In March 2015, Denise Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn awoke from a sound sleep into a nightmare. Armed men bound and drugged them, then abducted Denise. Warned not to call the police or Denise would be killed. Aaron agonized about what to do. Finally he put his trust in law enforcement and dialed 911. But instead of searching for Denise, the police accused Aaron of her murder. His story, they told him, was just unbelievable. When Denise was released alive, the police turned their fire on her, dubbing her the “real-life ‘Gone Girl’” who had faked her own kidnapping.
In Victim F, Aaron and Denise recount the horrific ordeal that almost cost them everything. Like too many victims of sexual violence, they were dismissed, disbelieved, and dragged through the mud. With no one to rely on except each other, they took on the victim blaming, harassment, misogyny, and abuse of power running rife in the criminal justice system. Their story is, in the end, a love story, but one that sheds necessary light on sexual assault and the abuse by law enforcement that all too frequently compounds crime victims’ suffering.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Investigative journalist Nicole Weisensee Egan is the author of Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America's Dad. Among her awards are the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's prestigious Hope Award and Time Inc.’s Luce Award for public service.
Read an Excerpt
I almost didn't come over to Aaron's house that night.
Would it have changed anything if I hadn't? Or would it have just happened a different night? Were we destined to go through what we did?
Aaron and I are meant for each other; of that, I have no doubt. But does that mean I had to endure the unimaginable, to experience trauma that no one should have to live through, for us to be together? Are the two so intertwined that one cannot exist without the other? I don't know. What I do know is, I would never take it back, not if it meant I would have to live my life without him.
We first met in June 2014 when I moved to Northern California for a nine-month physical therapy residency at the Kaiser hospital in Vallejo. It's a world-renowned program, with physical therapists from across the globe coming to learn a specialized-treatment approach for patients with severe neurological disorders or those with brain or spinal cord injuries. Aaron was a physical therapist working in the same department and taught a couple of classes for the program.
I was initially drawn to his intelligence, the way he made complex topics easy to understand, but he also had this artistic, intuitive, healing way about him when he worked with patients that seemed almost mystical.
I ran into Aaron at some social gatherings in the coming weeks, and we always ended up talking a lot, first about sports, where we grew up, our families, but quickly easing into deeper discussions about our love for our chosen profession, our passion to be the best we can, and our goals for the future. We had an instant connection and chemistry that surprised me. I hadn't felt anything quite like that before. However, I didn't get my hopes up. I knew he was involved with someone we worked with.
In the next couple of weeks, Aaron told me he and this woman, Jennifer Jones, had been engaged but had broken up months before because she had had an affair. They still lived together, but he'd moved to one of the spare bedrooms while he sorted out his feelings.
We were both hesitant to start dating because of all this and because we all worked together, but Aaron and I couldn't resist each other and quickly fell in love. At the end of August, Jennifer moved out, and for the next seven months of the residency, Aaron and I spent almost every day together. I could see how much pain he was in, and I was often his sounding board, listening as he talked through the complicated situation. We decided to take a break several times so he could process his feelings, but we missed each other'so much that it never lasted more than a day or two.
This latest break had been our longest separation. I hadn't seen him since last Monday, nearly a week. I was always scared he would get back with his ex, and my fears had been confirmed at the end of February when I discovered he was still pursuing Jennifer and had been lying to me about it for months. I was absolutely devastated and wasn't sure if he could fully let her go or if I could forgive him. He'd been going to therapy and making changes to show me it was me he wanted, and he was over her, but I was still reluctant to go over to his house, the one he'd shared with her for two years. There were too many memories there.
I tried to explain this to him via text when he asked me to come over to talk. I told him I missed him and was willing to hear him out, but I didn't want to fall right back into the same old pattern. He needed to court me and be consistent with his actions. I needed time. He said he understood, but he knew this would be a long and difficult conversation and felt it would be better to have it in the privacy of his own home.
We made plans to go out to dinner somewhere on a real date. But at the last minute, I told him I would come over. He was right. I knew it would be an emotional talk and not one we should have in public. I told him I'd pick up a pie from Napoli's, our favorite pizza place.
I pulled into the long driveway of Aaron's beautiful Colonial-style home around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. I was wearing a long cotton sundress, which was both comfortable and flattering. I wanted to look my best when we talked, but I also knew we would be lounging around at home, so I found something that accentuated my curves without looking like I was trying too hard. These seem like trivial considerations now, but I wanted to feel good about myself going into this crucial talk. I'd brought my work and overnight bags with me in case things went well, though. I still loved him, and I was hoping I could forgive him.
It was a perfect sunny spring day on Mare Island, the temperature in the seventies, so when I got there, the windows in the family room were wide open, letting in the steady ocean breeze that kept the house cool on even the hottest days.
I had my guard up at first, and gave Aaron a halfhearted one-armed hug when I walked into his kitchen. I was still crushed by his betrayal, and I wanted to protect myself. He immediately started sobbing into my neck, apologizing profusely. I started to melt, nuzzling my head against his and wrapping my arms around him.
We grabbed a couple of Lagunitas IPAs and sat down on the couch to talk. He started off by apologizing again, thanking me for coming over and saying how afraid he was that I wouldn't give him a second chance. He talked about how therapy was helping him understand his own behavior.
He said he had cleared out the last of Jennifer's belongings and told her at work that morning they needed to limit their contact to just discussing patients. He was finally ready to commit to me fully and would do whatever it took to show me that.
I told him I wanted to forgive him and move forward, but it might take time. I promised I would never throw it back in his face, but I might need to be honest about my feelings when I was hurting.
As we spoke, we both cried, in relief and in pain, but we understood each other. He grabbed me, kissed me, hugged me like he never wanted to let me go.
Earlier that day I had resolved I wouldn't be intimate with him. But before I knew it, we were wrapped in each other's arms on the couch. There's something so strong and undeniable about our chemistry, and everything about the moment felt right.
As we lay there, he looked at me with those beautiful big green eyes in utter adoration, the same way he had looked at me on our first date, before things got so complicated. Everything in the world seemed a million miles away. It was just him and me, our love, our connection. Nothing else mattered; nothing could touch us.
He offered to make us each an old-fashioned, a whiskey cocktail he'd grown partial to after becoming a fan of Mad Men. I watched from the couch as he grabbed what he needed from the cabinets and assembled the drinks on the island. He's a couple of inches shy of six feet, but the confident way he carries himself makes him seem taller. Aaron was shirtless, and the kitchen lighting caught the shadowed definition of his broad shoulders, forearms, pecs, and back perfectly.
Damn, he's gorgeous, I thought.
I must have watched him in admiration like this a hundred times already, as he did his thing in the kitchen and cooked for us. He enjoyed making meals from scratch, creating sauces, stocks, and exotic meals from memory. He told me how he would make every Thanksgiving and holiday meal for his family. It was how he showed his love, through food.
He handed me the cocktail, and we continued talking about my plans for work after the residency ended next week, and about our future together.
As we got ready to head upstairs around midnight, we hear the sound of a steady rain falling, yet another thing to be grateful for after a months-long drought. Mr. Rogers, the stray cat Aaron had adopted, was meowing to go into the garage, where he slept at night, so Aaron let him out before making his final rounds downstairs, locking the windows and doors.
We were both emotionally exhausted but in a good way. This time our reconciliation felt different. Jennifer's presence was gone, banished from the home they'd once shared. She was no longer haunting us, no longer haunting him.
As we sank into deep, dreamless sleep, with me snuggled into the crook of Aaron's left arm, my head on his chest, I suddenly felt his body jerk, like he had heard a noise outside, near the garage.
It's probably Fat Charlie [the neighborhood raccoon the size of a dog who liked to knock over the garbage cans], or maybe it's Mr. Rogers getting settled in for the night, I thought. Any other night we might have gone to check, but we were tired and quickly fell back asleep.
I was glad I'd come over.
We had every reason to look forward to a wonderful future together.
We can only go up from here. Or so I thought.
We would soon find out a pack of wolves had been stalking us from afar, waiting for the right moment to strike.
What better time than the dead of night, when we were at our most vulnerable, paralyzed in sleep?
"Wake up. This is a robbery."
I hear the words through the haze of my sleep-muddled mind, but at first, I don't know if they are real or part of some terrible nightmare I'm having. I try desperately to sink deeper into sleep. It's as if my subconscious knows the truth and is trying to shield me from it.
"Wake up. This is a robbery. We are not here to hurt you."
The voice is relentless, repeating the same phrases over and over until I'm forced to open my eyes and see what I somehow knew all along. This is no bad dream.
My eyes open wider as the rest of my body stiffens in fear. I can barely catch my breath.
At first, all I see is a bright white light flashing against the wall from the opposite corner of the room. Two or three red dots dance back and forth past one another on the walls, disappearing as they cross over our bodies.
Are those guns pointed at us?
The flashing stops, illuminating the room in a soft white hue. The air feels heavier, like more people are occupying the space around Aaron's side of the bed, though I can't be sure how many. All I know is we are outnumbered, and they seem to be armed.
Aaron's large master bedroom holds just the king-sized bed, two nightstands, an armchair, and an ottoman, so there was plenty of room for this swarm to silently file in. They were already in place before we woke up. There, in these first few seconds, I don't have to know anything more to realize there is no way this can turn out well for us.
I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my body, causing my pupils to dilate, muscles to tense, heart rate and breathing to quicken. My senses become sharper, clearer. This fight-or-flight response is our body's natural defense against a threatening situation. It prepares us to take action, but I quickly realize the best thing to do is nothing, remain calm, listen, and collect as much information as possible.
"We. Are. Not. Here. To. Hurt. You. Lie. Face. Down," the intruder says. He's clearly trying to make his voice as unidentifiable as possible. There is no accent, no slang. He enunciates each word clearly, sounding almost robotic, which makes it all the more chilling. This voice, the Voice, will be burned into my brain forever.
I turn over onto my stomach, but Aaron lies still.
Shit. He must be in shock. Turn over, baby. Please turn over.
"Aaron," the Voice says, sharper, growing impatient, "you are facing up. Lay facedown."
I feel Aaron's body shift as he finally complies.
Oh, my God, I think, my terror growing. They know Aaron's name.
It's clear the Voice will be the sole speaker for the group. He says he's going to place two restraints on the bed: squares created from four zip ties connected together at each end. He tells me to tie Aaron's hands behind his back with one set, then his feet with the other, making sure they're secure.
"Okay," I reply.
He approaches the bed, places the zip ties at the edge between Aaron and me, and swiftly backs away so he can watch me perform the task at a safe distance, out of our reach.
I kneel next to Aaron and reach back with my left hand to find the two restraints. Aaron puts his hands behind his back, takes a deep breath in, and as he exhales, I can hear him whisper, "Oh, my God."
I look down at him as he's lying on his stomach, head turned toward me, away from the intruders. I want so bad to look into his eyes, to tell him, We'll be okay. We'll get through this together.
But I can't. I'm afraid of what they'll do if I try. There's an energy between us, an agreement to listen, not to fight back, because not fighting is the best way to protect each other in this situation.
My heart races as I fumble with the zip ties.
You can do this, I tell myself.
Yet it's hard for my eyes to focus; every inch of me is trembling. Such a simple task feels impossible as I think of all the horrific things they could do to us. I wonder if we have a chance to fight or escape, but we're cornered, defenseless, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if something happened to Aaron because of how I reacted.
"You. Are. Doing. A. Good. Job," the Voice says.
It's as if he can read my mind.
He continues to encourage me, repeating the phrases, "You are staying calm. You are doing a good job."
At first, his words are reassuring and help me stay focused, but more than anything, this pseudo politeness is disorienting and disturbing. It's a veneer-like he's working from a carefully written script and this is the part where he gives the victim encouragement to keep him or her compliant and show his group means no harm. The obvious level of detailed thought and planning they must have put into this is alarming.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Victims l
Sunday, March 22, to Wednesday, March 25, 2015
"Wake up. This is a robbery."
Part 2 Suspects 143
March 25 Through June 2015
"There is no evidence to support the claims that this was a stranger abduction, or an abduction at all. Given the facts that have been presented thus far, this appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping."
Part 3 Survivors 245
June 2015 to Present
"Denise and Aaron are shining examples of how to find love in tragedy, strength in sorrow, power in reconnection."
Author's Note 377