Man arrested in Vallejo kidnapping suspected in Palo Alto case

In 2009 incident, suspect blindfolded and restrained woman in her bedroom

Matthew Daniel Muller, the man who was recently arrested in the bizarre kidnapping of a Vallejo woman, is a suspect in a home invasion and restraint of a Palo Alto woman, police confirmed on Tuesday.

Muller, 38, a former Marine, Harvard Law School graduate and disbarred attorney, was arrested for the March 23 alleged kidnapping of Denise Huskins, 29, of Vallejo during a home-invasion robbery. Her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, was also present when the kidnapping took place at a home on Mare Island, according to a federal affidavit against Muller filed in U.S. District Court on June 29.

Huskins was found two days later in Huntington Beach, where she said she was dropped off. Her kidnapper or kidnappers left a ransom note for $8,500, according to the affidavit. Vallejo police initially branded the case as a hoax, but Huskins and Quinn maintained it was not. The Federal Bureau of Investigation began to tie Muller to the Vallejo crime after he was connected to a later home-invasion case in Dublin. He was arrested on June 9 in South Lake Tahoe in the Dublin case.

Muller told Alameda County sheriff detectives in an interview that he suffered from Gulf War illness, psychosis, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008, according to the affidavit.

Palo Alto police have long suspected Muller in a home invasion that took place on October 18, 2009, on the 2000 block of Amherst Avenue. In that case, a man entered a woman's bedroom at 3:30 a.m. and blindfolded and restrained the victim. The victim heard at least one other male voice in the bedroom but could not provide a description due to the blindfold, according to police.

The suspect allegedly told the victim he was there to commit a robbery and threatened to sexually assault the woman, but nothing was taken and the victim was not harmed, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said. He could not say what led police to suspect Muller, but the case has been actively investigated for the past six years, he said.

The case stood out to police not only because it was a home invasion but because of its unusual nature where the victim was blindfolded and bound, but nothing was taken, Perron said. Mountain View police had a similar case in September 2009 on the 1900 block of Silverwood Avenue, and the two law enforcement agencies had a joint investigation, Perron said.

In the Mountain View case, both victims were women of similar age, both crimes occurred in the early morning and both victims were restrained and blindfolded. The perpetrator in both cases was described as a tall, lean man wearing black clothing and a black mask. The man threatened sexual assault and robbery in both cases.

Palo Alto police are collaborating with the FBI, Dublin police and allied law enforcement to uncover any evidence that might link Muller to the crimes, Perron said.

The arrest of Muller in the Vallejo case culminated a bizarre series of events that included an elaborate kidnapping scheme and a number of emails sent to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Vallejo police department's public information officer.

In the Vallejo case, a person or persons allegedly broke into Quinn's home on Mare Island and used a Taser on him, according to the FBI affidavit. They drugged him and Huskins by force with a tranquilizer and Nyquil. The victims were bound with zip ties at the hands and feet and made to wear swimming goggles covered with masking tape. They were initially put into a closet; Huskins was eventually moved to a bedroom.

Quinn said he was made to listen through headphones to a prerecorded message with specific instructions on how to act, and he was told to pay a $15,000 ransom for the safe return of Huskins, who was apparently mistaken for another targeted woman, Quinn's ex-fiance, according to the FBI affidavit.

Quinn was to supply $8,500 in two payments. If asked, he was to say that he planned to purchase a ski boat. He was ordered to supply his credit card and checking account information, and the log-in for Huskins' and accounts. He was told to call in sick to his and Huskins' work and to cancel all appointments for the next 48 hours.

A video camera with a motion sensor was attached above a door and red tape was put on the floor to keep Quinn from escaping. The alleged kidnapper left scissors nearby so that Quinn could free himself after they left.

Police later found Quinn's car at the Department of Veterans Administration Mare Island Clinic parking area with the keys left on top of a rear tire. Two strips of red duct tape were on top of the car, according to the affidavit.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Lee received an email about the victim being returned. An audio file, stripped of all identifying data, had the voice of a woman claiming to be the victim. Quinn and Huskins' father verified the voice was the victim's. Police learned that the email was sent through a Singapore-based anonymous email service.

On March 25, Huskins called her father and said she had been dropped off by her kidnapper in Huntington Beach near her family's home. Huskins told police she believed there were three kidnappers and sounded well organized.

Vallejo police initially called the kidnapping a hoax, but they publicly apologized to Huskins and Quinn during a press conference announcing Muller's arrest.

Someone claiming to be the kidnapper sent threatening emails demanding an apology from Vallejo police Lt. Kenny Park after he publicly called the kidnapping a hoax.

Henry Lee at the Chronicle also received a series of emails from the kidnapper, who said he was part of a ring to extract money through kidnappings, but the kidnappers expressed deep remorse about the trauma they had caused Huskins and Quinn, and he did not want them to suffer further because the incident was being called a hoax.

The emailer claimed that the Mare Island kidnapping was a "training mission" to prepare for kidnappings of more high net-worth targets. Lee also received photos of several items used in the kidnapping as corroboration, according to the affidavit.

The emailer laid out an elaborate tale of home burglaries and car thefts with a network of warehouses and other infrastructure for the kidnapping ring. But when things got too hot on Mare Island, the kidnappers allegedly got everything out of the area and switched to their plans.

According to the email, the kidnappers gathered information on potential victims through the Internet and other schemes. The emailer claimed to have made dozens of entries into certain homes, mostly when occupants were away. But information about many of the crimes appeared to have been taken from Quinn's Nextdoor account, a neighborhood-based social network, on which Quinn referenced many area crimes, the FBI said in the affidavit.

On June 5, a Dublin couple and their daughter were asleep in their bedrooms when an alleged burglar entered the home through a window in the early morning hours, according to the affidavit. The suspect shined a bright flashlight into the couple's eyes.

He allegedly tried to zip tie them, but the male victim tried to fight him off. The intruder allegedly struck the man on the head with a hard object, presumed to be the flashlight, causing a gash. The female victim fled to the bathroom, where she locked herself in and called 911 from her cellphone while her husband and the assailant continued to struggle for four minutes, according to the affidavit. The male victim managed to pull the intruder's mask off during the struggle. The intruder fled, but police found a cellphone that he allegedly left behind.

Dublin police discovered the TracFone was purchased at a Target store. Video captured a man fitting Muller's description purchasing the phone. Officers learned the phone was registered to a residence in Orangevale, California, which is the residence of Muller's mother. She told police that the phone belonged to her son, who claimed to have lost the phone on June 5, according to the affidavit.

Police then tracked the cellphone to an address in South Lake Tahoe, and arrested Muller for the Dublin home invasion. He was booked into custody for attempted robbery, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault with great bodily injury.

At Muller's residence, police located a stolen vehicle the kidnapper had referenced in one of his emails to Lee regarding other vehicle thefts he and his reputed gang were involved in, a laptop that appeared to be the same type as the one stolen from Quinn, a toy Supersoaker spray painted black, which appeared in a photo sent to Lee, and swimming goggles covered with duct tape and zip ties, among other evidence linking him to the Vallejo incident.

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4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

Is the Vallejo police department working on an apology for blaming the victims for perpetrating hoax? What knuckleheads...

"'Incredible' story of California woman’s abduction was actually a hoax, police say"
Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Apology is not Adequate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2015 at 2:22 pm

An apology to that poor Vallejo woman would be woefully inadequate.

Some sort of restitution is definitely in order here!

4 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann, Staff Writer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Vallejo police initially called the kidnapping a hoax, but they publicly apologized to Huskins and Quinn during a press conference announcing Muller's arrest. Many thanks for pointing out this missing information. I've updated the story.

Like this comment
Posted by Math Queen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Was it $15,000 or two payments of $8,500? Come on editor!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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