, his home, and his car turned up a computer that Muller had stolen from Quinn – which poked some major holes in the police’s “it’s a hoax” theory. The FBI connected him to the Vallejo abduction, as did the cell phone that the “brilliant” Harvard Law grad had apparently left at the scene of the second crime.

The FBI also found a stolen car near Muller's Tahoe home. Inside it were hairs matching the female victim's and a pair of swimming goggles with the eyes blacked out. Investigators also found an empty bag of zip ties, Nyquil, 42 assorted pills, weight-loss medication, and makeup in the car. In Muller's storage locker, they found drones, a wireless video camera, black duct tape and pliers -- all of which scream creepy, if not necessarily guilty.

Of course, before his arrest, things hadn't exactly been going swimmingly for Muller. Prior to becoming a potential felon, Muller had served as a Marine, according to court documents. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered from psychosis (which his attorney speciously blamed for his behavior), but graduated from Harvard Law and joined the California Bar in 2011. He was suspended two years later for failing to pay his bar dues.

Muller was disbarred after he took money for a client's green card application he never filed. By then, however, it seems that Muller had given up on the law. The court's decision focuses mostly on the Bar's failed attempts to track the lawyer down in order to discipline him.

The Vallejo police, who initially brushed the kidnapping aside, ended up in court over it. Huskins and Quinn later filed a defamation suit against the city of Vallejo, ultimately receiving a $2.5 million settlement from the city in 2018. The police then apologized to the couple three years later after the Huskins and Quinn released a tell-all book about their experience. The apology did nothing to stop a flood of angry comments and renewed calls for accountability and police reform from viewers of American Nightmares a few years later.

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