Sherri Papini, 34, disappeared on November 2, 2016, whilst out jogging a mile from her home in Redding, California.
She reappeared 22 days later at 4.30 am on Thanksgiving Day near the town of Mountain Gale on November 24, 2016.
Sherri told the police that she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women and a medical exam showed she had been “branded,” on her right shoulder, though it was unclear what the image was that had been burned into her skin. She had also lost a significant amount of weight during captivity.
In the months that followed the authorities cast some doubts on her story given the unlikely details and inconsistencies of the reported abduction.
The story remains a mystery as seemingly investigators still can’t decide if Sherri was the victim of a kidnapping or they are the victims of a hoax. But if it was a hoax, what was the motive? If the abduction was faked, who harmed so badly?
Sherri’s husband, Keith Papini, became concerned when he returned from his job at Best Buy on November 2, 2016, and did not find her at home. She also had not picked her children up from daycare.
He used the “Find My iPhone” application to try and find where she was by locating her cell phone. The app indicated her cellphone was at the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail, about a mile from their home.
Keith said, “I couldn’t find her, so I called the daycare to see what time she picked up the kids. The kids were never picked up so I got freaked out, I hit the Find My iPhone app thing. I found her phone; it’s got like hair ripped out of it, like, in the headphones.”
When Keith went to retrieve the phone it was placed on the ground and with the headphones tidily wrapped around it. He contacted the authorities on the assumption that something bad had happened to Sherri.
Three weeks later, in the early morning hours of November 24, Sherri was found at the side of County Road 17 near Interstate 5 in Yolo County. The location was 150 miles (240 km) south of where she disappeared and around 15 miles north of Sacramento.
According to police, despite being chained, she had managed to flag down a passing car.
Sherri told police she had been held by two Hispanic women who took steps to keep their faces hidden from her, either by wearing masks or by keeping her head covered. Sherri said that the two women armed with a handgun had abducted her, beat her, and held her captive in a basement before one of them finally left her on the side of the road.
Sherri said the women had been driving a dark-colored SUV with a large rear side window at the time of the kidnapping but she was unable to give details of the make and model.
She seemed to have been physically abused during her captivity. She had been branded with a threatening message, her nose broken and her hair cut off. She also weighed only 87 pounds (40 kg) when she was found.
The sheriff’s office said, “Sherri appeared battered and bruised, her hair had been cut to shoulder length and she had a brand on her right shoulder. Sherri, however, stated she had not been sexually assaulted, and there is no physical evidence to indicate otherwise. “
‘The Sheriff’s Office examined the brand on Sherri’s shoulder and its possible meaning, but details remain confidential.
Sketches of Sherri’s alleged kidnappers were released in October 2017, 11 months after she was taken. One woman was described as being aged between 20 and 30 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall and with curly dark hair, thin eyebrows and pierced ears. The second woman was between 40 and 50 years old, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with long, straight black hair with some gray in it, thick eyebrows and pierced ears.
A medical examination of Sherri found there was male DNA on her person, but no other female DNA, seemingly at odds with her claim that two “Mexican women” abducted her. This male DNA was not her husband’s and Keith Papini volunteered for a polygraph and passed.
Then a man called the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office a few months after the alleged abduction claiming that Sherri was with him for the entire 22 days when she was supposedly held captive by the Hispanic women. But this lead went nowhere. Still, it helped to seed doubts in the Sheriff’s office.
The authorities were skeptical from the start about the abduction even before she was found alive. They spent days focused almost entirely on an exchange on the Papini’s computer that suggested she might have been involved with a man she met online.
Police found Sherri had been texting a man before her disappearance and they tracked down the man in Detroit, Michigan on November 9, a week after she disappeared. But the man was ruled out as a suspect in her disappearance and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department refused to give further details.
Sherri also appeared to have had a troubled past. When she was 18 years old, her sister accused her of kicking in the back door of the family’s Shasta Lake home The same day, her parents, Richard and Loretta Graeff, called the police to report the incident as “vandalism” and claimed that she had taken off to “somewhere in Redding”.
When she was 21, her parents placed another call to the police alleging she had taken money from her father’s bank account which she later returned. Then Loretta reported that Sherri was harming herself and blaming the injuries on her.
Retired NYPD Sgt. Joseph Giacalone and now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said after Sherri was found, “I don’t think they could find anything in the United States where that happened to someone. Generally, when kidnappings go on that long, they don’t end as well as this one did.
That no motive was ever revealed in the case is also perplexing, along with the $100,000 reward being offered in the case going unclaimed. “When you’re going to kidnap someone you’ve got a reason for it, whether it’s money, revenge or to get back at somebody,” Giacalone said. A pair of female kidnappers is also “very unusual” he said.
Since authorities have indicated there’s no public threat from the two women, Giacalone said that could suggest that Sherri knew her abductors. “Generally when law enforcement doesn’t say there’s a public threat, they genuinely believe the person actually knows the perpetrator.”
Others criticized the investigation, “The sheriff’s office was so focused on that one lead that they forgot how to run an investigation. I’m not afraid to call out law enforcement when they’re not doing they’re not doing their job and the problem, in this case, is that law enforcement has failed miserably.”
Sherri Papini now remains at home with her husband Keith and son and daughter on the outskirts of Shasta Lake in Northern California.
Neighbors have said that Sheri is now only seen outside infrequently and “mostly stays home”.
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