Monday, September 19, 2022

The Bizarre Case of Sherri Papini

Sherri Papini vanished from her family's Redding, California home on November 2nd, 2016. The then-34-year-old last spoke to her husband, Keith Papini, earlier that day. When Keith returned from work, he noticed that Sherri was not home. He was also notified that Sherri had not picked up their two children from daycare, which was quite unusual. 

Keith then used the Find My iPhone app to track Sherri's phone. The app indicated that Sherri's phone was on Sunrise Drive, located less than a mile away from the Papini's home. Keith went to the location and found Sherri's phone on the ground on a trail. Her headphones were also found, and strands of Sherri's hair were tangled into the wires. Keith called police to report his wife missing shortly after this discovery.

The Shasta County Sheriff's Office sent search teams to Sunset Drive and Old Oregon Trail, but they were unable to find any trace of Sherri. Due to her phone being found on the ground, many began to speculate that Sherri had been abducted while jogging. On the other hand, there was also speculation that the scene might have been staged. The neighborhood that Sherri disappeared from is considered a quiet and safe area where crime is rarely reported. Additionally, it was reported that Sherri's phone appeared to be placed, rather than tossed or dropped, on the ground. 

Inevitably, people began to wonder if Keith had harmed Sherri and then staged her abduction. However, Keith cooperated with the investigation and police were able to confirm that he was at work during the time Sherri vanished. Still, the speculation about the abduction being staged remained. The rumors about what happened to Sherri seemed to be evenly divided--with some believing that Sherri truly was abducted, while others believed that disappearance was a hoax orchestrated by Sherri and possibly Keith as well. 

Three weeks after Sherri's disappearance, on November 24th, 2016, Sherri re-emerged. Around 4:30 that morning, the California Highway Patrol received several 911 reporting that a disheveled woman was seen running alongside Interstate 5 in Yolo County--located approximately 145 miles away from the Papini home in Redding. An officer located the woman with a truck driver who had stopped to help her. The woman identified herself as Sherri Papini. She had bindings around both her ankles and one of her arms. Additionally, Sherri was covered in cuts and bruises, a large amount of her hair had been cut, and had lost a considerable amount of weight. 

Sherri was transported to the nearby Woodland Hospital, where she was reunited with Keith. While at the hospital, Sherri explained that she was abducted by two Hispanic women and held captive in a bedroom in an unknown location. She said that the women physically abused her and at one point, they held her down to a coffee table and branded her. Police were able to confirm that Sherri did, in fact, have a brand on her body that was not there before she vanished. The brand had an indistinguishable symbol. 

Police then began to search for Sherri's kidnappers. Meanwhile, many continued to believe that her abduction was a hoax. There were many details of the story that seemed to not add up--and a motive for her kidnapping remained unclear. However, in the early stages of the investigation, police continued to maintain that they had "no reason" to not believe Sherri. Sherri later pursued compensation from California Victim’s Compensation Board and received around $30,000 from the state between the years of 2017 and 2021. 

Years passed without any updates in the case. Then, in March 2022, Sherri was arrested and charged with of making false statements to federal law enforcement officers and for mail fraud. Upon her arrest, it was revealed that Sherri had actually been with an ex-boyfriend in Costa Mesa during the time she claimed to be abducted. 

The news of Sherri's arrest also revealed many more bizarre details about her past and the events surrounding her disappearance.

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As previously noted, many people speculated that Sherri's abduction was a hoax from the start. This speculation partially was fueled by statements from people who knew Sherri personally. Once Sherri's case garnered national attention, rumors began to spread that Sherri had a history of lying about being abused by family members and ex-boyfriends.  Sherri's arrest affidavit states that police actually interviewed one of her exes while she was missing, and he seemingly confirmed these rumors.

Papini Aff. ¶ 4.

Sherri was also accused of writing a blog post containing statements of white supremacy against Hispanic people. The post was published to MySpace in 2007 with an author listed as a 'Sherri Graeffe' from Shasta County, California. According to the arrest affidavit, the post read, in part, "I used to come home in tears, because I was getting suspended from school all the time for defending myself against the Latinos. The chief problem was that I was drug-fee [sic], white and proud of my blood and heritage. This really irked a group of Latino girls, which would constantly rag and attack me."

Papini Aff. ¶ 18 and 19

 The end of the post reads, "Being white is more than just being aware of my skin, but of standing behind Skinheads – who are always around, in spirit, as well – and having pride for my country."

Papini Aff. ¶ 19

Sherri denied that she was the author to this blog post, but it was noted that she had hired an attorney to have the post removed from the web before her disappearance. This blog post fueled the rumors about Sherri faking her abduction, since she told police that her abductors were Hispanic women.

The rumors about Sherri faking her abduction continued, but investigators maintained that they were still searching for her kidnappers. Investigators eventually had a break in the case when they discovered the presence of unknown male DNA on a pair of underwear that Sherri had worn while she was missing. In 2019, investigators requested a familial DNA search for the unknown contributor. Their request was approved, and in March 2020, 
investigators were notified of a potential relative of the unknown male. The relative turned out to be the father of one of Sherri Papini's ex-boyfriends. 

From this point forward, investigators began to unravel the truth about Sherri's disappearance. On August 10th, 2020, investigators interviewed the ex-boyfriend for the first time. He told investigators that he did not want to contact them but had always planned to be forthcoming if they were to contact him. The ex-boyfriend then explained that he helped Sherri "run away." According to the arrest affidavit, the ex-boyfriend believed that Sherri was being abused, and he wanted to help her.

Papini Aff. ¶ 30

The ex-boyfriend continued to explain that he picked Sherri up on the day of her disappearance, then drove her back to his home in Costa Mesa. Sherri did not leave the home the entire time she was there. 

The ex also said that Sherri seemed to purposely try and lose weight by eating very little. She also cut her own hair and asked him to brand her. He complied with Sherri's request, and eventually placed the brand on her right shoulder using a wood burning tool from Hobby Lobby.

When asked if he and Sherri had been intimate, the ex-boyfriend explained that "nothing romantic" had happened between them while she stayed with him. He explained that they communicated through burner phones for almost a year before Sherri's disappearance. He initially thought that something romantic might happen when Sherri asked him to pick her up, but she did not seem interested. 

Papini Aff. ¶ 37

The arrest affidavits later state that Sherri told the ex-boyfriend that she was ready to go home shortly before Thanksgiving 2016. She told her ex that she missed her children and wanted to return to them. Her ex began to drive her back towards Redding on the evening of November 23rd, and he dropped her off on a rural road off Interstate 5.

Investigators were eventually able to corroborate the ex-boyfriend's recollection of events. Just days after speaking with him, investigators confronted Sherri with this evidence. Sherri continued to maintain that she was abducted by two Hispanic women. 

Over the next year and a half, investigators continued to build their case before finally arresting Sherri in March of 2022. While many are not surprised by her arrest, there are also some people who are devastated by Sherri's arrest and feel betrayed by her. A private investigator hired by the Papini family to find Sherri's kidnappers told People that Sherri had been the first person to hoax him throughout his 30-year-old career. Many others are angry about all the resources and dollars that were wasted on the kidnapping investigation.

Keith Papini and her other family members continue to support Sherri after her arrest. A day after she was taken into custody, the family released the following statement: “We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her this afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children. If requested, Sherri would have fully complied and come to the police station, as she has done multiple times before, where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way. Sherri and Keith have cooperated with law enforcement’s requests despite repeated attempts to unnecessarily pit them against each other, empty threats to publicly embarrass them and other conduct that was less than professional. We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get clarification in the coming days.”

Sherri remains in jail as her case is pending. If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.
UPDATE (April 12, 2022): 

Sherri Papini has agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements. The Sacramento Bee reports that Sherri has made a statement through her attorney, saying, "I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me. I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

Sherri is expected to appear before a magistrate judge at some point this week. According to Crime Online, Sherri will first plead not guilty, but then she will later appear before a district court judge to change her plea to guilty. The judge will then determine her sentence. 

Updates will be provided when available.
UPDATE (April 19, 2022):

Sherri Papini has official pleaded guilty to her charges and has admitted that her kidnapping was a hoax. She is due to be sentenced in July 2022.

UPDATE (September 2022):

After months of delays, Sherri has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Her husband, Keith, has filed for divorce. 

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