What Was That?! The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini

What Was That?! The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini

Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini is a new three-part documentary series on Hulu about the 2016 fake kidnapping of a young, beautiful wife and mother when she was out jogging one morning in California. The story quickly captured the nation’s attention, and everyone remained hopeful that Papini would be located. So, picture the collective sense of relief when she was discovered alive 20+ days after her abduction. It appeared that her story had a happy ending… yet Papini’s return home was just the beginning.

The sad truth is that there are so many true crime stories today that it’s hard to remember all of them. We forget victims as soon as their “episode” or “movie” is over, and we move on to the next one. As a devotee of Dateline, I know this process all too well, and while I wish I could remember all the victims, I just can’t. But I remember Sherri Papini. I remember wondering if the husband had killed her or if total strangers had scooped her up. What I never once considered was the thought that she may have faked her own abduction. She was branded and beaten; no one would willingly do that to themselves. That’s ridiculous… right? RIGHT?!

On the surface, Sherri Papini appeared to have the ideal life. Her family was stunningly gorgeous, she was popular, and her children had become her entire world. Nobody had anything terrible to say about her, and if anything, they were concerned for her. Sherri began to tell others that her marriage was far from perfect and that her husband, Keith, was controlling and potentially dangerous. But none of that was true. When Sherri sustained a black eye, she failed to mention it was the result of an accident while playing Nintendo Wii. Sherri didn’t reveal her affair with another man when she described Keith’s fixation with her whereabouts and communications. She seemed to like being the damsel in distress and would tell whatever story drew the greatest compassion and attention.

In interviews, Keith mentions that he was worried his wife was lying. But, as his therapist pointed out, Sherri’s tale had never altered, and her PTSD appeared to be quite real. The abduction left her with injuries all over her body, in addition to the actual brand on her back. It seemed unimaginable that someone would willingly go through that much trauma; therefore, she must be telling the truth.

Sherri’s sister and childhood best friend fill in some of the gaps necessary to comprehend the woman herself. She didn’t have a stable family and would fabricate stories to gain attention. She once cut herself and then claimed her father purposefully cut her with an X-Acto knife. From a young age, Sherri would do whatever it took to receive the attention she demanded. Was it so far-fetched that, as an adult, she could fake all of those injuries? Not to mention the entire kidnapping?

When she returned, Sherri explained she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women and provided information about where she was kept. Sherri indicated that she suspected the younger woman murdered the older woman, and because the younger woman sympathized with her, she was released. Sherri provided information regarding where she was held, including details about the closet where she was chained and the table where she was branded. The investigators worked to collect clues that could lead to the suspects or the house where she was held.

It wasn’t until 2020 that a familial DNA match led police to Costa Mesa, California, where they uncovered a home that fit Sherri’s description. Everything, from the one-of-a-kind closet to the distinctive coffee table, matched. Keith seemed as ecstatic as the investigators revealed they had discovered the individual who had taken his wife. He was astonished to hear that the house belonged to Sherri’s ex-boyfriend, James Reyes. At that point, Keith’s whole world was turned upside down. Despite his past concerns, he never actually believed his wife orchestrated her own kidnapping.

To some extent, I can identify with Sherri Papini; I recall making up white lies as a child to get attention and what it was like when those (bad) lies were uncovered. I learned my lesson by the time I reached adulthood, and I found that poor mental health caused most of my behavior. I can’t image faking my own kidnapping, but I wonder what lengths I’d go to if I hadn’t received the help I needed. Regardless of how much I sympathize with Sherri, she has children. The trauma she has caused to her family, whether deliberate or not, is unforgivable.

I found Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini intriguing. If you enjoy true crime, add this documentary series to your watchlist. Even if you recall the story, the interviews and recorded footage add context and provide valuable insights from Sherri’s husband, Keith.

Watch the trailer below, then go to Hulu to view the entire three-part series.

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