Law enforcement investigations aren’t easy. Investigators have to piece together the truth from massively incomplete information and often faulty witness testimony. Thankfully, it’s usually the simplest explanation that ends up being true.
But sometimes, there are bizarre cases where the old adage of Occam’s razor turns out to be more of a hindrance than a help. When presented with an unbelievable case, investigators would eventually find out that sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction…
Featured photo credit: Denise Huskins / Facebook
In March of 2015, a man named Aaron called the Vallejo Police Department to report a kidnapping. He told the dispatcher that a “group of assailants” had stolen his car and taken his girlfriend Denise away in it.
When police arrived at Aaron’s home, he showed them an area marked off by red tape. The assailants told him they’d installed a motion-sensor camera and had ordered him not to leave the tape boundaries…
Late Night Ambush
Then Aaron described a sophisticated and intricate attack to the police. Around 3 am, an unknown number of people burst into his home as he and Denise were sleeping. One of them blindfolded Aaron and made him listen to a prerecorded message which gave him instructions and told him he’d be drugged.
Aaron was told that the assailants knew where he banked and where he grew up. Through the prerecorded message, they claimed to be a “professional group there to collect financial debts,” and to do so, they intended to kidnap Denise. To get her back he would have to pay them $15,000 and “if he did not comply she would be hurt, first by electric shock, then by cutting her face.”…
Aaron said he was then drugged and fell asleep. When he woke up, his car and his girlfriend were gone. He had a brand new email in his inbox, demanding 2 payments of $8,500 and “If asked about the withdrawals, he was to explain that the money was to purchase a ski boat.” That’s when Aaron called the police.
Searching For Her
Investigators were able to locate Aaron’s car in just a few hours but there was no sign of his girlfriend Denise. As police ramped up their search to find her, they were shocked when she was freed without any ransom being paid just 2 days after she disappeared…
Denise said that she’d been taken to a “quiet house and placed in a bedroom,” and sexually assaulted twice by what she believed to be 4 attackers. She told police that the attackers “sounded well organized and had ‘protocols’ as if they had done this before.”
The attackers decided to drop Denise off 400 miles from her home in Huntington Beach, away from “‘the commotion of the authorities’ in Vallejo.” But the idea that such apparently sophisticated kidnappers would go through all the effort of kidnapping her then releasing her without any fuss sounded far fetched to the police…
‘It’s A Hoax’
So far fetched, in fact, that the Vallejo Police Department released a statement to the press that night saying that the kidnapping was “not authentic.” The whole thing was a hoax, they said. But shortly after police made their statement, the San Francisco Chronicle received an email that further complicated the case.
The Chronicle got an email from a band of “professional thieves” that said Denise had indeed been kidnapped. The email claimed the thieves were responsible for a number of car thefts in the area and the kidnapping was their first attempt at something with a higher payout…
The email went on to say their kidnapping “was meant to be a test of methods that would be used later on a higher net worth target” but “the operation went terribly wrong. After making the jump from property crime to this, we felt deep remorse and horribly regret our slide into criminality.”
The criminals were “mortified” by what they’d done to Denise and “were very impressed with the strength she showed and who she was as we passed the time talking to her,” the email continued. They said they sent the email because “[they] would rather take the chance of revealing the truth than live in a world where someone like Denise is victimized again.”…
Ultimately, the email said, they “didn’t want to hurt anyone” and they “fancied [themselves] a sort of Ocean’s Eleven, gentlemen criminals.” If that weren’t bizarre enough for you, the truth of what happened was something different from Aaron and Denise’s account or what the email said.
Just a few months later in June, police arrested a man named Matthew Muller for an unrelated attempted robbery in the San Francisco area. In investigating Muller, they found a cellphone and computer that had been stolen from Aaron that linked Muller to the abduction…
It Was Me
Muller confessed and plead guilty to the kidnapping, saying that after he’d blindfolded Aaron and Denise with blackened swimming goggles, he put headphones over their ears to play the recording Aaron told police about.
In another bizarre detail, the 3 accomplices Aaron and Denise thought Muller had never existed. Muller had created a computer recording designed to sound like people whispering to convince his victims he wasn’t acting alone….
Muller was a strange criminal to say the least. He was a former marine and a Harvard-educated lawyer who was disbarred after failing to respond to disciplinary charges for taking a client’s money without doing the work he said he would in 2015. It was after that disbarment that he apparently turned to crime.
Perhaps part of the reason for Muller’s bizarre behavior may be attributed to his being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can cause people to make poor decisions based on unrealistic ideas about the future. Regardless of his mental condition, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his crimes…
But putting Muller behind bars wasn’t justice enough for Aaron and Denise. They said that in addition to the torment they’d experienced at the kidnapper’s hands, the treatment they’d gotten from law enforcement caused emotional and physical distress, humiliation, and hardship after they’d been labeled as fakers, criminals, and bashed in the news for months after being victims of a crime.
The couple filed a lawsuit against the city of Vallejo for their mistreatment as Muller’s trial was ongoing. The suit was settled in early 2018 when Aaron and Denise agreed to take $2.5 million from the city to drop the suit.