REDDING, Calif. (KRON) — Sherri Papini’s husband loyally stood by her side for years.
Even after federal prosecutors revealed she staged an elaborate kidnapping hoax in Redding, Calif. to secretly visit her ex-boyfriend 600 miles away from home, Keith Papini continued supporting his wife.
But Keith Papini apparently had a change of heart on Wednesday when he filed for divorce in Shasta County Superior Court, according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Keith Papini’s court filing requested a “dissolution with minor children” from his 39-year-old wife. It was filed just two days after Sherri Papini pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom to lying to FBI agents about her fake kidnapping.
The couple stayed together through a six-year saga spurred in November 2016, when the mother of two vanished from her neighborhood.
Her husband told the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office that when he arrived home from work, his wife and kids were not there. The children had never been picked up by their mother from daycare, as she usually did every day.
Sherri Papini’s disappearance set off frantic search efforts throughout Northern California.
“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.
The stay-at-home mom suddenly re-appeared when motorists spotted her running along Interstate 5 in Woodland, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2016.
Sherri Papini had a chain around her waist and injuries on her body. She told authorities that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women. She provided descriptions to an FBI sketch artist along with extensive details of her purported abduction.
When Sherri Papini was taken to a hospital, she initially refused to talk to law enforcement officers and would only speak with her husband.
She told her husband that while she was held captive, the Hispanic women chained her in a closet, yelled at her in Spanish, beat her, and listened to “annoying Mexican music.”
In reality, authorities said, the whole time Sherri Papini was missing she stayed with a former boyfriend in Orange County.
To make her story more believable, Papini injured herself, according to an affidavit, and she used a burner phone to communicate her ex-boyfriend.
Talbert said, “Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping.”
FBI agents found Sherri Papini’s ex-boyfriend and discovered he had picked her up in Redding.
Her ex-boyfriend agreed to cooperate with investigators. He said the married mother begged for his help to get away from her husband.
The affidavit states, “Ex-boyfriend admitted to investigators that he helped Papini ‘run away.’ Papini told him that her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape. Papini told ex-boyfriend that she had filed police reports, but the police were not doing anything to stop her husband’s abuse. Ex-boyfriend and Papini had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old. The two also had a romantic relationship and had previously been engaged.”
According to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, Sherri Papini never filed a report of domestic violence against her husband.
Even after investigators told Keith Papini that his wife had been with her ex-boyfriend and FBI agents suspected that she made her elaborate story up, Keith Papini continued supporting her publicly.
In an ABC interview on “20/20,” Keith Papini said he believed his wife.
Sherri Papini was still making false statements as recently as August 2020, when prosecutors said an FBI agent and a sheriff’s detective showed her evidence indicating she had not been abducted.
Sherri Papini admitted to her hoax for the first time earlier this month.
She released a written statement through her defense attorney that read, “I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very 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. I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
On Monday she pleaded guilty to lying to federal law enforcement officers and mail fraud. The charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison for lying and up to 20 years for mail fraud.
Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson said he believes Sherri Papini is a narcissist. The sheriff also doubts the sincerity of her apology.
“The bottom line is, this case was about some very strong narcissistic behavior, along with deception, deceit and selfishness. I have a very hard time believing she’s sorry,” Johnson told The US Sun.
“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? Well, I just don’t believe that,” Johnson told The US Sun.
“I’m really struggling to have any compassion or sympathy for her at all,” Johnson added.
Sheriff detectives investigated why Sherri Papini tried to pin her kidnapping on two fictitious Hispanic women who spoke Spanish.
SCSO detectives asked Sherri Papini about a blog post written on MySpace by “Sherri Graeff” in 2007.
According to an affidavit, “Many people in the Redding area speculated that Papini wrote the blog post. In the post, Graeff detailed how she grew up in Shasta Lake, California, was a good athlete, but was picked on in high school by a group of ‘Latinos.’ The post stated, ‘I used to come home in tears, because I was getting suspended from school all the time for defending myself against the Latinos. The chief problem was that I was drug-fee, white and proud of my blood and heritage. This really irked a group of Latino girls, which would constantly rag and attack me.'”
Sherri Papini will be sentenced on July 11. A court hearing on the divorce Is scheduled for May 9.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.