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What happened to Sherri Papini? Where is she now?

The kidnapping hoaxer’s bizarre case is the subject of a new true-crime documentary, ‘Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini’.

What happened to Sherri Papini? Where is she now?

In a bizarre case covered by a new true-crime documentary, California mother-of-two Sherri Papini sparked a frantic search - and frenzied media coverage - when she mysteriously disappeared in late 2016. Three weeks after going missing, Sherri was found alive - but in the years that followed her dramatic reappearance, the story she told investigators steadily came apart at the seams.

What happened to Sherri Papini?

On 2 November 2016, Sherri’s husband, Keith, came home from work to discover that his wife was nowhere to be found. The 34-year-old wasn’t answering her phone, and had failed to pick up the couple’s young children from daycare. After using the Find My app to locate his wife’s iPhone, which had been discarded by a road close to their house in Redding, California, Keith called 911, telling the dispatcher that it appeared Sherri had been abducted while out for a jog. “I’m totally freaking out, thinking that somebody grabbed her,” he said.

In the wake of Sherri’s disappearance, a devastated Keith - who was quickly ruled out as a suspect - appeared in interview after interview with both local and national media outlets, tearfully appealing for his wife’s safe return. “I just want her back,” he told People magazine. “Just bring her home.” A GoFundMe campaign raised thousands of dollars to help with the search effort, and the Papini family put up a five-figure reward for her return. Later, a mystery donor even offered to pay $100,000 to whoever was behind her apparent abduction, in exchange for her freedom. “I was watching the news and watching Sherri’s husband crying, and saying: ‘We are going to find you, baby,’” the anonymous individual told Crime Watch Daily. This “reverse ransom”, as it became known, was not taken up.

In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day, 22 days after vanishing, Sherri reappeared. Found at the side of a highway around 150 miles from Redding, she told law enforcement that she had been abducted and held in captivity by two Hispanic women. Sporting severe bruising - and, to widespread incredulity, a mark on her back where she had been branded - Papini said she had suffered repeated physical abuse at the hands of her alleged captors. “Her poor face,” Keith told ABC’s Good Morning America as he recalled the moment he was reunited with his wife. “I got nauseated just looking at her. It was so hard for me to see her like that. The bruises were just like intense; the bumps from being hit and kicked and whatever else.”

However, as police dug deeper and deeper into Sherri’s disappearance, it became apparent that her story was a pack of lies. A key break in the case came when investigators matched DNA found on the clothes she was wearing when she reappeared to an ex-boyfriend of hers, James Reyes. In interviews with Reyes, police found out that she hadn’t been kidnapped by two Hispanic women at all; she had in fact been voluntarily staying with Reyes in Costa Mesa, California, some 600 miles from Redding. Sherri’s injuries were self-inflicted, or had been inflicted with Reyes’ assistance. Reyes told detectives that she had persuaded him to brand her, and to shoot ice-hockey pucks at her to create bruising. Sherri “harmed herself to support her false statements”, a 2022 criminal complaint concludes.

In an August 2020 police interview, investigators confronted Sherri with their evidence that her abduction claims were a fabrication. But, according to a later press release by the US Attorney’s Office, “instead of retracting her kidnapping story, Papini continued to make false statements about her purported abductors”. In March 2022, she was arrested on charges of “making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer”. She was also accused of “engaging in mail fraud”, as she had claimed over $30,000 in victim assistance payments in the years since her disappearance and reappearance. In April 2022, she was formally charged.

How long did Sherri Papini spend in prison?

In September 2022, after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements to law enforcement, Sherri was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay just under $310,000 in restitution for losses incurred by the sheriff’s office in Shasta County - where Redding is located - and by the California Victim Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration and the FBI.

“Countless hours were spent following leads, all in an effort to bring this woman back to her family […],” US Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a statement. “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 based on the defendant’s conduct.” Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson added: “The 22-day search for Sherri Papini and subsequent five-year search into who reportedly abducted her was not only taxing on public resources but caused the general public to be fearful of their own safety, a fear that they should not have had to endure.”

At Sherri’s sentencing, Judge William B. Shubb called Papini a “manipulator”, per the Sacramento Bee. “People don’t like to be conned,” he told her. She was incarcerated at FCI Victorville Medium 1, a medium-security federal prison in San Bernadino County, California. She was released on 29 September 2023, the Federal Bureau of Prisons says.

Why did Sherri Papini fake her own kidnapping?

Sherri has never explained her motives for orchestrating a hoax kidnapping. Speaking after she pleaded guilty in 2022, her attorney, William Portanova, admitted that he was unsure she really knows why she did it; Portanova pointed to a “very complicated mental health situation”, per the Associated Press. Dr Ian Lamoureux, a forensic psychologist, told AP that Sherri - who did reap some financial benefits from her fabricated abduction - may have believed “fame and fortune” would follow her reappearance from captivity.

Keith, meanwhile, told ABC News this week: “I think she wanted me to be her knight in shining armour and run to her. I think she wanted to plan a fake kidnapping, but in her version, I was supposed to find her.” This assessment is consistent with that of Sheriff Johnson, who told Good Morning America in 2022 that the hoax was “driven, I think, by her narcissistic behaviour”. At her sentencing, Sherri apologised “to the many people who have suffered because of me” - but Keith says she has “never” directly said sorry to him or her children. “She has no remorse that I have ever witnessed or seen,” he revealed to ABC News.

Where is Sherri Papini now?

Keith filed for divorce in April 2022, and now has full custody of the former couple’s two children. Once described by those around her as “super mom”, Sherri is only allowed to see her kids in supervised one-hour visits, according to the Record Searchlight, a local Redding newspaper. Now 41, she reportedly lives with her new boyfriend, a widowed auto dealer, around 60 miles from Redding in Orland, California. Per People magazine, Sherri told her children on one of her recent visits that she is now writing two books.

Speaking ahead of the release of the docuseries Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini, Keith has said that he can’t forgive Sherri for what she did. Above all, he can’t get over the terror her supposed kidnapping sowed in the local community - and the impact her actions had on her children. “The ripple effect of how many people stopped jogging, weren’t allowed to go on bike rides anymore, [or] walk to school...” he told an interview with ABC7 this week. “I think so many people were affected, and then at the end of the day: my children, our children. I don’t know if I can forgive that. Again, if it was just me, I feel like I’d get over it. But what she has done to everyone, I just don’t know if that’s something that I’ll be able to forgive.”

Perfect Wife - watch the trailer:

When will the new Sherri Papini documentary be released?

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols, Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini is due out on the streaming service Hulu on Thursday 20 June 2024. All episodes in the three-part series are to drop at once.