Beginning in November 2016, the community of Redding, California, was blown away by the shocking developments in Sherri Papini’s case. While she claimed to have been kidnapped and held captive for three weeks, the evidence and inconsistencies in her statements pointed in another direction. ABC News’ ‘20/20: The Vanishing Act’ focuses on how Sherri faked being kidnapped and the crumbs that led to her conviction. So, let’s find out what happened then, shall we?
What Did Sherri Papini Do?
On November 2, 2016, Sherri Papini, a young mother of two, didn’t show up at the children’s daycare to pick them up. Keith Papini, her then-husband, used the Find my iPhone app to trace her phone and earbuds to an intersection in Redding, California. Sherri had gone for an afternoon jog at around 2 pm near their home in the Mountain Gate area and was not seen after that. A few hours later, the 34-year-old was reported missing, leading to an extensive search for her whereabouts. Despite aerial and ground searches, Sherri was nowhere to be seen.
But on November 24, 2016, she was located on a rural road in Yolo County, about 146 miles from her house. Sherri appeared to have a chain around her waist, and her wrist and ankles were bound. Apart from that, she lost weight, her hair was cut, and she had several bruises all over her body. Sherri also had branding on her shoulder, that appeared to be a Bible verse. Sherri was initially reluctant to speak with the authorities. However, they did learn that she claimed to have been kidnapped by two Hispanic women. According to Sherri, the women told her that the police were involved with her abduction.
At the time, the investigators gave Keith a recording device to document everything she told him. In it, Sherri was heard saying regarding one of her purported kidnappers, “She was laughing at me. ‘No one believes you. Everyone thinks you ran away. No one believes you. Guess what? The buyer’s a cop. They’re never gonna find you.'” Sherri later talked about being kept chained in a closet and fed very little food. She claimed that the kidnappers even made her wear an adult diaper. But Sherri asserted that she was let go three weeks after being held captive.
However, the authorities found several inconsistencies in her stories, including her explanation for why she got branded; Sherri claimed that it happened because she tried to escape and later said that it was requested by the man who was supposed to buy her. So, the police decided to dig in. Upon talking to people who knew Sherri, it appeared that she had a propensity to lie and during her younger years, she had often run away. Some friends also mentioned Sherri making up things like being abused. Furthermore, her phone records indicated that she had been talking to multiple men in the time leading up to her disappearance.
The authorities also collected Sherri’s clothing, and analysis revealed the presence of male DNA. In 2020, they matched the biological evidence to James Reyes, an ex-boyfriend of Sherri’s. It was at this point that the investigation took a shocking turn. When James was questioned, he told the police that Sherri had contacted him and claimed that Keith was abusing her. James said he agreed to help her get away from her husband. He stated that Sherri asked him to pick her up on November 2, 2016, before driving her to his Costa Mesa, California, home.
James added that the injuries Sherri had were self-inflicted and that she had asked him to help brand her. However, around Thanksgiving that year, Sherri wanted to go home because she missed her kids. So, James dropped her off at the rural road, where she was eventually found. Later, it was also reported that a MySpace account associated with Sherri had a racist rant from many years prior targeting the Latino community. However, she claimed that someone else took over her account and posted that.
Where is Sherri Papini Today?
When the authorities confronted Sherri Papini with the new evidence, she didn’t budge from her story. However, the police arrested her in March 2022. The following month, Sherri pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements and one count of mail fraud. At that time, she talked in court about being treated for anxiety, depression, and PTSD since 2016. Furthermore, Keith filed for divorce and custody of their two children in the aftermath of the events.
In September 2022, a judge sentenced Sherri, about 40 years old, to serve 18 months in federal prison. This was more than double what the prosecutors had asked for. She said in court, “I am so sorry to the many people who have suffered because of me. The people who sacrificed for the broken woman I was. The people who gave willingly to help me in a time that I so desperately needed help. I thank you all.”
Besides the prison sentence, Sherri was asked to pay about $310,000 in restitution. Earlier, the authorities had stated that the hoax kidnapping, ensuing investigation, and her cashing checks from the California Victim’s Compensation Board and Social Security Disability income cost the taxpayers about the same amount. While Sherri remains in police custody in California, she has not yet been sent to a federal correctional institution.