Is the "Supermom" case a hoax?

First let me refresh you about the case that I am referring to.  Back in November a 34-year-old mother was found to be missing after she did not pick up her children from child care.  Her husband found her by tracking her cell phone.  She was not there, but her cell phone was found.  He called the police and the search for missing “supermom” Sherri Papini was on.  On Thanksgiving Day, Sherri was “released” by her captures and was reunited with her family.

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In the video above you will see Keith looking directly to the right many times and for a long period of time.

With this case, you are of either side.  You either believe that Sherri was kidnapped or you believe it was a hoax.  Just searching social media and you can find scores of comments supporting either side.  Over the last few days, Keith, Sherri’s husband has addressed the media and has even appeared on several TV shows.  His interviews has caused some to change their mind.  Where they once disbelieved the situation, they now believe, and vice-versa.

There were several “things” for the lack of a better word right now that has caused my antenna to vibrate with suspicion that a lot of this seems made up.  I have watched missing stories come and go and the ones with a hook get all the attention; young, blonde and unusual circumstances. This one qualified. If Sherri had been unmarried, no clues left behind, older and less attractive, I doubt this would have gotten the momentum.  Everything about this case is text book on how to make a story national, as though someone knew how to do.  And even more unusual is that everyone in this story did exactly what needed to be done to get the story the level of attention it got, from the local reporters, the church, the sister, the husband, to name a few and even Cameron Gamble helped too.

Sherri a few years back (left-around 2009) and a current photo of Sherri (right). You can’t help but wonder why an older photo was used instead of a current one.

For me, the one thing that stood out was when Sherri was still missing, was that Keith kept repeating she had been taken.   He repeating his belief that she had been abducted over and over again.  I’ve heard parents also cry sex trafficking or abduction when their teen disappears. It brings so much attention to their case as sex trafficking is a very scary word, but more and more we are seeing that they were not abducted. In Sherri’s case the public really took attention when Keith claimed abduction.   Maybe it was because she was innocently jogging along a rode and was plucked from the path like a flower.  Maybe it was because her cell phone was found lying on the ground.

It has been 12 days now (at this writing) and there has been no comment from Sherri that I have found.   She has not addressed the public nor talked with the media.  Instead, Keith is doing all of  the talking for Sherri.  He has gone to the media to tell the story of how she was held and then released.  On TV, with emotions vacillating from tears to stoic, he led the viewing audience along with him as he relives his personal pain.  Every word that he says, I find myself asking, where is Sherri?  Why is he telling the story?  Where is Sherri?  Why can’t I hear it from her?   The more I ask, the more I resented he had taken center stage over an event that he was a cog in.  Yes, he was part of the event, but so were his children, Sherri’s parents and sister, and even the people that searched for her.  Keith has become the sole voice of Sherri.  Many are taken this lack of appearance by Sherri two ways.  Sherri needs time to heal or Sherri is hiding so as to not tip her hand that it was a hoax.  But, I am wonder if there isn’t one more thing that we are not considering.  Maybe Sherri is not being allowed to come forward by her husband. Once Sherri comes forward, no one will want to talk with Keith anymore.  The only reason they are talking to him now, is because he’s the closest thing to her.  Keith knows that one appearance from Sherri and no one will care what he has to say any longer. He will become secondary instead of primary.

Without hearing things directly from Sherri, we will continue to wonder what really happened particularly  because Keith’s story’s keeps changing.  Social media is a hawk and there is not a bunny out there that can get away from it’s keen eye, sharp beak or talons.  Every bit of the story that has come out so far has been scrutinized, and although Keith refers to disbelievers as sub-human, they are actually uber-human as there is not a detail that will get by that they won’t verify.

Some statements that seem inconsistent are when Keith stated that Sherri’s hair was cut, even the Sheriff stated such, and she was bound, but then a witness stated they saw Sherri on the road with long blonde hair and waving a shirt.  One account was that Sherri’s children were not told she was taken per Keith, but then Keith tells the media he told his son he was going to find her, and when she was found Thanksgiving day he told him, “I found her.” There is so much more and you can find all the discrepancies on social media or by reading news articles.

Then there is rumors, like her involvement and story that she wrote on the Skinheadz.com website (website no longer exists) and that she had stated she was kidnapped in 2006.  Right now there is no positive proof that Sherri was the same Sherri that was a member of the site, nor has anyone been able to prove she actually stated she was kidnapped in 2006.

So, does Keith’s involvement go farther than secreting Sherri away and doing all the talking for her?  Remember, he did pass the polygraph test.  But, we don’t really know what the examiner asked him.  What if we theorize that this whole abduction had been planned by Keith, how would he have been able to pass a polygraph?  In my story  What Does Inconclusive Mean on a Polygraph Test  you can see the test has a lot to do with what the questions are.  If they ask Keith if he knew where his wife was he can truthfully say no, if it was prearranged that he was not to know.  When asked if he had anything to do with her disappearance, if it was done by someone else, well then actually, no he didn’t have anything to do with “her disappearance.”

But, what would be the motive behind either one of them portraying a hoax?

It could have been money and/or celebrity status.   With two GoFundMe accounts that collected over $40,000 each and the assumed paid interviews that money begins to add up.  (One GoFundMe account was started by someone other than Keith, so there is no proof that Keith or Sherri ever collected that money).

BUT, keep in mind, many can’t keep a hoax going long enough to ever collect a fund before they are arrested. Many break down and confess because holding up under all the attention is impossible.   You would have to be the type of person that shines in the limelight and is calm and can easily lie in order to be able to hold up under all this media and social scrutiny. Someone like a psychopath.

“Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature. When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous. Their crimes, whether violent or non-violent, will be highly organized and generally offer few clues for authorities to pursue. Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and “con artists” due to their calm and charismatic natures.” –Psychology Today

Lastly, what I haven’t seem from Keith is anger.  If someone took my family member and returned them, for a second I would be grateful they were back, but it would be no time before I would be letting everyone know I was angry.  I would be angry that my family member had to go through such a horrible event, and looking to get my hands on whomever did it.  This one emotion was the one that I believe most any human being would be showing on national TV.

Although I felt all the questions that have come up would have been answered by now, they have not and I don’t know if we will every know.  We will know Keith’s version of it, I doubt we will ever hear Sherri’s.

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Jerrie Dean, who is retired from Federal Law Enforcement, is the Founder of Missing Persons of America.

11 Comments

  1. The “other” missing woman you are speaking of is Stacey Smart. She went missing from the next county over approximately two weeks prior to Papini having gone missing. Due to various circumstances, she was not officially reported missing until the same day Sherri went missing. Stacey is from Lewiston, Ca. She was living with her boyfriend at the time at the Pine Cove Marina on Lewiston Lake. She does not drive and has a significant and disabling injury of her leg and has difficulty in walking. Her last known sighting was on October at a house warming party. After some event (arguement?) she left with basically the clothes on her back. This community is rural and it would have been about a 6 mile walk to Lewiston proper. There have been three ground search for her, but as of yet no clear leads on where she is. You can read about it on Facebook page Help Find Stacey Smart or http://www.krcrtv.com/north-coast-news/eureka-news/trinity/trinity-co-sheriffs-office-search-for-stacey-smart-in-lake/197643199. I agree with you wholeheartedly, this story needs to get out. All missing persons deserve to be found. Stacey Smart is a daughter, a mother, a sister~ let’s give this story the respect it deserves.

  2. I am sure photo’s will be released at trial if they find these abductors. Keith seems real and loves his wife deeply. After this settles down the anger will come from Keith & her family & friends. I believe this happened to her. Trauma is hard to get over & she will talk when she is ready.

  3. For the most part, I enjoy your blog. I find it interesting and informative. However, this blog, while it honestly hits way too close to home for me, I take issue with. Not so much with the possibility being raised about if it is a hoax or not because I find that to be a fair question. In any case. But about the inconsistencies with the truth. I do completely agree that had Sherri been an old, ugly spinster the story would not have gained as much (if any) coverage. But here are some facts. (easily verifiable and really having little to do with Sherri herself as the crap hole that is the Redding area). Lewiston where Stacey Smart went missing from is 45 minutes from Redding. It is a rural mountain community where Redding is a major city on I-5. Your comment that Tera Smith was taken “a few years ago” is grossly inaccurate. Tera Smith went missing 18 years ago. In 1998. While not official, it is largely believed her boyfriend killed her. Her much older, married boyfriend who was committing statutory rape. Not really a similar situation. Cort Jones has been missing since 2012. He was last seen 13 miles away from where Sherri went missing. Telsa Carroll has not been seen since 2012. Heather Cameron was 28 when she went missing in 2012 from the Keswick Dam area. 17 miles from where Sherri went missing.
    In the interview Keith stated that they were not staying at their home and that they may not ever return to that house because Sherri doesn’t feel safe. I am not sure how that equates to “skipping town”. Their families know where they are. The police know where they are. They have friends taking care of their animals. Their dogs were not left negligently without any arrangements to care for them. As I said, I am not taking issue (or picking sides) as to if this is a hoax or questions you have raised. But believe the whole picture should be presented. Do I believe something like this could happen in Redding? ABSOLUTELY!!!! It is a crap hole of drugs, crime and destruction. Forbes ranked Redding as the 5th most dangerous city in the US for women in 2012. In 2015 it was ranked 8th most dangerous metro in the West with 642 violent crimes per 100,000 people. There are 303 registered sex offenders in Redding alone. 538 registered in Shasta County. That is two times the national average. I moved from there as fast as I could! I have moved every member of my family from there. Including my elderly grandmother and my mother. Please, just remember while this is a story there are many families involved who deserve accurate and impartial information to be shared. Thanks!

    • At the time I mixed up Tera with Stacey Smart, other than that I don’t know of any other “inconsistencies with the truth,” although I am confused by what that statement means. Stacey was the one that media has stated was missing the same day as Sherri, but upon further checking found she went missing in Oct. but it was not reported till that day. I have posted on Cort Jones, and I have an opinion on what happened to him, but never voiced it and Heather in the past. Telsa I never wrote on and before today didn’t know she was missing. A few years back is a stretch for 18 years but I don’t think constitutes “Grossly” inaccurate. Point number 2, it was media reports that used the words skipping and fled town. I thought it was rather presumption of them and wondered how they knew that for sure. Also, the dogs were being taken care of by the neighbor so I didn’t think they were abandoned or being neglected. The fact they were left behind made me think they went on a xmas vacation and were coming back. I have repeated this many times but people still think I was the one accusing them of skipping in my follow up story, when I was actually questioning why the word was being used. So, if you are lumping that in as inconsistencies with truth, you should go back and read the story again, and you will find I was not making the claim of them skipping town or fleeing. Although, I usually am impartial by posing questions and bringing up information so the reader can make up their own minds on what they think is going on, there are cases where I write editorial style and state my thoughts; a privilege I denote myself as the owner of the blog. The caveat though is sometimes those posts are well received and sometimes not, which has everything to do with what side the reading audience is on.