Where Is Sherri Papini Now? What to Know About Her Life After 2016 Kidnapping Hoax

The Hulu docuseries 'The Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini' examines the notorious hoax and how it unraveled

<p>Rich Pedroncelli, File/AP</p> Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse after her arraignment in Sacramento, CA on April 13, 2022.

Rich Pedroncelli, File/AP

Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse after her arraignment in Sacramento, CA on April 13, 2022.

Sherri Papini was dubbed "the new Gone Girl" when she made headlines in 2016.

Sherri went missing in November 2016, after which her husband, Keith Papini, and volunteers from all over their Redding, Calif., community and surrounding areas desperately searched for her. She resurfaced three weeks later and claimed she was abducted at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, held hostage and beaten until one of them let her go.

Despite hundreds of tips and potential leads, investigators didn't make a crack in the case until they found a DNA match more than four years after her disappearance — and her story unraveled quickly: Sherri faked her own kidnapping, shocking not just authorities and the public, but also her own husband and family members.

The case inspired its own Lifetime original movie, Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini, with Jaime King in the starring role, and is the subject of the 2024 Hulu true crime docuseries, The Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini, premiering June 20.

Here's everything to know about Sherri Papini's kidnapping hoax and where she is today.

Who is Sherri Papini?

Courtesy Keith Papini Sherri Papini
Courtesy Keith Papini Sherri Papini

Sherri first made headlines in November 2016 when she went missing after going for a jog.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Sherri's husband of nearly a decade, Keith, left for work around 6:50 a.m. and kissed her goodbye. When he arrived back at the Redding home they shared that evening, neither Sherri nor their then-4-year-old son Tyler and then-2-year-old daughter Violet were there. Keith used his "Find My Phone" feature and traced Sherri's phone to their mailbox, about a mile from their property, so he initially thought she may have taken the kids for a walk to get their mail.

Keith checked with his mother, who hadn't spoken to Sherri, and called the kids' daycare to see if Sherri had picked them up for the day, but the children were still there. It was then, Keith told ABC News' 20/20 in 2016, that he knew something was wrong. He drove to the mailbox and found Sherri's phone and her headphones off the road in its vicinity.

Keith then dialed 911 to open a missing persons case, and over the course of several days, more than 100 volunteers helped search for his wife, while their family and friends rallied to help Keith care for their kids. They launched a GoFundMe account, raising close to $50,000 in donations, per ABC News.

Keith eventually grew frustrated with the lack of progress and sought help from Cameron Gamble, a hostage negotiator, who worked with an anonymous donor to offer a $50,000 ransom for Sherri's return. When she didn't turn up, the donor rescinded the ransom offer and instead offered a higher sum for anyone with information on Sherri's disappearance. The ransom and reward, plus the website launched to promote them, made national headlines.

On Thanksgiving morning — 22 days after her disappearance — a motorist spotted Sherri walking along the side of the road in Yolo County, Calif., about 150 miles from Redding, and alerted authorities.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told PEOPLE at the time, "She was able to walk to a nearby church but nobody was there at 4:30 in the morning, and then she walked back and was able to flag down a motorist near Interstate 5 and Yolo County Road 17."

Sheriff Bosenko added that Sherri had been beaten and was hospitalized for her injuries. Keith's first reunion with Sherri was in the hospital. He said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, "My first sight was my wife in a hospital bed. Her face covered in bruises ranging from yellow to black because of her repeated beatings. The bridge of her nose broken. She has been branded and I could feel the rise of her scabs under my fingers." Keith, who passed a polygraph test in the case, said that Sherri only weighed 87 pounds when she was found and that her long blond hair had been cut short.

Sherri told police that she was abducted at gunpoint by two Hispanic women in a dark SUV and that the women tortured her and branded her skin. Sherri alleged that the women held her hostage and chained in a bedroom for weeks until one of the women released her with a chain around her waist, a zip tie on her wrist and hose clamps around her ankles.

Bosenko said that investigators didn't get much information from Sherri at first, but that it wasn't necessarily unusual for the situation.

"We don't have any reason not to believe her. She was abducted, held captive for three weeks and then released," he explained. "Traumatized from the experience and then of course very emotional about being released and then being reunited with her husband ... Sometimes people who have been in a traumatic event, their mind shields them from some of the trauma so they do have limited recollection, and also if you try to push to get some of those details people can shut down and not want to re-experience or try to recall some of those bad memories."

No motive was given for the abduction, and despite receiving more than 600 tips, offering a $10,000 reward for information and releasing sketches of the alleged kidnappers, police were still unable to solve the case after a year. Three years later, authorities still hadn't progressed in their search for suspects.

What happened to Sherri Papini?

<p>Adrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee/AP/File</p> A "missing" sign for Mountain Gate resident Sherri Papini is placed along side Sunrise Drive, near the location where the mom of two is believed to have gone missing while on a afternoon jog.

Adrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee/AP/File

A "missing" sign for Mountain Gate resident Sherri Papini is placed along side Sunrise Drive, near the location where the mom of two is believed to have gone missing while on a afternoon jog.

What really happened to Sherri is starkly different from what she first alleged.

In October 2017, nearly a year after Sherri's disappearance, authorities revealed that both male and female DNA was found on Sherri's clothing after her escape, but that neither matched anyone in their databases nor did it match her husband Keith. At the time, investigators said the DNA may have been from acquaintances of Sherri's captors who owned the clothing.

Police also told PEOPLE that Sherri had been in an online and texting relationship with a man from Michigan for several months leading up to her alleged abduction and that the man was an acquaintance from her past. The Michigan man visited California at the time of her alleged abduction, authorities noted, but hadn't been to Redding and wasn't believed to be involved with the kidnapping.

Investigators also noted that there was at least one inconsistency between Sherri's recounting of the events and the evidence presented: She said she'd cut her foot in an altercation with one of her captors, but she had no injury matching the description when she was hospitalized. At the time, authorities claimed that they had no reason to believe Sherri was lying, attributing her "foggy" memory to trauma.

Police had a breakthrough in the case in March 2020, when they matched the DNA on Sherri to a relative of one of her ex-boyfriends. That June, they compared it with DNA from a bottle of green tea found outside of her ex's apartment. It was a match.

In August 2020, police questioned Sherri's ex-boyfriend, James Reyes. Reyes told authorities that Sherri was hiding out with him in Costa Mesa, Calif., from Keith, who she had alleged was sexually and physically abusive (which Keith later denied in an interview with Good Morning America). Reyes told authorities that he and Sherri had been communicating with prepaid cell phones, SFGate reported, and that Sherri harmed herself to create her own injuries. (According to The Sacramento Bee, Sherri's mother filed a police report in 2003 accusing Sherri of doing the same and blaming her for it in 2003; her parents reportedly had also accused her of burglary and making unauthorized withdrawals from their checking accounts.) Reyes also said she was deliberately trying to lose weight while they were together and that he helped her create some of her injuries, though he never directly laid a hand on her in a harmful way. She left for home on Thanksgiving morning, he said, because the "super mom" missed her kids.

On March 3, 2022, more than five years after her alleged abduction, police arrested Sherri at her children's piano lesson for faking her kidnapping. She was charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud, the latter stemming from the $30,000 she received from the California Victim's Compensation Board.

What was Sherri Papini's sentence?

<p>Rich Pedroncelli/AP</p> Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse in Sacremento, CA on September 19, 2022.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse in Sacremento, CA on September 19, 2022.

In April 2022, weeks after her arrest, Sherri pleaded guilty to one count each of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud. She said in a statement through her attorney that she was "deeply ashamed" of what she did, adding, "[I am] 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. I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done."

Sherri's hoax cost the California Victim's Compensation Board more than $30,000 for her ambulance ride and therapy visits after her false abduction. The fake kidnapping also cost the United States Social Security Administration more than $127,000, the Shasta County Sheriff's Office $148,866 and the FBI $2,558.

In September 2022, Sherri was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the hoax and ordered to pay back more than $300,000 in restitution for government funds expended on her after her self-inflicted disappearance. It was 10 months more than what even the prosecution recommended.

U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb called Sherri a "manipulator" during her sentencing hearing. "People don't like to be conned," Shubb said, "and I don't believe those people who were deceived would believe that one month or eight months is sufficient."

Shubb added that his goal was to deter other would-be hoaxers from doing the same thing expecting leniency.

"'If I get away with it, I'll get $49,000. If I don't get away with it, I'll spend one month or eight months,' " Shubb noted. "We have to send a message that crime doesn't pay."

Sherri began her sentence on Nov. 8, 2022.

What happened to Sherri Papini's husband Keith and their children?

Sherri Papini and family.
Sherri Papini and family.

After Sherri's arrest, Keith told police he was "blindsided" and "in shock" at the fact that she faked her own disappearance. In April 2022, Keith filed for divorce from Sherri, requesting full custody of his and Sherri's son and daughter because of the trauma she'd inflicted on the family.

"I wish to make it clear that my goal is to provide a loving, safe, stable environment for [his and Sherri's children] and I believe the requested orders are consistent with that goal and the best interests of the children," Keith told PEOPLE in a statement. "I do not want to say anything in the pleadings connected to this matter that would inflame the situation or attract media attention."

Keith was awarded full custody, though Sherri now has visitation rights.

"They're very happy kids," Keith told PEOPLE of Tyler and Violet in 2024, who are now 11 and 9. "A lot of their childhood years were, in my opinion, stolen from them. So my biggest goal is giving them a happy and healthy life and surrounding them with loving people."

Where is Sherri Papini now?

<p>Rich Pedroncelli/AP</p> Sherri Papini walks to the federal courthouse accompanied by her attorney, Willian Portanova on April 13, 2022 in Sacramento, CA..

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Sherri Papini walks to the federal courthouse accompanied by her attorney, Willian Portanova on April 13, 2022 in Sacramento, CA..

Sherri was released from prison in August 2023 and transferred to a residential reentry facility in Sacramento County, Calif. She left the home that October — eight months early — and remains on supervised release until late 2026.

In March 2024, the U.S. Attorney's office filed a writ of garnishment against Sherri, claiming that she still owed more than $300,000 in restitution from the case: $309,292.93, plus a 10% litigation surcharge ($30,929), bringing her grand total to $340,221.23.

"Upon information and belief, Debtor [Papini] has a substantial nonexempt interest in property, that is in the possession, custody, or control of Garnishee [law firm]," the writ reads in part.

While Sherri hasn't paid the sum yet, her lawyer said she intends to do so when she can, according to her criminal defense attorney.

"Sherri Papini appreciates the significance of her financial obligations to the Court and to the Government and will continue to meet said obligations as she has promised," her lawyer William Portanova told PEOPLE in a statement. “Nothing has changed."

Prosecutors also filed a writ of garnishment against the law firm representing Sherri in her divorce from Keith. As of November 2023, they were reportedly still fighting in court over dividing their assets in their divorce.

Keith told PEOPLE in 2024 that he and Sherri have not spoken outside of court or mediation. "I don't make contact with her at all. And I don't even allow it," he said. "She's tried but I just can't. That is her power, her voice, and her manipulation."

In addition to scheduled visitation with the children, Keith also told PEOPLE that Tyler and Violet speak with Sherri over the phone.

Sherri lives in northern California, and notes from a visitation supervisor obtained by The Record Searchlight indicate that she is writing a book. Keith also told Good Morning America in June 2024 that Sherri has a new boyfriend, though his identity hasn't been revealed.

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