Police investigators have apparently not ruled out the possibility that something is awry in the disappearance of Sherri Papini, a California mom who was reunited with her family on Thanksgiving after she was found bound and beaten along a California highway.
“I don’t know if the words ‘ruled out’ can be used,” a staff member named Kelly at the Shasta County sheriff’s office told The Huffington Post on Friday, when asked if authorities suspected a hoax. Kelly declined to give her last name, and answered questions about the Papini case when HuffPost requested to speak to a communications officer.
However, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko later disputed that characterization of the case, telling The Record Searchlight on Friday evening that, “Since speaking to Papini, based on information we’ve received, we believe her. We believe that this was an abduction.”
A request to Bosenko for clarification on the discrepancy was not immediately returned.
Police said Papini, a 34-year-old mother of two, was “heavily battered” and “bound with restraints” when she was found near I-5, just north of Woodland, on Nov. 24. The spot was about 150 miles from Papini’s small community near Redding, where she disappeared Nov. 2 while running.
Papini was treated for her injuries at a hospital, where she was reunited with her husband, Keith Papini.
“My first sight was my wife in a hospital bed, her face covered in bruises ranging from yellow to black because of repeated beatings, the bridge of her nose broken,” Keith Papini said in a statement to ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “Her now emaciated body of 87 pounds was covered in multicolored bruises, severe burns, red rashes and chain markings. Her signature long blond hair had been chopped off. She has been branded, and I could feel the rise of her scabs under my fingers.”
During a Wednesday press conference, Bosenko said he was unaware Keith Papini was going to release a statement.
“I do think … some of the details that he has provided could affect the integrity of the investigation,” Bosenko said, without elaborating.
According to the sheriff, Papini said her abductors were two armed Hispanic women in a dark sport utility vehicle. Papini described one of the suspects as having a thick accent, pierced ears and thin eyebrows. The other suspect, she told police, was older, with thick eyebrows and straight black hair. Authorities have yet to release a composite sketch of the suspects.
“We do not have any further description on the SUV or with the Hispanic females ― that is information we got directly from Ms. Papini,” Bosenko said. “These Hispanic females are armed, considered dangerous and they have a handgun.”
Sherri Papini’s husband reported her missing on the evening of Nov. 2, when he returned to their Mountain Gate home from work and discovered she had not picked up their children from day care. He used the “Find my iPhone” app to track his wife’s cellphone to an area near Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail, where he found the device with earbuds with strands of hair attached to them.
In a Wednesday interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Bosenko said it appeared Papini’s cellphone and earbuds had been “neatly placed.”
“They had been set in some grass with the screen facing up, and then the earbuds to the phone were loosely coiled and appeared to be placed on the screen,” he said. “It did somewhat appear to be that it was placed there purposely.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, Bosenko addressed speculation that a 2003 blog post attributed to Papini’s maiden name of Graeff and posted to the now-defunct website “SKINHEADZ” could be connected to her alleged abduction.
“We are familiar with that blog ... we do not know if it has any relevance to this case or not,” he said.
The blog post reportedly detailed racial abuse the author claimed to suffer at the hands of Latinos.
“Being white is more than just being aware of my skin, but of standing behind Skinheads ― who are always around, in spirit, as well ― and having pride for my country,” the post read.
Keith Papini appeared to indirectly address the posting in his statement to “Good Morning America.”
“I understand people want … proof that this was not some sort of hoax, plan to gain money or some fabricated race war,” he said. “I do not see a purpose in addressing each preposterous lie.”
Sherri Papini’s ex-husband David Dreyfus, who divorced Papini in 2007, told The Daily Mail that Sherri is not the author of the post.
“That post isn’t true,” he said. “It was a prank by someone at high school. She never found out who did it. Sherri isn’t racist.”
Keith Papini’s statement to “Good Morning America” touched upon the increasing scrutiny surrounding his wife’s abduction.
“Rumors, assumptions, lies and hate have been both exhausting and disgusting,” Keith Papini said. “Those people should be ashamed of their malicious, subhuman behavior.”
Speaking with San Francisco’s KRON-TV on Thursday, Cody Salfen, a private investigator hired by Keith Papini after his wife’s disappearance, acknowledged female criminal duos are not common in abductions and said the circumstances of Sherri Papini’s release are unusual.
“The fact that she was recovered alive such a long period of time after her initial disappearance, that really defies my experience with abduction cases,” Salfen said.
Despite the peculiarity of the case, Salfen told KRON-TV it is clear to him that this is “a legitimate case of abduction and the other scenarios that people have talked about are improbable.”
The sheriff’s office on Friday said they were unable to provide additional details about the investigation to HuffPost. “There isn’t anything as of yet to report,” the spokeswoman said.
It also remains unclear what will happen to the nearly $50,000 the Papini family raised to cover search expenses.
However, some new details might come out Friday, when Keith Papini’s first on-camera interview since his wife’s return airs on ABC’s “20/20.” Papini, according to a press release issued by the network, will describe the search for his wife and what it was like for him to reunite with her. The program is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. ET.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office at 530-245-6540, or the Major Crimes Unit at 530-245-6135.
This story has been updated to include comments Bosenko later made to The Record Searchlight.