How Sherri Papini drew her sports store clerk ex-fiancé into her web of deceit
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Sherri Papini and the man who hid her from her ‘abusive’ husband had once planned to marry, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal. 

But in more than three weeks together in his California apartment the former lovebirds never even had sex, the ex, James Reyes, has told police.

Instead she slept in his bedroom where the windows were boarded up and he was forced on to the couch. 

Papini, 39, was arrested on Thursday, accused of faking her 2016 kidnapping with James Reyes, 37. Authorities said the pair ‘had a long history.’

James Reyes, 37, is the ex-boyfriend who hid California ‘super mom’ Sherri Papini for 22 days 

Reyes told police that Papini contacted him ‘out of the blue’ in 2015 and told him she ‘planned to run away with him.’

She stayed at his home in Costa Mesa, California, for 22 days while the FBI and police in her hometown of Redding, California, conducted a frantic search for her. 

The two towns are a 10-hour drive from each other.

Papini reappeared battered and bruised three weeks later and told police she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women. She had a brand mark on her right shoulder.

Now prosecutors claim the whole thing was a sham and that she branded and starved herself to make the tale of the kidnapping appear more real.

Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said on Monday others would likely face charges in the bizarre case and slammed Papini as a ‘selfish narcissist.’

Papini has been accused of making false statements and mail fraud and she is facing up to 20 years in jail along with a $250,000 fine. Reyes has not so far been charged.

Authorities say she was given more than $30,000 from California’s Victim Compensation Board after her alleged kidnapping to pay for. therapist visits and the ambulance that took her to hospital after she was discovered.

Reyes and Papini had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old and were longstanding friends.

The two also had a romantic relationship and had been engaged in the early 2000s.

Reyes admitted to investigators that he hoped their relationship would become romantic once they were back at his apartment, but that it never did.

He said that during their prior relationship, they were in love ‘but that was young love,’ he said. 

He stated that they did not have sex while she stayed with him and said that ‘it was not a sexual thing.’

Reyes told investigators that Papini reached out to him ‘out of the blue’.’ Prior to that, they had not spoken in a long time because ‘she got married, she had kids.’  

Sometime in 2015, he was cleaning his house and came across a box of old photos and personal items that belonged to Papini. 

He sent the box to her parents, and called to let them  know the box was coming. 

Reyes isn’t sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him, and that she had been saving cash and planned to send some money for her to have when she was with him.

‘She kind of laid out the situation.’  he told authorities.

Reyes, who has now left Costa Mesa, collected the mom-of-two in a rental car on the day she vanished after spending weeks exchanging flirty texts with her.

Reyes said the pair spent three weeks hiding out at his apartment and helped her fabricate the injuries she had when she returned home.

Reyes also admitted dropping Papini off by the roadside in Woodland when her twisted plot came to an end. 

Male DNA found on Papini’s underwear led cops to Reyes’s father and the 37-year-old confessed to his role in the deception when confronted.

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away.

Prosecutors charged Sherri Papini, 39, (pictured) for lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state's victim compensation board of $30,000

Prosecutors charged Sherri Papini, 39, (pictured) for lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state’s victim compensation board of $30,000 

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away

Reyes said the pair spent three weeks hiding out at his apartment in Costa Mesa and helped her fabricate the injuries she had when she returned home 

According to the indictment, Reyes explained that Papini told him that her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape. 

She told her ex that she had filed police reports, but the police were not doing anything to stop her husband’s abuse. 

According to the indictment, Reyes told police that Papini caused self-inflicted injuries while staying with him, including hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms. 

Reyes even admitted helping her create some of the injuries, although he says he never laid his hands on her directly. For example, she told him to shoot her in the leg with a pellet gun. 

He said he did not help Papini burn her arm. ‘That was self-inflicted. I didn’t burn anything on her arm there.’

He went as far as to say he was confused by Papini injuring herself and told police, ‘There’s not too many people that come up and say hurt me. I’m not physical ever with women, I mean I just don’t.’ 

Papini and Keith spent the $49,000 raised on a GoFundMe page to 'bring her home' to pay off their personal credit cards and contribute to personal expenses, federal prosecutors claimed.

Papini and Keith spent the $49,000 raised on a GoFundMe page to ‘bring her home’ to pay off their personal credit cards and contribute to personal expenses, federal prosecutors claimed. 

Papini did not start creating injuries on herself until close to the time she decided to leave Reyes and go back home, the indictment said, adding that she had initially planned to stay with him for a longer period of time.

At one point, Papini told Reyes to order a wood burning tool from Hobby Lobby to brand her, using cash to make the purchase. 

He said Papini was aware of the news stories about her disappearance by this point and did not want people to see her, so he went to Hobby Lobby alone.

Reyes described the burning tool as a small plug-in similar in size to an electric tooth brush with letters that snapped into the top of it.   

Papini sat on the floor next to the tool and pulled her shirt up so he could make the brand with the phrase that she wanted. Reyes said he could not remember the phrase but that it was something meaningful.  

The tool was so hot it glowed red, but Papini did not complain about the pain when he branded her right shoulder. 

According to the indictment, during the period of her disappearance Panini never left Reyes’ residence and asked him to pick up clothes for her to wear. He purchased sweats, socks and t-shirts from Target, TJ Maxx, or Ross.

The area where Sherri Papini was found near the I-5 freeway outside of Yolo, California

The area where Sherri Papini was found near the I-5 freeway outside of Yolo, California

Papini told her ex-boyfriend to pick her up on November 2 from her home in Redding, California. She then sat in the backseat, lying down, while he drove seven hours south to Costa Mesa. For three weeks, they stayed in his apartment. She occupied the bedroom and he slept on the couch, according to prosecutors. He then drove her back north, dropping her off in Woodland

Papini told her ex-boyfriend to pick her up on November 2 from her home in Redding, California. She then sat in the backseat, lying down, while he drove seven hours south to Costa Mesa. For three weeks, they stayed in his apartment. She occupied the bedroom and he slept on the couch, according to prosecutors. He then drove her back north, dropping her off in Woodland 

She also asked him to board up the windows. 

During the period of her disappearance, Papini never left Reyes’ two-bedroom apartment. He continued to go to work every day.

Reyes isn't sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him

Reyes isn’t sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him

Papini selected the room she wanted to stay in. He believed she purposefully selected the room with ‘less exposure.’ 

Reyes told investigators that it might sound ‘bland,’ but they really just ‘talked,’ ‘hung out,’ and ‘ate food,’ but they did not go anywhere.  

Reyes said he believed Papini was purposefully trying to lose weight while she was staying with him.

‘She was not eating as much as she would…she would just minimize what she was eating,’ he said, adding that she would only eat half of a banana in an attempt to appear emaciated. 

Reyes said he came home one day to see Papini had chopped her hair off.  

Papini’s disappearance in November 2016 sparked a nationwide manhunt, with husband Keith making a series of emotional appeals for her to come home.

Three weeks after she vanished, the 39-year-old was discovered wandering down a road in Woodside, California, with a broken nose and her long blond hair hacked off.

She told police that she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women – but her story fell apart when she was arrested and charged with mail fraud for making the whole tale up.  

Keith Papini was in tears when he spoke about his wife abduction 20/20.

Keith Papini was in tears when he spoke about his wife abduction 20/20.

The 'supermom'  seemed to be getting back to normal when she went for pizza with her husband Keith in Redding, California in December, 2017

The ‘supermom’  seemed to be getting back to normal when she went for pizza with her husband Keith in Redding, California in December, 2017

It was only when he saw the intense media coverage of Papini returning home that Reyes started to panic, he said. 

He said he did not come forward because he thought that police would approach him if he had done something wrong, so he stayed quiet. 

In August 2020, police confronted Papini with the evidence but she continued to deny it and say there is ‘no way’ it could have been the ex-boyfriend. 

She admitted speaking with him over text, as she did with other men, but said it was merely a mistake and nothing criminal. 

‘When I went out of town for work. I talked with other guys … I made a mistake and I talked to other men and I shouldn’t have,’ she said.  

Skepticism about her disappearance came after it was revealed she had previously run away as a teenager.

And according to the Sacramento Bee, uncovered documents from 13 years ago outlined how Papini’s mother, Loretta Graeff, called police asking for help after her daughter was allegedly self-harming and trying to blame the wounds on her.

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

Papini got back in touch with ex-fiancé James Reyes shortly after he found a box of her belongings while cleaning out his house. He sent it to her parents

Papini got back in touch with ex-fiancé James Reyes shortly after he found a box of her belongings while cleaning out his house. He sent it to her parents

Papini (pictured with husband Keith) allegedly instructed ex-fiancé James Reyes to brand a message on her right shoulder

Papini (pictured with husband Keith) allegedly instructed ex-fiancé James Reyes to brand a message on her right shoulder

Her 2016 disappearance led to a nationwide hunt for alleged abductors. She re-emerged 150 miles away from her home after three weeks

Her 2016 disappearance led to a nationwide hunt for alleged abductors. She re-emerged 150 miles away from her home after three weeks

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

The newspaper also found two other incidents involving Papini, where her father and sister both claimed she damaged their property.

In 2000, Richard Graeff said his daughter ‘burglarized his residence,’ before Sheila Koester, ‘alleged her back door had been kicked in and she believed Papini was the suspect’, the Bee reported.

In retrospect, ‘we are relieved that the community is not endangered by unknown, violent kidnappers,’ said Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office. 

Papini and Keith spent the $49,000 raised on a GoFundMe page to ‘bring her home’ to pay off their personal credit cards and contribute to personal expenses, federal prosecutors claimed.

Sherri is now Inmate number 5393800 in the Sacramento County Jail, where her attorney says she cannot eat.

During a Zoom court appearance this week attorney Michael Borges said Papini had only been able to eat an apple since she was taken into custody in front of her kids at her home on Thursday.

He said the mother of two – who weighs only 100lbs and is 5ft. 3in. tall – has food allergies which prevent her from being able to eat anything else.

It is believed she and Keith have separated. 

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