The ‘abduction’ of Sherri Papini

Sherri Papini was born Sherri Louise Graeff on June 11, 1982.  She was 34 at the time of her ‘kidnapping’ in 2016. 

Sherri has been married twice – her first marriage was to a man named David Dreyfuss and they divorced in 2007. 

Sherri married Keith Papini in either 2009 or 2012, I have seen it reported as both dates. They have two children together, Violet and Tyler. 

The couple lived in the Redding area of California in 2016. (I believe they still do).  Keith was working at Best Buy. 

So the date of Sherri’s ‘abduction’ was November 2, 2016 – a Wednesday.  

Sherri took the kids (who were aged 2 and 4 at the time) to daycare in the morning.

Later that morning, Sherri sent Keith a text asking if he would be home for lunch. .  He later said “I received a text message from her at 10:37 a.m. that day asking me if I was coming home for lunch. “I usually don’t bring my personal phone in on my job. So I didn’t respond to that message until 1:39 p.m. that day.”

Keith arrived home at around 5pm and became worried when neither Sherri or the kids were home.  He called the daycare centre and found out that the children had not been picked up.

“Knowing that she didn’t pick up our kids — there is no way that ever happens,” Keith said. “She could drop her phone, but she would never in a million years not pick up our children on a time that she normally would have.”

Keith used the ‘Find My Phone’ app and he got a hit for Sherri’s cell phone.  He drove and found her phone and ear buds at the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail – which was around 1 mile from their home.

The earbuds were wrapped loosely around the phone and there were strands of hair attached to them.

Keith then called the Shasta County Sheriff to report Sherri missing at 5.51pm.

Police arrived and began their investigation into Sherri’s disappearance.  Witnesses reported seeing Sherri wearing a pink running jacket and jogging on Sunrise Drive. One recalls seeing her at 11 a.m. and another at 2 p.m.

The next day, November 3, the search for Sherri really ramped up.

Search and rescue teams with the sheriff’s office combed through the area where Sherri was last seen and where her belongings were found.  The California Highway Patrol carried out aerial searches. Police officers started to do checks on the 290 registered sex offenders who lived in the area. 

Sherri’s sister, Sheila Koester, told the media that they believed Sherri had been abducted.

By November 4, a $10,000 reward had been established for Sherri’s return.  One day later, by November 5, the reward was at $50,000.

On November 9, 2016, police announced that Keith was not a person of interest in Sherri’s disappearance.  They said he had been cooperating and had passed a polygraph test.  There was also no physical evidence linking him to the case.

On November 13, Sherri’s family hired a private investigator to look into the case.  The FBI joined the search for Sherri just a few days after that.  

Sherri’s mother Loretta spoke to the media about the case:

“I believe that she was abducted, that someone knew her, someone took her. She wouldn’t leave her babies, she wouldn’t leave her family like this,” Loretta told KRCRTV.

“Somebody has taken her, and we want her back. And I don’t care what the cost is. Just give us information, do something. If they want money, you can have money, we just want Sherri back.”

On November 17, an anonymous person set up the website to offer an undisclosed ransom for Sherri’s immediate release, setting a deadline of 5 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23. A letter provides instruction to “the person who has Sherri Papini” and names Cameron Gamble as the middleman. Gamble, who describes himself as a kidnap and ransom consultant and is connected to Bethel Church’s missions, says he is acting independently from law enforcement and family.

Sheriff Tom Bosenko said at the time there was still not enough evidence to classify the disappearance as an abduction.  He also gave a caution that by taking this ‘ransom approach’, the family could become targets for scammers.  

There was a GoFundMe started to raise money to assist in the search for Sherri.  The screengrab I have seen online shows that $40k out of a $50k goal had been raised in seven days.

The GFM included comments like:

I would love to have a banner or sign made for Sherri to post in my yard – I have an acre & a half that runs along I-80, the main thoroughfare between Sacramento & Reno. Thousands of cars pass by daily that would see it. If anyone has suggestions on how to get one donated, I would be honored to display it. This family is very dear to my heart & took me in as a teenager when I was homeless & this is the least I can do to try to help. I left work immediately on Thursday & drove to Reddding to be available as soon as they allowed the public to search. I joined the search party Friday & posted flyers through the night on Saturday on my way back home to Sacramento, and spent the day today posting flyers around Placer County. I feel so helpless & want to do anything I can even being so far away.. so o would love to do the big sign if at all possible! Thank you all! Bless this sweet family ❤️️

On November 20, 2016, (around 18 days after Sherri was last seen), police announced that they had served 20 search warrants and had investigated more than 400 tips.  

Cameron Gamble – the man who inserted himself in this case in regards to the reward – was vocal again on November 22 and 23. 

He said he believed the abductors were “still in decision-making mode.”  

Rod Rodriguez, Keith Papini’s step-father, warned on Facebook that if the deadline expires without information, the money will turn into a reward after the deadline passes. 

Cameron Gamble never said how much the alleged abductor would receive, but he did  promise whoever got Sherri home, that they would receive a six-figure sum.

The following day, Cameron posted a new video saying the ransom had been withdrawn and the money would be combined with the $50,000 reward previously posted.

Without going too much off topic, many people questioned Cameron’s intentions at the time, back in 2016.

This info is from the Daily Beast:

But Gamble is no expert. Instead, his resume suggests an obscure self-defense coach, who appears to have inserted himself in a woman’s disappearance to parlay it into fame and fortune.

Gamble made his first appearance in the Papini on November 18, more than two weeks after she disappeared, when he uploaded a video to YouTube.“My name is Cameron Gamble and I’m an international kidnap and ransom consultant,” he said, sitting in a red desk chair against a white wall.

While Gamble was working on the donor’s behalf, he was also planning his own future. Records show that he registered on November 20, while Papini was still missing.

On November 24, 2016, a passing motorist spotted a woman on the side of the road in Woodland, California (around 150 miles south of Redding).  This was at 4.30am.

The motorist assisted the woman and called police – Sherri had been found.

At 10.31am on that day, the Sheriff’s office made a statement saying that Sherri had been reunited with Keith and had received medical clearance.  

At 2pm that day, Sheriff Tom Bosenko spoke to the media and gave some details about Sherri’s kidnapping.  He described her captors as two Hispanic women with a handgun driving in a dark-colored SUV. One of the captors left her alongside County Road 17 off the freeway, where she was bound by restraints. She was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released from a hospital in Yolo County.  He declined to say anything about any possible sexual assault.  

When Sherri was found, she weighed 87lbs (40 kgs), had been branded, had her nose broken and her hair cut off.  

Keith spoke to the media later about the branding:

“No, I read it, but it’s a really confusing bible passage. It’s like a really weird part of the bible…it doesn’t make any sense.” 

As far as I know, details of what was branded on Sherri has never been made public. 

Sherri was found with both male and female DNA on her, neither of which matched her or her husband. The FBI ran the DNA through their database CODIS and found no matches.
When Sherri was asked for details about the abduction she said:

“I don’t remember a lot. . . . I’m missing time. . . . The car smelled really bad . . .  Like sewage . . . She stuck me with something. I kept falling asleep.”

Police gave more updates on November 25, the day after Sherri was recovered.  Tom Bosenko said that officials had no reason to doubt Sherri’s story.  He also said police were searching through surveillance videos and traffic cameras to identify the perpetrators.

On November 28, details about the 911 call made when Sherri was found were made public. 

People listening to police scanners said that they heard Sherri was found ‘chained to something.’  Tom Bosenko said that police had never phrased it that way.

‘We weren’t specific on how she was restrained,’ he said. ‘After being released, dropped off, however you want to refer to it, she walked to a nearby church, and then nobody was there, and then walked to I-5 near Road 17, where she flagged down a motorist.’

Alison Sutton, a driver who said she saw Sherri on the side of the road and called 911, told the New York Daily News that Sherri ‘didn’t look like she was hurt, but she did look scared.’ 

She told the News that Sherri was waving some type of fabric for help and ‘was not appropriately dressed for as cold as it was.’

Keith issued the following statement to ‘Good Morning America’ following Sherri’s recovery:

“Sherri was taken from us for 22 days, and suffered incredibly through both intense physical agony and severe mental torture. My reaction was one of extreme happiness and overwhelming nausea as my eyes and hands scanned her body.”

“I was filled with so much relief and revulsion at once. My Sherri suffered tremendously and all the visions swirling in your heads of her appearance, I assure you, are not as graphic and gruesome as the reality.”

“Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see upon my arrival at the hospital, nor the details of the true hell I was about to hear. The mental prison I was in over the past three weeks was shattered when my questions of my wife’s reality became known. The officers warned me to brace myself. My first sight was my wife in a hospital bed, her face covered in bruises ranging from yellow to black because of repeated beatings, the bridge of her nose broken.”

“She has been branded and I could feel the rise of her scabs under my fingers. She was thrown from a vehicle with a chain around her waist, attached to her wrists and a bag over her head. The same bag she used to flag someone down once she was able to free one of her hands,” he said.

‘We are a very private family whom  do not use social media outlets prior to this grotesque tragedy. My love for my wife took precedents and it was clear we had to be exposed in ways we never would have been comfortable with. So please have a heart and understand why we have asked for our privacy. This will be a long road of healing for everyone. Ultimately, it was Sherri’s will to survive that brought her home. Thank you.’

On November 30, Sheriff Tom Bosenko spoke to the media again and gave some more info about the ‘suspects’ that they were looking for:

One is younger, with long curly hair, thin eyebrows, pierced ears and a thick Spanish accent. The other woman is older with straight black and gray hair and thick eyebrows. Bosenko said he did not have specific information to know if the case was related to a cartel or human trafficking.

He also told the media that Sherri’s phone and earbuds appeared to be neatly placed on the ground rather than lost in a struggle, with the screen facing up and the earbuds loosely wrapped around the phone.

Online sleuths began to find some holes in Sherri’s story.  As they dug deeper, the most shady this whole situation seemed to be.

A blog post from 2003 made the rounds online.  It had allegedly been written by ‘Sherri Graeff” (her maiden name).

The blog post

You can read the rest of the blog here.

Sheriff Bosenko confirmed that police were aware of the rant, but said that it was “too old” to be of any relevance to her kidnapping or disappearance.

In April 2017, records from 2003 emerged that showed Sherri had allegedly been self-harming and had tried to blame her wounds on her mother, Loretta.

The incident report, filed in December 2003, reads: ‘RP states her 21y/o daughter that was living with her was harming herself and blaming it on the RP. 

‘RP states female is coming back to live with them and she wants advice.’

In 2020, a criminal complaint was made against Sherri.  

The document alleged that Sherri had been staying with an ex-boyfriend during her ‘abduction’ and inflicted harm on herself to back up her false statements. Her ex-boyfriend also believed Sherri was purposefully trying to lose weight while she was staying with him. The DNA on the shirt she was wearing was her ex-boyfriend’s, and phone records show that Sherri and her ex were seeing each other, sending flirty text messages dating back to 2011. However, she continued to deny when questioned, sticking to her story that she was abducted by two Hispanic women. When interviewed, other various men found saved in Sherri’s phone talked about her history of lying. 

There is some info in there about Sherri’s first marriage which is interesting:

Investigators learned that PAPINI had a previous marriage to Man 3. Husband told 2 investigators that PAPINI married Man 3, who was in the military, to get medical insurance because of 3 a heart murmur issue. PAPINI’s mother told investigators PAPINI traveled all over the world with her 4 first husband. Investigators located Man 3 and interviewed him on November 14, 2016. Man 3 5 confirmed that he and PAPINI were married in 2006, prior to his deployment overseas, and stated it 6 was because PAPINI needed health insurance due to complications related to regular egg donations. 7 Man 3 stated that he and PAPINI never lived together and did not travel together, except for once 8 when PAPINI visited Man 3 in Japan. When Man 3 returned from deployment, PAPINI told him she 9 had found someone else and wanted a divorce, to which Man 3 agreed. PAPINI told Man 3 that her 10 family abused her while growing up. After the divorce, Man 3 heard from mutual friends that PAPINI 11 had a history of lying. 

The criminal complaint does also state that Sherri’s brand was ‘indistinguishable’.  – Discrepancy between what her husband said about it being from the bible?

You can read the entire complaint here.

As of June 2021,  Sherri’s kidnapping remained unsolved.  There was a $10,000 reward being offered by Secret Witness of Shasta County for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the abductors.

I think we all just assumed that this case was never going to be solved.  I feel like everyone knew that there was something suspicious about it, but that Sherri would get away with it.  

Until March 3, 2022 (something good finally happened this year!)

Sherri was arrested and charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and mail fraud.

The day after she was arrested, Sherri made an appearance before US Magistrate Judge Jeremy Peterson, according to Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California. 

Sherri was ordered detained as a danger and flight risk until Tuesday, March 8, at 2 pm, for a detention hearing before Peterson to determine her custody status, Horwood said. Besides her detention hearing, Sherri’s next court date is March 18 at 2 pm.

Court documents reveal that Sherri applied for and received more than $30,000 from the California Victims Compensation Board for her ordeal, which led to the mail fraud charge. Among the items for which she was compensated: therapy sessions for PTSD from the “kidnap,” ambulance services and $1,000 for her to buy window blinds for her home, court filings say.

Sheriff Michael Johnson spoke about Sherri’s arrest :

Today is a great day for the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, and for all law enforcement in this county. Sherri Papini cost public safety (conservatively) in excess of $150,000 dollars in resources to investigate her knowingly false claims and staged abduction. Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters, but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain. Finally, all of law enforcement in Shasta county was put on a national stage and subjected to scrutiny and criticism for the handling this case. It has been a long time coming and we are grateful that our federal partners for diligently pursuing justice.

Sherri’s family released a statement following her arrest through a PR company.

“We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her this afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children. If requested, Sherri would have fully complied and come to the police station, as she has done multiple times before, where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way. Sherri and Keith have cooperated with law enforcement’s requests despite repeated attempts to unnecessarily pit them against each other, empty threats to publicly embarrass them and other conduct that was less than professional. We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get clarification in the coming days.”

Since Sherri’s arrest, some more information has come out about her ‘abduction’.  

The man that Sherri was hiding with is James Reyes. 

Reyes told police they did not have sex when she was with him, and that she took over his bedroom while he slept on the couch. 

The criminal complaint against Sherri reveals that investigators spoke with two other men as part of their probe. One said he had a relationship with her while she was married, after meeting her on a work trip. 

The other worked with her at a youth program and said she was ‘attention-hungry’ and ‘made up stories to get attention.’ 

The complaint also details how she was married once before to an army veteran who she convinced to marry her so that she could use his medical insurance. 

He spoke with investigators and told them Sherri told him she needed the insurance to treat a heart murmur. At other times, she said it was because she had health complications caused by her donating her eggs multiple times.

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