Even as authorities in Northern California mobilized an aggressive effort to find Denise Huskins this week, they doubted her boyfriend's story of how she went missing.
For hours, investigators questioned 30-year-old Aaron Quinn about what happened at his Mare Island home before dawn Monday. By his account, kidnappers attacked him, tied him up, drugged him and then disappeared with the 29-year-old Huskins.
The ransom demand was for $8,500. He waited hours to tell police.
The FBI was brought in, volunteers combed the streets and dive teams searched nearby waters. But after Huskins resurfaced Wednesday in what police called "good condition" at a relative's house in downtown Huntington Beach, and then vanished again hours later, police declared it "an orchestrated event and not a crime" — a hoax.
"The story that Mr. Quinn provided was such an incredible story, we initially had a hard time believing it, and upon further investigation we were not able to substantiate any of the things he was saying," said Lt. Kenny Park of the Vallejo Police Department.
Now, Quinn's lawyers are insisting it was the real thing.
"There seems to be a stream of blatant lies about our client, about the victim and about what is going on," attorney Dan Russo said at a news conference in his Vallejo office.
He said Quinn had fully cooperated with Vallejo police and provided blood samples to prove he was drugged. He gave them the passwords to his email accounts and endured a 17-hour interrogation by FBI and police.
"He basically has died and gone to hell," Russo said. "He is in terrible shape."
Police said Quinn didn't call them until after noon, though Huskins was said to have been kidnapped between midnight and 5 a.m. Quinn's attorneys say he waited hours to contact authorities because he was afraid.
Among the mysteries is the origin of an audio recording obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle this week in which a woman claiming to be Huskins says — in a calm, monotone voice — that she was abducted.
"My name is Denise Huskins and I'm kidnapped," she says. "Otherwise I'm fine."
After Huskins turned up at a relative's home in Huntington Beach, investigators expected she would cooperate with their investigation, and arranged to fly her back to Northern California for an interview.
But she missed the flight, and police said they couldn't find her.
On Thursday, the FBI said it had discovered her whereabouts but would not say where she had been found, only that it wasn't in Southern California.
Russo said he doesn't know why kidnappers would go after his client for money, since he isn't wealthy — though he did own a home and has a decent job. Like Huskins, he worked as a physical therapist.
"We have nothing to show they believe he is a liar and why they believe this is a hoax," said Amy Morton, another of Quinn's attorneys.
Morton said Quinn had agreed to call Huskins in their presence, but that was never done. "He wanted to have an opportunity to hear his girlfriend's voice," Morton said.
Police said Huskins has also retained an attorney, and Quinn is no longer talking to police. The couple could face charges.
For the most part, Huskins' family has remained silent, except for her uncle Jeff Kane, who told KNBC-TV that claims it was all a hoax are "absolute crap."
He suggested that maybe "she's seen enough of Vallejo," once the home of a bustling Navy shipyard northeast of San Francisco.
Douglas L. Rappaport, attorney for Denise Huskins, said late Thursday that his client truly was kidnapped.
"She was abducted," Rappaport said. "She is a victim, and she is woman who has been the victim of a violent crime and to a certain degree is being re-victimized" by police.
"Hopefully this will come to an end for her," he added.
The counselor said he could not comment further about the case.
Huskins and Quinn worked for Kaiser Permanente, which declined to provide information about the pair because of the police investigation.
Police said they don't know why the hoax was perpetrated, but that the FBI is searching financial records for clues.
"This was not a random act," said Park, who assured the community it had "nothing to fear."
Park said detectives spent a lot of time investigating a crime they believed was real. "The fact that we essentially wasted all of these resources for really nothing is upsetting," Park said.