Lifetime’s Hoax The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini: Is it Based on a Real Case?

Directed by Marta Borowski, Lifetime’s ‘Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini’ (also titled ‘Sherri Papini: I Kidnapped Myself’) is a crime thriller movie that revolves around a mother of two, Sherri Papini, who goes missing after she doesn’t return home from her run. But 22 days after her disappearance, she is found on the highway with various injuries — her face bruised, her hair disordered, and a chain around her wrists and waist.

When asked by the authorities, Sherri claims that she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women who tortured her for days. However, months go by, but the police don’t find any evidence that proves her allegations. Soon, they discover that Sherri was not kidnapped at all. In fact, she had spent three weeks with her ex-boyfriend in his cabin. Since there are many realistic themes in the narrative, including deceit and adultery, it is natural for you to wonder if the Lifetime movie has anything to do with reality.

The True Story of the Disappearance of Sherri Papini

Yes, ‘Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini’ is based on a true story. Writer Katie Boland has drawn real-life inspiration for the movie’s script from a shocking 2016 incident involving Sherri Papini. She is an actual woman who went missing on November 2, 2016, while jogging near her home in Redding, California. 34 at the time, she reappeared on November 24, 2016 (Thanksgiving Day), and was found wearing restraints, with bruises and branding, on the side of County Road 17 in Yolo County near Interstate 5.

Born on June 11, 1982, Sherri married Keith Papini in October 2009, and the couple has a son and a daughter. On the day of the disappearance, Keith got worried when he returned home from work, and there was no sign of his wife at home. With the help of the Find My iPhone feature, he found the whereabouts of her phone and earbuds, which were at the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail, where she allegedly went for her run.

After the missing person’s report was filed, the authorities reportedly executed over 12 search warrants in Michigan, with the FBI’s assistance of the FBI. When Sherri was found after three weeks, she told the authorities about where she had been all this time. She claimed that she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women who either covered their faces or hers to keep their identities concealed. As for the branding on her right shoulder, she vaguely stated that it seemed like a verse from the Book of Exodus.

Sherri and Keith Papini//Image Credit: Record Searchlight News

Based on Sherri’s claims, the authorities opened an investigation to get to the bottom of the case and searched for a dark-colored SUV belonging to two armed Hispanic females. During the investigation, the detectives reportedly authored around 20 search warrants and looked into phone records, email, social media profiles, and bank accounts. Moreover, despite Keith’s cooperation throughout the investigation, the authorities did not rule him out as a suspect.

Soon, the investigation turned on its head when male and female DNA was found on Sherri, neither hers nor her husband’s. The FBI found no matches even after running the samples through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). However, in March 2022, the DNA found on her clothing reportedly matched that of her ex-boyfriend James Reyes. On August 10, 2020, he confessed and confirmed that Sherri actually stayed with him when she claimed to have been kidnapped.

James Reyes//Image Credit: Inside Edition

James’ confession revealed that Sherri had harmed herself to provide enough credence to her fabricated truth. In August 2020, she stayed firm to her original statement despite being told that it was a crime to lie to a federal agent. Then, on March 3, 2022, she was arrested by the FBI and faced up to 25 years in prison on charges of lying to federal law enforcement officers.

Sherri was also charged with mail fraud as she received over $30,000 between 2017 and 2021 as compensation from the California Victim’s Compensation Board. Nevertheless, on March 9, 2022, she was released from prison on a 120,000 bond and submitted her passport just before her trial. In April, six weeks after her arrest, Sherri accepted a plea deal and confessed that she had made up the entire kidnapping case.

Sherri expressed her feelings in a statement through her representative — “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.” A few days later, Keith filed for divorce and custody of their children.

In September 2022, Sherri Papini was sentenced to 18 months in prison for making false statements to the FBI and fined $300,000. After her release from jail, she will be under supervised custody for three years. While Lifetime film covers almost every aspect of the Sherri Papini case, some parts have been likely embellished for entertainment purposes. Nonetheless, it would be safe to say that ‘Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini’ is rooted deeply in reality and mostly stays true to its subject.

Read More: Where was Lifetime’s Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini Filmed? Who is in the Cast?