THE VAN­ISH­ING

SHERRI PAP­INI AB­DUC­TION MYS­TERY Po­lice re­lease new ev­i­dence in the puz­zling case of a young mother who van­ished for 22 days

WHO - - News - By San­dra So­bieraj West­fall and Chris­tine Pelisek. Re­ported by Diane Herbst

More de­tails emerge in the case of the bizarre dis­ap­pear­ance of Cal­i­for­nian woman Sherri Pap­ini.

When Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers found Sherri Pap­ini near an on-ramp of In­ter­state 5 last Thanks­giv­ing morn­ing, the phys­i­cal dis­tress of the Red­ding mother of two was vivid and un­mis­tak­able. Dressed in sweats, Sherri, then 34, was 240km south of where she had gone miss­ing 22 days ear­lier, and was bound at the waist by a chain to which her left wrist was teth­ered with a ca­ble tie. Hose clamps were fixed to her an­kles in what the Shasta County Sher­iff’s Of­fice later de­scribed as “pain com­pli­ance re­straints.”

What med­i­cal per­son­nel found when Sherri was taken to Wood­land Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal seemed to tes­tify to her ordeal. Her right shoul­der bore the burn marks of a crude brand and her body was bat­tered all over. “She had bruises in var­i­ous stages of heal­ing,” the sher­iff’s de­part­ment said in an in­ter­nal Oc­to­ber state­ment ob­tained by WHO, “in­di­cat­ing she had been phys­i­cally as­saulted mul­ti­ple times over a pe­riod of time.”

It’s been a year since Sherri’s hus­band, Keith, di­aled 911 on the af­ter­noon of Nov. 2, 2016, to re­port her miss­ing. Author­i­ties say they combed through more than 600 tips, and are fi­nally re­leas­ing de­tails of the case that has mys­ti­fied both law en­force­ment de­tec­tives and arm­chair crime-watch­ers who were trans­fixed by last year’s head­lines about the young mother who van­ished while out for a morn­ing jog. Po­lice sketches of the two fe­male ab­duc­tors Sherri de­scribed to po­lice were made pub­lic on Oct. 25, along with the most com­plete recita­tion to date of the ev­i­dence in­ves­ti­ga­tors have com­piled over 12 months, in­clud­ing the au­dio of Keith’s 911 call and the fact that both fe­male and male DNA ev­i­dence was re­cov­ered from Sherri’s cloth­ing and body. And yet, de­spite a year of what Sgt. Brian Jack­son, of the Shasta County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, calls “weekly con­tact with the Pap­i­nis” and “off-and-on-type in­ter­views” with Sherri, author­i­ties ad­mit they have lit­tle new to go on. Be­cause of her poor rec­ol­lec­tion, Sherri has pro­duced in­for­ma­tion only “in pieces,” the sher­iff’s of­fice says.

Her spotty mem­ory—com­bined with in­con­sis­ten­cies in her ac­count—have only deep­ened sus­pi­cions and raised ques­tions on true-crime web­sites where arm­chair de­tec­tives de­bate the specifics of the case. “If it was truly an ab­duc­tion, I am con­cerned for the peo­ple of Shasta County,” says Trudy Nick­ens, founder of the Nor-cal Al­liance for the Miss­ing, which or­gan­ised last year’s mas­sive civil­ian search for Sherri. “Why would it take a year to re­lease a com­pos­ite of the pre­sumed kid­nap­pers? I don’t un­der­stand it.”

For their part, the Pap­i­nis have kept quiet and out of the pub­lic eye. In a state­ment, Keith thanked “all of the many peo­ple who have pub­licly and pri­vately sup­ported us over the last year, your well-wishes have helped be­yond mea­sure,” and said he hopes the new in­for­ma­tion re­leased by po­lice will lead to the swift cap­ture of Sherri’s kid­nap­pers. Be­yond that, he begged for pri­vacy for them and their chil­dren—son Tyler, 5, and daugh­ter Vi­o­let, 3—“as Sherri con­tin­ues to heal and we work to­wards putting our lives back

to­gether.” On th­ese facts, Sgt. Jack­son and the Shasta County Sher­iff’s Of­fice are de­fin­i­tive: Sherri resur­faced after 22 days badly bat­tered, with her long hair chopped short. She said she had not been sex­u­ally as­saulted in captivity and her med­i­cal exam con­firmed as much. Yet-uniden­ti­fied male DNA was found on Sherri’s cloth­ing, which was given to her by her cap­tors. Un­known fe­male DNA was col­lected from a swab of Sherri’s body. Prior to her dis­ap­pear­ance, Sherri had been tex­ting with a “male ac­quain­tance” in the Detroit area about meet­ing while he was due to be in Cal­i­for­nia on busi­ness days be­fore she went miss­ing. “We went to Michi­gan and ruled out him as hav­ing any part in her dis­ap­pear­ance,” Jack­son says. As for whether Sherri and the man did meet, Jack­son says they did not. But he won’t ad­dress spec­u­la­tion that the two may have had a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. “We aren’t ready to re­lease that,” he says, adding of the mys­tery man,“it was a prior con­tact that she had years be­fore. Some­body she met and kept in con­tact with.” As far as Keith’s in­volve­ment goes, po­lice say he sub­mit­ted to a poly­graph test that found “no de­cep­tion” and has vol­un­teered for ad­di­tional lie-de­tec­tor tests. “De­tec­tives utilised all re­sources to de­ter­mine if Sherri Pap­ini’s dis­ap­pear­ance was vol­un­tary or in­vol­un­tary,” the sher­iff’s of­fice said. “The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still con­tin­u­ing.”

The puz­zles that re­main? For starters, a mo­tive. There was never a de­mand for ran­som and Jack­son says ini­tial spec­u­la­tion about a sex-traf­fick­ing ab­duc­tion has been dis­missed by Shasta County po­lice. Joe Gi­acalone, a re­tired New York Po­lice De­part­ment sergeant and pro­fes­sor at John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, agrees. “I wouldn’t buy the sex-traf­fick­ing thing. Those guys are pro­fes­sion­als. Putting her in the car, let­ting her go on the side of a high­way—none of it adds up,” says Gi­acalone. For Bill Gar­cia, the San Diego pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor who worked pro bono for the Pap­ini fam­ily in the search last year, one dis­crep­ancy that has since emerged nags at him. On his 911 call, Keith said he had found Sherri’s phone on the ground along her jog­ging route—with torn pieces of her hair tan­gled in the head­phones as if she had been grabbed. “If she was forcibly taken,” asks Gar­cia,“why were her ear­buds rolled up in a lit­tle coil and placed on top of her phone?”

De­tec­tives also still strug­gle to iden­tify what they call the “ob­scure let­ters” branded on the back of Sherri’s right shoul­der. And they have no ex­pla­na­tion for why Sherri told an FBI foren­sic in­ter­viewer that, at one

“She was re­ally afraid of peo­ple and strangers ... I just be­lieve them both” —Missy Mcarthur

point, she fought back against her younger cap­tor—slam­ming the woman’s head into the toi­let in an al­ter­ca­tion that left Sherri with a cut on her foot—and yet hos­pi­tal pho­tos from the day of Sherri’s re­cov­ery show no ev­i­dence of a cut, although it could have healed.“that could be con­strued as in­con­sis­tent,” says Jack­son. “If there is no clar­i­fi­ca­tion [from Sherri], we take it for what it is worth and go on with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion ... There is no in­for­ma­tion that would in­di­cate it’s not true,” he says.

Those clos­est to the case are as cer­tain that Sherri was bru­tally vic­timised as they are of her great for­tune to have some­how sur­vived. Missy Mcarthur, who was mayor of Red­ding at the time Sherri dis­ap­peared, met with her and Keith shortly after Sherri’s home­com­ing—just the three of them, at Mcarthur’s home. “She was re­ally afraid of peo­ple and strangers,” Mcarthur says. “She wanted to be right next to Keith. I think their re­la­tion­ship is real and hope­fully it can with­stand this kind of trauma. They are a team and were at that time. I just be­lieve them both.”

And then there’s the most fun­da­men­tal fact: “She was beat to a pulp,” says Mcarthur. “You don’t do that kind of thing to your­self. I ab­so­lutely be­lieve she was kid­napped.” Even Gar­cia says the open ques­tions haven’t changed his bot­tom line. “I think it was real, just based on what I saw. There didn’t seem to be ten­sion be­tween Sherri and her hus­band.” Friends of the Pap­i­nis also say that no-one other than Sherri and Keith truly un­der­stand the hor­ror of what she has faced. “So­ci­ety cru­ci­fied her and made her out to be a hor­ri­ble per­son when she is a vic­tim in the en­tire thing,” says Lisa Jeter, a friend of the cou­ple. “I just would like peo­ple to leave her alone and let them heal. ”

But for Nick­ens, her com­mu­nity’s sense of safety hangs in the mar­gin. “If we had a young woman jog­ging on a road in Shasta County ab­ducted in broad day­light, how can this not be a pub­lic safety is­sue? I have five daugh­ters un­der the age of 22,” Nick­ens says. “If it did not re­ally hap­pen the way it was pre­sented, the cit­i­zens of Shasta County should know.”

Sherri Pap­ini (with hus­band Keith) told po­lice that, on Day 22 of her captivity, she heard her cap­tors ar­gu­ing and the sound of a gun­shot in a nearby room. The younger sus­pect then took Sherri away by car, leav­ing her near the In­ter­state 5.

“That she’s had dif­fi­culty be­ing around strangers says it all.” —For­mer Red­ding Mayor Missy Mcarthur

Keith (mak­ing a TV ap­peal dur­ing last year’s search) was in­ves­ti­gated and given a poly­graph, the sher­iff’s of­fice says, with no ev­i­dence against him found.

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