It was the crime that shook America – 34-year-old Sherri Papini was last seen out jogging in her quiet neighborhood of Redding, California, on November 2nd. Later that day she didn’t pick her kids up, 2-year-old daughter Violet and 4-year-old son Tyler, from daycare. At this moment, nobody knew that Sherri would be kidnapped and help captive for 22 days.
When Sherri’s husband, home theater salesman Keith Paini, returned home that day – he expected to find his wife and children playing happily at home. Instead the house was empty. He told ABC News, “I looked in different rooms and couldn’t find anyone. So I thought, ‘Maybe they’re outside,’ and I looked around outside … but at the time I thought, ‘Huh, I’m sure they’re all together.’ I had no reason to believe otherwise.”
Keith then revealed he had used the “Find My iPhone” feature on his phone to look for her location and the app located Sherri’s phone about a mile away from their home. When he arrived to the location, he found his wife’s headphones and strands of her blonde hair – immediately he knew something was very, very wrong.
A search was launched to find Sherri and over the next few days more than 100 people had volunteered to help. Keith recalls, “People would see me and start crying and give me hugs – total strangers.” A GoFundMe account was started to help fund a wider search and they managed to raise nearly $50,000 in donations.
Three weeks later, Sherri was found beaten, bruised and starved on the side of Interstate 5 in Yolo County after being released by her alleged kidnappers on Thanksgiving Day.
Then the theories started to appear online, as many questioned if Sherri and her husband had contrived the kidnapping for either fame or financial gain. These claims have been strongly dismissed by Keith and his immediate family members – but there are still many questions yet to be answered about the ongoing case….
10. Just How Involved Was “Kidnapping Expert” Cameron Gamble?
During Sherri’s three-week long disappearance, a “kidnapping expert” named Cameron Gamble came along and offered Sherri’s captors $100,000 from an “anonymous donor” in return for her release.
Online sleuths then found a promotional video Gamble had made four years earlier, which had chilling “similarities” to the kidnapping of Sherri. The self-proclaimed “kidnap and ransom expert” made the film, named “Project TAKEN”, to help train people to “prevent and escape hostile situations.” The video shows an attractive blonde, in her late 20s/early 30s, tied to a chair and trapped in a dungeon with a stranger.
The slogan for the video reads: “You never need us … until you do.” Some conspiracy theories online claim Sherri’s abduction may have been an elaborate publicity stunt for Gamble’s services, since he hit headlines everywhere after the case broke in the news.
Gamble, who was not supported by investigators but instead was hired by Keith, initially offered the kidnappers $50,000, when he received no reply he doubled this to $100,000, then he stated this offer was now expired and “no longer on the table.” Gamble warned the kidnappers, “The world has been looking for Sherri Papini and now the world is looking for you.” Sherri then re-appeared 48 hours later.
9. How Did Keith Papini Know His Wife Was With Other People?
One statement Keith made during his ABC News interview was, “I was just worried about her health. Are they feeding her? Is she hot? Is she cold? Just little horrible things that I would go through.”
Many criticizers online questioned who he was directly referring to by using the term “they”. Sherri claimed she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women – but how was Keith to know there was more than one? Why did he use the term “they” instead of using an alternative?
8. How Did Keith Score On The Polygraph Test?
Police initially questioned Keith over Sherri’s disappearance and he was considered a suspect for 9 days out of the 22 his wife was still missing. He was co-operative and to ease any doubts over his own innocence he agreed to do a polygraph test.
He recalled, “They asked me multiple questions. He said, ‘These things you have to pass with a 100 percent. You can’t get 99.’ To me, I was like, ‘No, problem. Let’s hurry this up and get this over with.”
Surely as he passed Keith did score 100% on the test? Although this has not been revealed to the public.
7. Where Are The Images Of Sherri’s Injuries?
All we know of Sherri’s injuries are what can be based on the account Keith told Good Morning America. Sherri had allegedly been found bruised, badly beaten, her long blonde hair had been chopped short, and she had lost 15 percent of her body weight.
He said, “The bruises were just intense. The bumps from, you know, being hit and kicked and whatever else. Her nose, so dark and yellow.” He added, “It made me sick that there (are) people out there that could do something like this.”
But many people questioned as to why no images of Sherri’s injuries had been released to press – considering in the majority of these cases, the images help increase public interest, which aids the investigators as more people will be motivated to look out for the perpetrators.
Keith explained, “I understand people want the story, pictures, proof that this was not some sort of hoax, plan to gain money, or some fabricated race war.” He ended with, “I do not see a purpose in addressing each preposterous lie.”
6. Why Has Sherri Not Been Allowed To Speak To The Media?
Sherri has not spoken publicly to the media – or even to thank the 100 volunteers who searched day and night for her for the 22 days. Her husband instead told the account of how her captors finally freed her.
He said, “They opened the door (of the vehicle). She doesn’t know because she had a bag over her head. They cut something to free her of her restraint that was holding her into the vehicle and then pushed her out of the vehicle.”
Stranded, alone and disorientated, Sherri then attempted to flag down the motorists that were passing by on the I-5 North when Alison Sutton spotted Sherri. Sutton recalled, “I saw a woman frantically waving what looked like a shirt up and down, trying to flag somebody down. I was started to see her. It was dark and she pretty much just came out of nowhere.”
She told ABC News, “If I had swerved to the right at least a little bit, I would have hit her with my car. She had, like, a wide-eyed, panicked kind of look. I figured if she was willing to risk being hit by a car trying to get somebody’s attention that she must really need some help.”
Sherri was found 150 miles away from her home.
5. Has Keith Jeopardized The Investigation?
Perhaps the main reason Sherri has not been allowed to speak to the media is that her husband may have already jeopardised the investigation by doing so himself.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko who is currently working on the case revealed that Keith might have potentially given far too much away to the press. Bosenko revealed during a news conference, “There’s some unique information in there that was in his press release today that we were hoping to keep a tight rein on as far as what we were going to release to the public.”
Bosenko added, “It’s not the first hurdle in this investigation that we’ve had, we’ve overcome many of them, not just in this case, but there’s surprises in all investigations, so this is just…wasn’t good timing.”
4. What Was The Brand Sherri’s Kidnappers Left On Her Skin?
Despite being found “heavily beaten and chained”, Sherri was discharged from local hospital with non-life threatening injuries and allowed to return to her family home within 72-hours of her being found.
Keith also revealed that in addition to her injuries she was left “branded” by her kidnappers. Sheriff Bosenko was not impressed this information was leaked to the press as it was due to be confidential in order to help the investigation.
After this was leaked by Keith, Bosenko confirmed during a news conference, “I would think that was some sort of either an exertion of power and control and/or maybe some type of message that the brand contained. It is not a symbol, but it was a message.”
3. What Was The Kidnapper’s Actual Motive?
Bosenko also revealed during the news conference that they were searching for two Hispanic women, driving a dark colored SUV, and suspected to be armed with a handgun. This was the only description of the kidnappers Sherri was able to give.
The sheriff said authorities did not know who the captors were, a motive or where Papini was held during the time she was missing. He also could not be clear if other individuals were still at risk as he added, “The public remain cautious.”
Scott Harrell, the founder of CompassPoint Investigations, with over 17 years of experience in professional investigations explained, “Kidnappers often tend to develop a profile of their likely target before making an abduction based upon their overall goals, which usually falls into one of three categories: financial gain, extremism or emotional disturbance.” None of these abduction goals fit the profile of Sherri – as known to the public just yet.
2. Will The New Details Help With The Investigation?
Finally after investigators were able to spend longer with Sherri in order to try and get more details about her kidnappers, she was able to remember more details. Bosenko described, “The younger one (has) long curly hair, a thick accent, pierced ears and thin eyebrows. She described the older one as having straight black hair with graying color and thick eyebrows.”
Will these new details help investigators find her kidnappers? Or is this an impossible case to solve? One thing is for sure, Sheriff Bosenko will not be giving up anytime soon as she made it very clear: “This investigation is far from over.”
1. Is This Kidnapping Connected To The Unsolved Tera Smith Case?
What makes this case even more chilling is that 18 years ago, Tera Smith had also disappeared – whilst out jogging on exactly the same trail. Tera was a 16-year-old Central Valley High School homecoming princess when she went missing on August 22nd, 1998, on the Old Oregon Trail. Tera was never found.
Sherri and Keith attended the same school as Tera Smith – they were in the year directly above her. Local shop owner Lianne Bowman revealed the case had haunted those in the area over the years. She told The Sacramento Bee, “They look similar and the circumstances are very similar. That was the last one people were scared over.”
Although it is widely believed that her martial arts instructor Troy Zink murdered Tera, as the two were believed to be having a relationship. Zink was married with a young son and he was the last person to see Tera alive. Although this theory has never been proven.
Some believe the cases are too similar to not be connected and that Tera’s kidnapper had struck again. Tera’s father, Terry Smith, told the newspaper, “In many ways (The Papini case) it’s worse than what we had to go through because at least we pretty much knew who did it, and what he did, and even though we never found her body, we’ve kind of come to terms with that.”
The case is still open and these questions all remain unanswered.