Denise Huskins’ mother found out her daughter was missing when Vallejo police called her on the way home from work and told her Denise may have been kidnapped, and that her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, was a suspect.
“I was told to hope for the best but that I should prepare for the worst,” Jane Remmele recalled the officer telling her on March 23, 2015.
What struck her most was the “nonchalant” and “cavalier” attitude of Vallejo police, which became even worse after her daughter was found alive and authorities described her disappearance as a hoax.
The family’s anguish – and Huskins’ difficult recovery from what authorities finally concluded was a home invasion and kidnapping that included her being tied up, drugged and raped – is described in excruciating detail in letters being filed in federal court in advance of next Thursday’s sentencing in Sacramento of Matthew Muller, a former Marine, Harvard Law School graduate and 1995 Bella Vista High School graduate.
“She returned to our home often the first year, staying for a couple of days or several weeks,” Remmele wrote in a three-page letter to U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley, who will sentence Muller next week. “It became obvious with these visits that life as we had known it was about to be put on hold.
“Sometimes, while she was in her old bedroom, I would be awakened in the middle of the night by Denise’s crying. I would go into her room and lay with her. All I could do was hold her and tell her I love her. At times, her sobbing was inconsolable and it was all I could do to hold back my own tears.”
Muller’s bizarre kidnap plot, which he admitted to in court last September, has had far-reaching impacts on the families of both Huskins and Quinn, a Del Oro High School graduate who was held by police and accused of killing his girlfriend before Muller released her alive in Southern California two days later.
“We thought that the police were arresting Aaron,” his parents, Joseph and Marianne Quinn, wrote in a letter to the judge. “We kept thinking this could not be happening; the fear, anxiety and horror that we felt cannot be adequately expressed.
“When the police moved Aaron to a place where we could hear them read him the Miranda rights, we both wanted to die. Marianne curled up on the floor crying and Joseph had chest pain that almost caused us to go to the hospital.”
Huskins, 31, and Quinn, 32, have since sued Vallejo officials in a case that is pending. Both are expected to speak at Muller’s sentencing next week. Muller’s family will be there, as well, to express sympathy for the pain he has caused.
“I feel horrible,” Joyce Zarback, Muller’s 71-year-old mother, said in an interview this week in her Orangevale home. “I feel horrible that it is my son who is the person who started this.”
Zarback described her son, who turns 40 on March 27, as an exceptionally bright young man who took up the trumpet at the age of 8 or 9 and played in the band in high school. He never dated, she said, because he was overweight and at times was bullied.
In 1995, his senior year in high school, she and her husband divorced, and Muller decided on his own he was skipping college to join the Marines and play trumpet in the Marine Band.
“Matt’s always been strong-willed,” she said. “He decided then he had to take matters into his own hands, so he went ahead and said he was going to join the Marines. We said no, we wanted him to go to college, but he had made his mind up.”
Muller was 18 at the time, and soon met Brian Schlegel, a 17-year-old who was in the same platoon at boot camp.
Schlegel, in a letter to the judge written last November, recalled how the Marines determined he needed double rations “to make our bodies fit the Marine Corps aesthetic,” while Muller was placed on half rations and soon began to lose weight.
“By the end of the 16 weeks, he looked like an ideal Boxer dog, with every bone on his rib cage exposed and a stomach that had sunken in to be smaller than the width of his pelvic bone,” Schlegel wrote.
Today, Sacramento County jail records list Muller as standing 6 feet tall and weighing 190 pounds. Schlegel wrote that while in the Corps, Muller became protective of him when he became a target of abuse because of his youth and the fact that he was going into the band.
“Muller stuck up for me,” Schlegel wrote to the judge. “Looking back on this now, I realize he could have resented me for my increased rations or my metabolism, but he saw that I needed help and defended me.”
For the next three years, Muller had postings in Southern California. He played with the Marine Band in a Rose Bowl parade as his mother watched proudly. He was then sent to Okinawa, and then somewhere in the Middle East in an assignment he never would divulge to his mother.
By 1999, Muller had left the Marines and was taking classes at Sierra College. He graduated summa cum laude from Pomona College in 2003. Three years later, he graduated from Harvard Law School, then moved onto jobs with San Francisco law firms.
Each of those jobs ended in “disaster,” his mother said, and his marriage to a woman he met while studying in Prague ended in divorce.
Zarback said her son suffered from depression and manic phases and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. For a time, he lived in the family cabin in South Lake Tahoe, then moved into a Mare Island home he shared with a girlfriend he had met.
There is where Muller’s kidnap plan apparently began to take shape, but Zarback said he has not talked to her about the crime in her visits to him at the Sacramento County jail.
“He has talked to us about everything, about his paranoia and everything else that has happened, but he stops it there,” she said. “When it comes to that point, he says, ‘I just can’t go there.’”
Authorities have described an elaborate plan to convince Huskins and Quinn that there were multiple kidnappers and that they had access to high-tech cameras, drones and other devices, but Muller is the only person charged in the case. He was arrested in June 2015 after leaving his cellphone behind in a Dublin home he had broken into. Dublin police noted similarities to that case and others, including the Huskins abduction, and Muller was arrested at the family’s Tahoe home.
Now he faces up to life in prison, although prosecutors have agreed not to seek more than a 40-year sentence. Muller also could be charged later in state court on sexual assault and other charges, and Zarback acknowledges that she has no hope of seeing her son free again.
She noted that Muller’s guilty plea avoided forcing Huskins and Quinn to have to testify.
“He never wanted to go to trial here, he didn’t want to put anybody through the trauma of it,” she said. “I’m glad he was caught, I’m so glad they got his phone. It was the best thing that could have happened. I can’t imagine having any more people being harmed.”
She added that she has not reached out to Huskins’ or Quinn’s families because “I don’t think they would want to hear from us.”
But Zarback said she feels great sympathy for the families, and is upset both at the Vallejo police and online commenters who have continued to suggest in postings that the kidnap case was a hoax.
“Absolutely, the message would just be how sorry we are. I think it’s horrible what happened to them ... She’s this innocent victim and it’s just beyond me that everybody’s not supporting her.”
Zarback said she has provided her son with a wealth of books and reading materials at the jail, from The Sacramento Bee to Scientific American magazine, and now that he is on regular medication he has been able to joke with her in the jail.
“He said one thing on his bucket list was to see 30 sunsets in a row, and he’s done that one because he’s facing that direction,” she said.