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Former Harvard Lawyer Sentenced to 40 Years for 'Gone Girl' Kidnapping

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 21, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Where to begin the twisted tale of the Harvard lawyer who will be in prison for a very long time ...

The case of Matthew Muller, summa cum laude, is some kinda story. It twists and turns so strangely, like a snake having a seizure, it is hard to wrap your head around it.

From the beginning to the end, it aches of tragedy. A promising lawyer lost in mental disease; an innocent woman abandoned by police; a community in shock and literal disbelief. That's where we will start: the middle.

It's a Hoax

Nobody believed Denise Huskins' story. She had been missing for days from her home in Vallejo, California, but her story started to sound like "Gone Girl."

She said she was abducted -- tied up in the middle of the night by a stranger, drugged, thrown into a car trunk, later zip-tied to a bed, blind-folded with blacked-out swim goggles and sexually assaulted. She came back after her assailant dropped her off hundreds of miles away. Police listened but decided it was a hoax.

"There is no evidence to suport the claims that this was a stranger abduction or an abduction at all," Vallejo Police Lt. Kenny Park said at the time.

As if the negative media attention wasn't already enough, police posted their conclusion on Facebook. Her family stood by her, but the public added insults to injury.

It Gets Stranger

The next day, a local newspaper received an anonymous email with details about the kidnapping. The tipster said Huskins was abducted by a team of elite criminals who were practicing their kidnapping techniques. Muller, it turns out, wrote the email.

Police figured it out by coincidence when he was arrested after an attempted robbery at a San Francisco Bay Area home. They found a cell phone there that linked him to Huskins' abduction.

The trail of evidence was, in a word, weird. Muller had used a remote-controlled drone to spy on Huskins; he played a recording during the abduction to make it sound like there were several kidnappers; he even sent police an email later demanding they give Huskins a "full and unequivical apology."

End From the Beginning

For Muller, who was sentenced to 40 years for the kidnapping, his problems probably started at birth. Despite the benefits of a middle-class upbringing and educational opportunities, at some point he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

After graduating with honors from Pomona College, he earned his law degree at Harvard University. He also worked at Harvard's immigration clinic, training and supervising law students. His articles were published in academic publications and law journals.

But he started to spiral towards a psychotic break after he went to work at a law firm in San Francisco in 2011. In a complaint filed in federal court, the law firm accused him of staying overnight at the office to steal files and using a computer application to erase his tracks.

"His adult life has been marked with mental health issues," said Tom Johnson, his attorney in the criminal case. Johnson said Muller suffered from depression and psychosis, and details like the email to police in the kidnapping case "scream mental disease."

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