How the kidnapping hoax involving Sherri Papini was exposed and what followed

“Anyone who is familiar with my wife realizes that she has no motive to leave… Without a doubt, she was taken against her will.”

Four days after his wife, Sherri Papini, left the house for an afternoon jog and failed to return, so says Keith Papini in an interview with Good Morning America from November 6, 2016. When she neglected to pick up their children, Tyler, who was then 4 years old, and Violet, who was 2 years old, from daycare, he immediately recognized something was badly wrong.

She might drop her phone, but she would never, ever fail to pick up our kids at the scheduled time, according to Keith.

The 34-year-old “supermom,” as her sister-in-law Suzanne Papini characterized her, was reported missing from the city of Redding in Northern California, and her disappearance soon gained national attention, providing juicy material for true crime headlines (and now a Lifetime movie starring Jaime King).

Any information leading to Sherri’s location might get you $50,000.

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On November 2, a Wednesday, Keith said that Sherri had texted him at 10:37 a.m. inquiring if he was coming home for lunch. He didn’t reply to the SMS until 1:39 p.m. since he didn’t have his personal phone with him at work.

After returning to an empty house and learning that the kids hadn’t been picked up, Keith used a phone-finder app to track Sherri’s phone. He discovered it about a mile from their house, near the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Sunrise Drive, along with her earbuds, which had some of her blonde hair tangled up in the wires.

He later told KRCR-TV, “On regular days, I would open the door and my family would come running and give me a hug.

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature / Leigh Green
What transpired when Sherri Papini was being sought after?
Authorities examined surveillance footage from neighboring businesses, search teams combed adjacent woods and trails, and family and friends from all over flocked to the town to encourage Keith and the kids and lend a hand in any way they could.

Sheila Koester, Sherri’s sister, told ABC that “she has a family that loves her.” Just bring her home, please.

Naturally, the Internet insisted it knew what had occurred—Keith was definitely involved, Sherri left her family, etc.—as the traditional hotbeds of true crime conspiracy theories, like Reddit, erupted in speculations. Authorities received more than 200 tips in just a few days.

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Self-identified family member Rod Rodriguez III wrote on November 8 on the Facebook page Redding Crime 2.0, “Unfortunately, there are random, ignorant people on the internet that are casting aspersions on both Sherri and Keith,” denying rumors that Keith had “‘lawyerered up,'” and noting that Sherri’s husband had fully cooperated with the investigation.

According to Rodriguez, who spoke to the LA Times, “in reference to the terrible accusations involving Keith, everyone who genuinely knows him knows of his and Sherri’s amazing love relationship and commitment to their family and understands he had no involvement with Sherri’s disappearance.” The reason why everyone was hunting last weekend was because one notable family had chartered search helicopters, another couple had cut short their holiday and had flown across the Atlantic to return home, and a third couple had flown in from Idaho.

Keith Papini and Sherri Papini
A love partner is usually the first person Facebook Investigators look into, but Keith passed a lie-detector exam and his alibi was satisfactory to them, so they decided not to pursue the idea that he was involved in Sherri’s disappearance.

According to the findings of the polygraph test, he was not involved in his wife’s disappearance, according to a statement from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office on November 11. Detectives from the Sheriff’s Office have verified his location on the disputed day, and as of right now, there is no tangible proof to support his involvement.

Detectives are still attempting to determine if her absence was intentional or accidental, Bertain continued.

As the days passed, the Facebook page Help Find Sherri Papini became the go-to place for updates, and a GoFundMe put up to support search-and-rescue efforts, titled “Bring Sherri Home Safe,” drew more than $49,000 in contributions.

On the fundraiser page, Keith expressed gratitude to everyone for their contributions on November 7. The Papini family is very grateful for your kindness, concern, and prayers.

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature
via AP, Andrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee
The length of Sherri Papini’s disappearance
22 days after she vanished, on November 24, 2016, at around 4:30 a.m., many drivers dialed 911, including a truck driver who waited for the California Highway Patrol to come, to report seeing a lady standing or jogging down the center of Interstate 5 in Yolo County. It turned out to be Sherri, who had been discovered 146 miles from her house.

She had a chain around her waist that was attached to one of her wrists, her hair had been cut hastily, and she was covered in bruises and other markings.

Sherri and Keith were reunited when they arrived at Woodland Hospital in Yolo County. According to CNN, they claimed in a statement given to the public by Sherri’s sister Sheila, “We are filled with excitement at how helpful everyone has been to help bring us together as a family again.” “This Thanksgiving, thanks to everyone’s tremendous efforts, our family is once again complete. We appreciate you giving our family some space to recover.”

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We are thrilled to say that Sherri Papini has been found and has been reunited with her family on this day of Thanksgiving, the Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko stated in a statement to reporters later that day.

But he added, “the probe is far from over.” In actuality, a fresh chapter has just begun.

Then there “Sherri “was freed by her abductor on a remote road near I-5,” the sheriff said, adding that there was “important material” he couldn’t discuss just yet.

Despite being restrained, she managed to call for assistance from a passing driver.” He stated that investigators were looking for two Hispanic women who were believed to be carrying weapons and were driving a dark SUV, adding that “Detectives will not rest until her kidnapper or captors are located and brought to justice.”

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A few days later, the public was still demanding answers, according to Bosenko on November 27 “There is currently no reason to doubt Sherri Papini’s account. She was attacked, and medical attention was given to her wounds.” He said that at least 20 warrants had been sought for cell tower data and security video from areas in Redding and Yolo County, and the hunt for the two armed ladies was still ongoing.

But patience is a quality the Internet lacks.

Facebook Sherri Papini, Keith Papini
In a statement to Good Morning America on November 29, 2016, Keith thanked the “wonderful folks” who had supported his family during their “torturous journey” and specifically mentioned a number of people and organizations.

Judith Papini
County Sheriff for Shasta
Terming the focus placed on their case a “”Rumors, assumptions, lies, and hate have been both taxing and repulsive,” he continued. We won’t let them break our spirit or stop us from loving and celebrating the fact that our girl has been found alive and in her rightful place. I recognize that people are interested in the details, the images, and the evidence that this was not a scam, a scheme to make money, or a manufactured race conflict. Addressing each absurd untruth does not serve any purpose, in my opinion.”

Keith recalled that Sherri’s face was pale when he first saw her in her hospital bed “She was beaten repeatedly, leaving her with yellow to black bruises and a broken nose bridge. Her 87-pound, now-emaciated body was covered in rashes, severe burns, multicolored bruises, and chain insignia. She had lost her trademark long golden hair. I could feel the scabs rising on her skin since she has been brandered. She was thrown from a car while wearing a bag over her head, a bag strapped to her wrists, and a chain around her waist. She was able to release one of her hands and waved someone down with the same bag.”

Sherri “suffered greatly, and all the thoughts circulating in your heads of her appearance, I assure you, are not as violent and terrible as the reality,” the author said. They had “a long road of rehabilitation” ahead of them, he said, asking for their privacy.

What details of her kidnapping did Sherri Papini provide the police?
According to a 55-page affidavit in a criminal complaint filed on March 3 and obtained by E! News, Sherri told investigators the following in the days following her return and during the following months and years:

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature
On November 2, 2016, she was out for a run when two Hispanic ladies in a dark SUV forced her into their vehicle while brandishing firearms. She couldn’t recall getting into the car, but when she awoke, she was laying in the back, her hips aching from spending so much time in one position, and she had a pillowcase covering her head that smelled like laundry detergent.

According to Sherri, they gave her a container of cat litter to use as a toilet and tied her to a metal pole in a bedroom closet with enough slack to reach the bed. Investigators initially thought her kidnapping might have been related to human trafficking since she could hear “very obnoxious Mexican music” playing around her and overheard conversation about branding her for a future “purchase” despite the fact that her kidnappers spoke primarily in Spanish (as noted in a footnote in the March 3 filing).

She claimed she made repeated attempts to flee and got brand on her shoulder after the first one.

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature
Investigators spoke with Sherri several times, but over the course of several months, they were unable to verify her claims.

She provided descriptions of the women to FBI sketch artists on June 22, 2017, for use in widely disseminated “wanted” posters.

The elder kidnapper “was incredibly cruel and really mean and did all of the really bad things,” she claimed in an interview with the FBI on August 13, 2020, but the younger, friendlier woman ultimately let her go and dropped her out on the side of I-5 close to Woodland, California.

She claimed that she had been “physically and emotionally abused, beaten, burned, branded, and drugged” to a therapist who later diagnosed her with acute post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature
via AP, Andrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee
How did Sherri Papini’s narrative unravel?
In 2019, on the third anniversary of Sherri’s disappearance, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office stated that the case was still being investigated. Additionally, the FBI was reportedly offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the two women Sherri claimed were her kidnappers.

However, by the time Sherri met with the FBI in August 2020, authorities had concluded that her claim of being abducted was false. She had been missing for 22 days, but that’s when her account of what happened and what actually happened diverged.

Her ex-boyfriend picked her up from Redding and drove her to Costa Mesa, California, where she voluntarily stayed with him until she wanted to leave, according to what detectives had been informed just a few days earlier. However, when faced with this information, she denied it.

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Between her return and May 7, 2018, Keith and Sherri phoned the FBI numerous times to give new information, in addition to attending requested meetings to view picture arrays of potential suspects. The last information came from Keith, who informed investigators that his wife had remembered in a therapy session how one of her captors had tried to pour a sticky substance down her throat, and she had responded by wiping her mouth with her own underwear before falling asleep. This memory came from his wife.

The March 3 filing states that when testing Sherri’s clothing, detectives discovered the DNA of an unidentified male and an unidentified girl. The CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System, was used to upload the profiles. Detectives from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office asked the California Department of Justice for a family DNA search in September 2019.

Researchers discovered a potential relative of the individual they were looking for in March 2020 after receiving a familial hit on the unknown male DNA. One of the two sons of the individual who pinged the database was the ex-boyfriend in issue.

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The DNA from the mouth of an Honest Honey Green Tea bottle matched the DNA extracted from Sherri’s clothes when investigators gathered things from the ex’s garbage outside his Costa Mesa house in June of that year.

The man, who is referred to as Ex-Boyfriend throughout the court documents, cooperated with the investigation and has gone unnamed. According to the March 3 filing, he acknowledged helping Sherri “ran away” in an interview with the FBI on August 10, 2020. The ex claimed that although they had a “long history together as friends” and that they had once been engaged, woman contacting him was “out of the blue.”

He claimed Sherri informed him Keith had assaulted her physically and sexually and that the police had turned a blind eye to it. (Police have no records of allegations of abuse against Keith.)

Sherri Papini, deep dive, feature
via AP, Andrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee
Authorities discovered after looking through phone records that she had been in communication with the ex as early as December 2015, using both of their prepaid cell phones.

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