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THE “Gone Girl faker” who staged her own kidnapping gave an Oscar-worthy performance that left a tight-knit community terrified a boogeyman was lurking in the shadows, the city’s ex-mayor has revealed.
Sherri Papini, 39, finally confessed on Tuesday that her story about being kidnapped and held captive for more than three weeks in 2016 was a complete lie.
Dubbed a “super mom” in the press at the time, Papini vanished while out jogging in Redding, Northern California on November 2, 2016.
She then mysteriously reappeared 22 days later on Thanksgiving Day, claiming to have been abducted and held captive by two gun-wielding Hispanic women.
No arrests were ever made in the case with police struggling to find a motive for the seemingly random crime.
Following a six-year investigation, Papini was then taken into custody last month after it was found she’d actually been staying with an ex-boyfriend during the time she was believed missing.
Her arrest was followed by a confession earlier this week, in which the mom-of-two claimed to be “deeply ashamed” of her actions in a statement released by her lawyer.
Victoria “Missy” McArthur was the mayor of Redding at the time Papini vanished.
In an exclusive interview with The US Sun, she revealed how Papini’s grief-stricken husband Keith turned up to a city council hall meeting, begging for local officials to help find his wife.
“It was very heartfelt and sad,” McArthur remembered. “He was really upset, almost beside himself, and we said ‘Okay, sure. Anything we can do to help, we will.”
City Hall and the wider Redding community rallied around the Papini family, raising awareness by handing out flyers and holding a balloon release ceremony on the city’s iconic Sundial Bridge.
The initial response to Papini’s disappearance was one of concern, McArthur said, with residents and officials determined to work together to find her.
However, those feelings of concern for the Papini family were displaced by concern for their own safety when Sherri miraculously emerged 22 days later, spinning a frightening tale of how she was abducted and abused by two bandana-wearing Hispanic women for reasons unknown.
“It was a very concerning and frightening time,” Missy said. “Suddenly people didn’t want their loved ones out jogging alone or walking their dogs, so everyone was kind of on edge for a while.
“We felt relieved to have found her, because we had a similar case a few years earlier, Tara Smith, who went missing and was never found.
“But it felt like there was a boogeyman on the loose. It felt like, you know, everyone was asking ‘Who was it? Where are they now? And are they coming back?’”
Providing the community of Redding some kind of relief, Missy said, was that Papini was found 120 miles away in Woodland, leading residents to assure themselves that Papini’s kidnappers were likely not locals.
However, the disturbing nature of her alleged abduction, and claims that she had been abused and tortured, caused fears to fester still.
‘QUITE AN ACT’
Papini was found on November 24, 2016, at a roadside in Huntington shackled, branded, and emaciated.
Hose clamps were fixed to her ankles in what the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office later described as “pain compliance restraints.”
Papini was also covered in bruises, had her long blond hair shaved off, a “brand” on her right shoulder, and had suffered a broken nose.
Two weeks after the shocking and miraculous discovery was made, Papini and her husband paid a visit to Missy’s home to thank her for help in the search.
Seeing Papini in person, Missy, who for 25 years worked as a physician’s assistant, said was convinced Sherri had been “traumatized”, with her behavior exhibiting all the signals that someone suffering from PTSD would have.
“I truly felt she had been traumatized and believed she had been through this awful thing,” Missy said.
“I worked in an Emergency Room for 12 years so I saw some people go through some very traumatic things, so I felt like she was legit.”
“She was so good,” Missy added. “I don’t know if she’d studied how someone with PTSD acts but she was very convincing.
“She really had a good act going.”
HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER
Throughout the duration of their meeting, Missy said Papini remained relatively silent, save for a few mumbles, as she allowed Keith to do the talking while she cuddled up next to him and stared vacantly into space.
Missy said Papini’s body language was akin to someone who was frightened and needed to be protected.
Papini also never made eye contact as Keith explained that she was too frightened to look anyone in the face because her captors had threatened to hurt her if she looked at them.
“So she kept her eyes down the whole time,” Missy remembered. “She stayed in character and she didn’t speak.
“Maybe that was one of her good ploys, you know, ‘ you can’t get caught up in lies if you don’t speak.’
“[But] I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” she added. “I was completely duped.”
‘A HORRIBLE THING’
Even as questions were raised about Papini’s story in the aftermath of her reappearance, Missy was steadfast in her support of Sherri and Keith, discrediting any naysayers as “just trolls” in an interview with local media in 2016.
She ran into Keith weeks later, asking him how Sherri was. He replied she was “doing okay” but seldom wanted to venture outside any longer.
Having witnessed Keith’s devastation first-hand when Sherri first went missing, and Sherri’s apparent trauma in the wake of her kidnapping, Missy said she had no reason to doubt the story.
It wasn’t until Papini’s arrest last month, six years on from the ordeal, that the doubt started to creep in.
“I’d say the arrest was the first time I’d seen any proof that made me doubt her story,” Missy said. “I just believed her, I especially believed Keith and I still do. It’s clear he had no idea either.”
Missy said she’s concerned about how the latest developments in the case may affect Papini’s two children.
The former mayor added that she hopes Sherri can get the psychological help she “clearly needs.”
“I think for me personally, I feel bad for Keith,” she said. “I always carry a soft spot for him and his family, thinking what a horrible thing it must’ve been to go through.”
For the community of Redding, Missy said she felt as though the city had long moved on from the ordeal, but news of Papini’s arrest last month “brought it all back up again.”
While the lasting effects of Papini’s lies are yet to be realized, Missy said she worries local residents – who pride themselves on being kind and caring – may be less willing or more skeptical of banding together in the future should a similar missing persons case arise.
“She absolutely took advantage of this kind and caring community,” she said. “And now I think, will the community rally like that again?
“I hope they do, and I’m sure they will,” Missy added. “I think they’ll say, ‘shame on her for doing that. Not shame on us for trying to help.’”
GONE GIRL COPYCAT
Papini’s kidnapping facade finally shattered on Tuesday when she admitted to orchestrating the entire event in a statement released through her attorney.
The case has been likened to the plot of the 2014 movie Gone Girl, an adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, in which the lead character stages her own abduction to spite her husband.
“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and 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,” Papini’s statement read.
She also pledged to “work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
The statement was released shortly after she struck a deal with prosecutors, in which she agreed to plead guilty to two counts of mail fraud and lying to a law enforcement officer – charges that carry maximum sentences of 20 years and five years, respectively.
Under the terms of the agreement, Papini will also be required to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to federal, state and local agencies. Prosecutors said they would recommend reduced sentences in exchange.
‘I DON’T BELIEVE THAT’
Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson, who spent years investigating the case, told The US Sun he isn’t buying Papini’s apology, insisting “she’s only sorry because she got caught.”
“The bottom line is, this case was about some very strong narcissistic behavior, along with deception, deceit and selfishness,” Johnson said, “so I have a very hard time believing she’s sorry.
“She had several opportunities to come clean during the various phases of this investigation and she never did it.
“Now all of a sudden we’re supposed to believe she’s remorseful for what she did?” he asked. “Well, I just don’t believe that.”
Johnson said investigators were suspicious for some time that Papini’s story may have been fabricated, but still, they worked for months on end to chase every lead and carry out their due diligence to “get their facts straight.”
Then, in a statement last month, Attorney for the Eastern District of California Phillip A. Talbert said the almost six-year investigation into the case has revealed that Papini fabricated the entire story, even going as far as to harm herself to substantiate her claims.
THE GRAND REVEAL
Investigators said they were able to determine that Papini was with an ex-boyfriend, James Reyes, who was in on the ruse from the beginning.
The bogus kidnapping was plotted on pre-paid cell phones, an affidavit released by Talebert’s office this week claims.
Described in the report as an “attention-hungry woman” who had numerous affairs, Papini ask her former lover to pick her up and then spent the next few weeks at his apartment, Reyes confessed to cops.
The ex-boyfriend also allegedly told police how he hired a rental car to drive her back to her family’s neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day, 2016.
“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” Talbert said.
“Shasta County Sheriff’s Office immediately began investigating, calling on the assistance of the FBI. Countless hours were spent following leads, all in an effort to bring this woman back to her family.
Talbert added: “Three weeks later, she was found 146 miles south of where she disappeared, and the focus went from trying to find her to trying to find her abductors.
“Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted based on the defendant’s conduct.”
Nobody else has been charged in relation to Papini’s staged kidnapping.
Jackson said there is no evidence that Keith Papini knew about the hoax that was planned by his wife. Reyes is also not expected to face charges.
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