The real details behind the bizarre disappearance of Sherri Papini, mother of two, are only just coming to light. In November 2016, American sweetheart Sherri Papini suddenly vanished, giving way to the single largest manhunt in Californian history. And when she reappeared 3 weeks later with mysterious markings, she had a hell of a story to tell.
As far as the world was concerned, Sherri had been abducted by two “Hispanic women” who put her through unspeakable misery. But behind the scenes, detectives were discovering that Sherri’s story just didn’t add up. Take a look at what really went down in the kidnapping, and find out why people are comparing Sherri Papini to Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne.
As a Teen, Sherri Was Intrigued by the Disappearance of a Fellow School Pupil
Sherri Graeff was born in 1982 to parents Rich and Loretta in Redding, California. From the outside, it seems as though Sherri had a great childhood – she was beautiful, popular, and got good grades. She completed her studies at Central Valley High School before earning a university degree, all within the same city that she had grown up in.
She also wasn’t an only child – she grew up with her sister, Sheila Koesta. But it was the disappearance of a fellow school pupil, Tera Smith, that really sparked Sherri’s young imagination. Tera was in the year below Sherri when she disappeared in 1998, and still to this day, has never been found.
Sherri Called Herself and Keith a “Perfect Couple” in a Long Blog Post, Where She Revealed That They Had Been High School Sweethearts
As we can see in the photos below of Sherri with then-boyfriend Keith Papini, she was absolutely stunning. Sherri and Keith were initially high school sweethearts who eventually lost contact, before meeting several years later and quickly falling in love. Sherri even wrote a blog once that detailed their young romance: “He was in seventh grade, I was in eighth. I never imagined my middle school first kiss would turn out to be my husband.”
Years after their first kiss, they met randomly in the street and agreed to go on a date, with things escalating quickly. “By our third date we were head over heels in love and have spent every day together since,” Sherri wrote upon their engagement. She described them as a “perfect couple,” and they certainly seemed to be one. But we’ll come to see later on that Sherri actually had more than one high school sweetheart – she just didn’t mention it in her blog.
Sherri and Keith Get Married in 2009, But Her Obsession With Perfection Only Grew Stronger
In 2009, the “perfect couple” got married. Sherri wrote on her blog that “He made me the happiest girl in the world” the day Keith proposed, as all her dreams were finally coming true. “People were congratulating us! It was like a movie! I could barely eat my dinner because I was so emotional,” she explained.
But once again, the word “perfect” reappeared in her blog post. Upon getting engaged, Sherri wrote, “I think I cried (happy cry) for 3 days. Everything was perfect… I am so happy. Words can’t describe the emotion I felt that night. PERFECT.” Her blog posts really show how she was obsessed with being perfect, even in adulthood.
Sherri and Keith Have Two Kids, and She Curates Her Life To Look As Though She’s a Doting Mother
Sherri and Keith had settled into married life before their two kids, Tyler and Violet, were born. The first time they moved in together, Sherri described it on her blog as “an interesting test to our relationship.” However, she only shared the good times with her blog readers. She claimed that living with Keith was the first time she had lived with a man, and therefore found it challenging. But this would turn out to be a lie.
As far as her social media accounts showed, Sherri was a proud and doting mother. There were several photos uploaded of her taking her kids to the beach, taking them to see nature, or just playing around. To everyone around her, everything about Sherri’s life seemed to be going as well as it could be.
Keith Discovers Sherri Is Missing and Finds Down Her Phone a Mile Away From the House
It was November 2nd, 2016 when Keith reported his wife, then 32 years old, as a missing person. He was working at Best Buy at the time, and upon returning home that day he found Sherri and the two kids missing. As it turned out, Tyler and Violet had not been picked up from daycare by Sherri. Upon inspecting the house, he noticed that her phone was gone too.
Keith opened the Find My iPhone app to track down Sherri’s location, and found it to be listed as roughly a mile away from their home, somewhere between the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail. When he got their, he found Sherri mobile with her earbuds wrapped around it, along with a few strands of hair. He then called Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and reported her missing under suspicious circumstances.
The Search and Rescue Teams Are Called In and Sherri’s Sister Claims She Was Abducted
Before the night was over, members of the police department arrived at the scene and collected witness reports. One witness remembered seeing her that day late in the morning, while another witness claimed to have seen her at around 2pm. They reported seeing her wearing a pink jogging jacket during a run on Sunset Drive.
The next day, the search and rescue teams were called in. They inspected the local area, and called in the California Highway Patrol for help with aerial searching. Back at the station, officers start to comb through the list of 290 locally registered sex offenders. By the end of the day, Sherri’s sister Sheila tells the public that the family thinks she has been kidnapped.
Keith Appears on National News Stating That Sherri Was “Definitely Taken Against Her Will”
Over the following days, monetary rewards started coming in. Secret Witness of Shasta County declare that they are offering a $10,000 reward for people who come forward with information, and Sherri’s family members offer $40,000 on top of that. Meanwhile, volunteers began to turn up at the family home to help search the area.
After a few days had passed since Sherri’s disappearance, Keith goes on national news to asking for people to come forward with any information. He announced the $50,000 reward, and states that Sherri was “definitely taken against her will.” The rest of the family start getting in touch with national organizations and begin utilizing social media.
Sherri Sparked the Biggest Manhunt in Californian History
After a few more days had passed, Sherri’s family start to lose faith in Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and hire their own private investigator. More and more locals get involved in the search for Sherri and volunteer their time. One thing started to become clear – people cared and wanted to help out as much as possible.
On November 15th, Keith and Sherri’s sister Sheila appear at a Redding City Council meeting, where they thank their hoards of supporters and tell of their intentions to publicize Sherri’s face “around the world,” in the hopes that the exposure helps bring Sherri home.
Sherri Is Found Safe on Thanksgiving Day, and the Sheriff’s Office Reveal That Her Captors Had Been Two Hispanic Women
Finally, on November 24th, the Sheriff’s office confirmed that Sherri had been found safe that morning, three weeks from the date she disappeared. She had been spotted by a motorist around 4:30 in the morning on Interstate 5. Sherri was immediately taken to the hospital and treated for injuries, none of which were life-threatening.
A criminal complaint shows that the police department had actually received several calls about a woman, later understood to be Sherri, “standing or running in the middle of Interstate 5. These included a truck driver, who had stopped for Sherri and called 911 to report the incident.” The complaint also stated that Sherri was found with “a chain around her waist that one arm was bound to, with additional bindings around her other wrist and each ankle.”
At Hospital Sherri Is Found to Have Various Marks, Bruises, and Burns, But She Refused an Interview With Detectives
Sherri was given several physical examinations at Woodland Hospital, where she was found to have a bruised face, swollen nose, rashes, burns, and “appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight.” She also apparently “had been branded on her right shoulder.” On the same day, the police department attempted to interview Sherri, but she flat-out refused.
Sherri said that she wouldn’t speak to the detectives at Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, but they came to a compromise. Sherri agreed to be interviewed by her husband Keith, with detectives present in the room along with a recorder. It’s then that Sherri began to share details about her supposed abductors.
Sherri Claims She Had Been Locked Up In a Closet By Two Hispanic Women
In the interview, Sherri claimed that she had been abducted by two armed Hispanic women who “spoke Spanish a lot” and “always wore masks and short black leather gloves.” She claimed that they “put her in a closet with a bucket with kitty litter in it for her to use as a toilet,” and she also stated that “law enforcement was involved.”
Sherri was released from hospital that same day, and the Sheriff’s office gave a press conference. They reveal that they had found Mrs. Papini in Yolo County, restrained, approximately 150 miles from where she had gone missing, and reveal details about Sherri’s captors based on what information she gave. They don’t reveal whether or not sexual misconduct had taken place.
Sherri Requests Victim Compensation and Receives Over $30,000, While Keith Begins Telling the World About Her Harrowing Ordeal
Four days after Sherri was found safe and sound, she applied to the California Victim Compensation Board, asking for financial assistance. She stated that she needed to pay for the ambulance that came, home improvements, and therapy. Later, it was revealed that she received a total of $30,694.15 from the California Victim Compensation Board.
Husband Keith meanwhile, started to tell the public of Sherri’s awful ordeal. He appears on the news where he tearfully explains that she once rolled cloth into a bundle and rocked it for comfort, pretending it was their daughter Violet. In a statement sent to Good Morning America, he said “her signature long, blond hair had been chopped off,” and that “She has been branded.”
Early In 2017 It Was Revealed That Sherri’s Parents Had Previously Called the Police on Her For a Series of Worrying Behavior
Time goes on, and detectives continue searching for Sherri’s captors. But in March 2017, it’s revealed in the papers that things haven’t been so smooth-sailing between Sherri and her family. People Magazine reveals that her immediate family called the cops on her several times between the years 2000 to 2003. Her family speaks out, claiming that the reporting is “shameful” and unrelated to her kidnapping.
But incident reports gave an insight into Sherri’s past behaviors. In December 2003, Sherri’s mom Loretta had called the law enforcement claiming that Sherri was “harming herself and blaming the injuries on [her mom].” Sometime in 2000, Sherri’s dad Rich reported that Sherri had vandalized his home, and in 2003 he reported that she had taken money out of his checking account.
In 2017 Authorities Reveal That They Have Found the DNA of An Unidentified Man on the Clothes That Sherri Was Wearing During Her Abduction
In October 2017, Shasta Country Sheriff’s Office reveal to the public that they have found male DNA on the clothes that she was wearing the day she was found, and that the DNA was not her husband’s. This development didn’t necessarily conflict with Sherri’s account of the 22 days she spent locked in a closet, but it didn’t support it either.
During this period, more and more people start to suspect that Sherri was lying about her account of the kidnapping. Authorities told the public that they are investigating all types of possibilities, which included looking into texts with a man from Detroit, as well as a supposed physical fight that Sherri had with one of her captors. Pictured above, Sherri was seen eating at a restaurant with husband Keith.
In June 2020, FBI Special Agents Collect Discarded Trash Items From the Residence of One of Sherri’s Ex-Boyfriends
For the next couple of years, the case appears to go cold, but the Sheriff’s Office claimed they are still investigating it. But in June 2020, FBI Special Agents appear to make a breakthrough. They visit one of the Sherri’s ex-boyfriends and rummaged through his trash bins, collecting evidence.
The discarded trash items, one of which was a bottle of Honest Honey Green Tea, were sent away for analysis. The lab team soon conclude “that the DNA obtained from the mouth area of the Honest Honey Green Tea bottle matched the unknown male DNA collected from Papini’s clothing.”
In the Following Month, the Unidentified DNA Was Matched To That of Sherri’s Ex-Boyfriend, and He Agrees To Be Interviewed
One month later, there’s a damning discovery. The DNA collected from Sherri’s clothing is confirmed to belong to one of Sherri’s ex-boyfriends. In August, authorities interview the ex-boyfriend, and he admits that he helped Sherri run away after she told him that she was being abused at home. The ex claimed that Sherri said her husband was violent, and “she was trying to escape.”
The ex-boyfriend also told the authorities that he and Sherri had used prepaid phones to communicate with each other, which allowed them to come up with a plan to run away. He agreed to pick her up in Redding and take her to his two-bedroom residence in Costa Mesa and he explained that she never left the apartment.
The Ex-Boyfriend Reveals That Sherri Purposefully Lost Weight, Cut Her Hair, Gave Herself Bruises, and Asked Him To Brand Her
Sherri’s ex-boyfriend revealed more of what went on during her stay. He claimed that she had cut her own hair, was “purposefully trying to lose weight,” and “created the injuries while staying with him, including hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms.” He claimed to help create some injuries, but only upon her insistence. He also claimed that Sherri asked him to brand her on her shoulder, which he did with a wood-burning tool he bought especially from Hobby Lobby.
In the complaint, it stated that the “Ex-Boyfriend said he was nervous and wanted to hold steady while doing the brand because the tool was so hot it glowed red.” He also said that the two had been dating until 2006, and that he “wasn’t sure of Papini’s intentions during her stay with him, but he believed they might end up in a romantic relationship again.”
Sherri Was Arrested For Fraud and False Statements in March 2022
On March 3rd, 2022, Sherri was arrested at the piano practice of one of her kids, six years after the supposed kidnapping. She was charged with mail fraud for the $30,000 she collected from the state’s victim compensation board and for making false statements to a federal agent.
A U.S. Attorney connected to the case, Phillip Talbert, stated: “When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern. Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted.”
Sherri Was Released From Sacramento County Jail Only Five Days Later From a $120,000 Bail
Sherri’s stint in the Sacramento County Jail didn’t last long, as she was bailed out only five days later on March 8th for a whopping $120,000. She was present during a virtual court hearing that stated that she had to hand over her passport and that she would have to attend a psychiatric program.
Upon leaving jail, she was met by her immediate family who attempted to shield her from the press. The California judge declared that she didn’t pose as a threat to the community, and was therefore eligible for bail. The public meanwhile waited on tenterhooks to find out what happens next.
Sherri Signs a Plea Deal and Awaits Court, With 25 Years in Prison and $500,000 on the Line
In April 2022, Sherri signed a plea deal. She revealed that she will plead guilty and confess to the entire kidnapping hoax. In a statement released through her attorney, she told CNN: “I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends.”
“[And] 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,” her statement continued. In an upcoming court date that is yet to be set, Sherri will be faced with up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Sherri Was Seen Wiping Away Tears at Federal Court, Where She Officially Pleaded Guilty For Mail Fraud and Lying To Officials
On April 18th, 2022, Sherri appeared in federal court through a Zoom video call. She pleaded guilty to mail fraud and false statements while sitting next to her lawyer William Portanova in his office. When the judge asked if she had been kidnapped, she responded, “No, your honor.”
When the judge asked if she had lied to authorities about being kidnapped, she replied “Yes, your honor.” She was seen wiping away tears at some points during the hearing, grabbing for tissues, and keeping her eyes on the ground. When asked how she felt, she stated, “Judge Shubb asked Papini how she felt today. She said, “I’m sorry, your honor. I’m sad. I feel very sad, your honor. I feel very sad.”
Keith Officially Files For Divorce Only Four Days After Sherri’s Federal Court Appearance
It was only four days after Sherri pleaded guilty in Federal Court that her husband Keith filed for divorce. He had already received custody of their two kids through an emergency order, but clearly, he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from Sherri now that everything was coming to light.
Pictured picking up his kids from school, Keith claimed that he was seeking divorce sue to Sherri’s “significant mental health issues” and claimed that she is “not in a position to provide good parenting.” According to the paperwork, Keith is also looking to receive all of their property in the divorce, which includes their rented home, a motorhome, a wakeboard boat, and their three cars.