true crime

Sherri Papini claimed she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women. Then police found an old blog.

Californian mother-of-two Sherri Papini disappeared on November 2, 2016 after dropping her children at daycare and going for a jog in her local neighbourhood.

Twenty-two days later, she was found bleeding and beaten on a nearby highway. She alleged that she'd been abducted and held captive at gunpoint by two "Hispanic women".

The case received global attention, millions tuning in to discover what had happened to Papini and who was to blame.

But six years since she miraculously returned after the abduction, Papini herself was arrested, charged and admitted she lied about the whole kidnapping. Here's everything we know. 

Watch: Sherri Papini's husband's first interview. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

The disappearance of Sherri Papini.

On Wednesday November 2, 2016, Papini went for her routine jog. Wearing a pink t-shirt and carrying nothing but her iPhone and a pair of earbuds, Papini didn't return on time.

Her husband Keith, who came home from work to find the house empty, was later notified that his young children had not been picked up from daycare and that his wife was nowhere to be seen.

Using the Find My iPhone app, Keith was able to trace Papini’s phone 1.5km from the family home, yet extensive land and air searches carried out by authorities were unsuccessful in tracking down his wife.


Hundreds of volunteers assisted in the search and a $US100,000 collective reward was offered for her safe return. Three weeks later, she was spotted by motorists trying to flag down cars, with her hands bound, on the side of a rural road at around 4:30am.

In a statement released to Good Morning America, Papini's husband Keith described the "mixture of horror and elation" he felt at finding his wife, who was "covered in multicoloured bruises, severe burns, red rashes and chain markings". She had also been branded on her shoulder, a marking commonly found in sex trafficking cases. 

"My first sight was my wife in a hospital bed, her face covered in bruises. Her signature long blond hair had been chopped off."

Image: ABC News. In October 2017, almost a year after Papini went missing and reappeared, police asked for the public's assistance in locating two suspects. The authorities released sketches of two Hispanic women, based on Papini's account. 


She claimed her captors were two Hispanic women armed with a handgun, "one younger with long curly hair, thin eyebrows, pierced ears and a thick Spanish accent". The other with "straight black and grey hair and thick eyebrows".

Although, at the same press conference the Shasta County Sheriff's Office told reporters that while Papini said she was held by two Hispanic women, male DNA was also found on her clothing. The DNA was not linked to her husband.


It was at this point that theories began to emerge that Papini had orchestrated the entire ordeal in a bid to "incite a race war".

Then Papini's previous history was revealed.

Sherri Papini's long history of lying.

In 2003, Papini had an account on a racially charged blog published under a previous married name Sherri Graeff. In one blog post, she bragged about breaking the nose of a young Hispanic girl after Papini's father was accused of being a racist and a "Nazi".

"Being white is my family, my roots, my way of life," she wrote. Sherri would later claim she didn't write the blog and hired a lawyer to get the post taken down. 

That same year, police reports showed Papini's mother called the sheriff's office seeking advice about her then 21-year-old daughter's latest actions. The mother told police Papini was self-harming and wrongly telling people the wounds were inflicted by her parents.

Image: Facebook. Throughout the six-year investigation, no arrests were made in the case. 


That is until March 2022, when Papini was arrested by the FBI and charged with lying to investigators about being kidnapped and fraudulently obtaining US$30,000 (AU$40,000) from the state's victim compensation board.

Prosecutors have alleged Papini fabricated the entire ordeal, with US Attorney for the Eastern District of California Phillip A. Talbert saying Papini decided to "harm herself to substantiate her claims".

Papini was holed up with her ex-boyfriend while she pretended to be 'abducted'.

So who was Papini with for those 22 days? Her ex-boyfriend, James Reyes. 


According to Talbert's office, Papini and her ex-boyfriend plotted the 'abduction' on prepaid burner phones, and she then spent the next few weeks at his apartment. The pair then allegedly decided to 'rough up' Papini to make their scheme look real, going as far as to brand her with a wood-burning tool on her shoulder, which she then suggested her gun-wielding captors did. Reyes has since confessed to authorities.

Papini pleaded guilty to one count of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud. 

She also signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors, with Papini agreeing to pay more than US $300,000 in restitution to a number of government entities.


She has also since apologised for the "pain" she caused.

"I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behaviour 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," she said in a statement released through her attorney, William Portanova. 

"I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done."

Papini's husband filed for divorce.

After pleading guilty, The Sacramento Bee reported that Papini's husband filed for divorce, citing the reason being "dissolution with minor children". In the filing, Keith Papini asked for custody of the pair's two children.

In 2024, Keith finally broke his silence, explaining how her fake abduction has forever impacted his family.

"I think she wanted to plan a fake kidnapping," he told Good Morning America. "But in her version, I was supposed to find her."


Keith, who was married to Papini for 12 years before filing for divorce, was featured in the documentary Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini, in which he reveals how convincing Papini was for all those years. 

"She made us believe that her story was true," he said. "Every single day she committed to the lie."

He went on to say that despite receiving no apology from Papini. "Her lawyer told me, 'It took a while to get it out of her, but she said James Reyes picked her up,'" Keith told the filmmakers. 

"She had a burner phone with her and she watched [me] and everybody else search for her for 22 days on her phone."

As of March 2024, Sherri is only permitted to see her children during supervised one-hour visits. In the documentary, Keith made some disturbing claims about Sherri's past treatment of their two kids.

He relayed a conversation he had with his daughter when he hurt himself. 


"She goes, 'Why don't you do mummy's trick?' I was like, 'Mummy's trick? What are you talking about?' She was like, 'Well, you just breathe in this rubbing alcohol,' and I was like, 'What?' She goes to the bathroom, she knows right where the rubbing alcohol is. She wads up a thing of toilet paper and just soaks it and then hands it to me to breathe," he alleged. 

Keith then asked his daughter, "How often did you do this?" and she replied "Well, when we got sick, we did it every single day."

He immediately alerted the police, who spoke to his kids in forensic interviews to get the full story. Keith became emotional as he alleged what his ex-wife would allegedly do. "Sherri would soak rags of alcohol and put it in a Ziploc bag and tie a string... so that they would continue to smell the fumes to make them not feel good, so that she could take them to the doctor."

Along with these disturbing allegations, Papini's claims angered many that the mum tried to paint a person of colour as the perpetrator. As to what allegedly motivated Papini, according to investigators and prosecutors, it came down to two things: money and attention.

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The revelation has also angered investigators including the Shasta County Sheriff's Office.

Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson spoke to The Sun about the case, heavily criticising a "selfish and callous" Papini for wasting critical resources and time.


"Shasta County is a pretty tight-knit community and a safe community, so when Sherri reported this abduction — or should I say charade — it really caused a lot of anxiety. People were afraid to go out for jogs or to be out in public alone. When we come to find out it was all a charade, it's really frustrating for us."

In response to the new documentary, Sherri is slated to tell her own version of events in a different documentary expected to premiere in 2025.

"While many perspectives have been told, there is one point of view that the world hasn't heard and that is from Sherri herself," Jason Sarlanis, president of Investigation Discovery, said in a statement. "Investigation Discovery will present a new side of Sherri Papini's case — told by her in her own words."

Even more worrying, Perfect Wife director Michael Beach Nichols said that Papini is still claiming she was kidnapped.

"Based on what we've heard from people that are closer to Sherri, it seems like she's sort of sticking to her story, that she was abducted," he claims to Vanity Fair.

"There's a whole story that she's still telling."

In September 2022, Papini was sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud charges and making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer. In August 2023, she was released from prison eight months early. 

This article was published on March 6, 2022 and has since been updated with new information. 

Feature Image: Facebook.