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How Sherri Papini drew her sports store clerk ex-fiancé into her web of deceit

Sherri Papini and the man who hid her from her ‘abusive’ husband had once planned to marry, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal. 

But in more than three weeks together in his California apartment the former lovebirds never even had sex, the ex, James Reyes, has told police.

Instead she slept in his bedroom where the windows were boarded up and he was forced on to the couch. 

Papini, 39, was arrested on Thursday, accused of faking her 2016 kidnapping with James Reyes, 37. Authorities said the pair ‘had a long history.’

James Reyes, 37, is the ex-boyfriend who hid California ‘super mom’ Sherri Papini for 22 days 

Reyes told police that Papini contacted him ‘out of the blue’ in 2015 and told him she ‘planned to run away with him.’

She stayed at his home in Costa Mesa, California, for 22 days while the FBI and police in her hometown of Redding, California, conducted a frantic search for her. 

The two towns are a 10-hour drive from each other.

Papini reappeared battered and bruised three weeks later and told police she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women. She had a brand mark on her right shoulder.

Now prosecutors claim the whole thing was a sham and that she branded and starved herself to make the tale of the kidnapping appear more real.

Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said on Monday others would likely face charges in the bizarre case and slammed Papini as a ‘selfish narcissist.’

Papini has been accused of making false statements and mail fraud and she is facing up to 20 years in jail along with a $250,000 fine. Reyes has not so far been charged.

Authorities say she was given more than $30,000 from California’s Victim Compensation Board after her alleged kidnapping to pay for. therapist visits and the ambulance that took her to hospital after she was discovered.

Reyes and Papini had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old and were longstanding friends.

The two also had a romantic relationship and had been engaged in the early 2000s.

Reyes admitted to investigators that he hoped their relationship would become romantic once they were back at his apartment, but that it never did.

He said that during their prior relationship, they were in love ‘but that was young love,’ he said. 

He stated that they did not have sex while she stayed with him and said that ‘it was not a sexual thing.’

Reyes told investigators that Papini reached out to him ‘out of the blue’.’ Prior to that, they had not spoken in a long time because ‘she got married, she had kids.’  

Sometime in 2015, he was cleaning his house and came across a box of old photos and personal items that belonged to Papini. 

He sent the box to her parents, and called to let them  know the box was coming. 

Reyes isn’t sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him, and that she had been saving cash and planned to send some money for her to have when she was with him.

‘She kind of laid out the situation.’  he told authorities.

Reyes, who has now left Costa Mesa, collected the mom-of-two in a rental car on the day she vanished after spending weeks exchanging flirty texts with her.

Reyes said the pair spent three weeks hiding out at his apartment and helped her fabricate the injuries she had when she returned home.

Reyes also admitted dropping Papini off by the roadside in Woodland when her twisted plot came to an end. 

Male DNA found on Papini’s underwear led cops to Reyes’s father and the 37-year-old confessed to his role in the deception when confronted.

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away.

Prosecutors charged Sherri Papini, 39, (pictured) for lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state's victim compensation board of $30,000

Prosecutors charged Sherri Papini, 39, (pictured) for lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state’s victim compensation board of $30,000 

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away

Athletic store worker Reyes told police that he believed Papini to be in an abusive relationship and drove to her home town of Redding to pick her up after she asked for help to get away

Reyes said the pair spent three weeks hiding out at his apartment in Costa Mesa and helped her fabricate the injuries she had when she returned home 

According to the indictment, Reyes explained that Papini told him that her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape. 

She told her ex that she had filed police reports, but the police were not doing anything to stop her husband’s abuse. 

According to the indictment, Reyes told police that Papini caused self-inflicted injuries while staying with him, including hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms. 

Reyes even admitted helping her create some of the injuries, although he says he never laid his hands on her directly. For example, she told him to shoot her in the leg with a pellet gun. 

He said he did not help Papini burn her arm. ‘That was self-inflicted. I didn’t burn anything on her arm there.’

He went as far as to say he was confused by Papini injuring herself and told police, ‘There’s not too many people that come up and say hurt me. I’m not physical ever with women, I mean I just don’t.’ 

According to the arrest affidavit, Papini confessed to making up her story after being confronted with Reyes' testimony - and admitted to having multiple affairs during her marriage to Best Buy employee Keith

According to the arrest affidavit, Papini confessed to making up her story after being confronted with Reyes’ testimony – and admitted to having multiple affairs during her marriage to Best Buy employee Keith

Papini did not start creating injuries on herself until close to the time she decided to leave Reyes and go back home, the indictment said, adding that she had initially planned to stay with him for a longer period of time.

At one point, Papini told Reyes to order a wood burning tool from Hobby Lobby to brand her, using cash to make the purchase. 

He said Papini was aware of the news stories about her disappearance by this point and did not want people to see her, so he went to Hobby Lobby alone.

Reyes described the burning tool as a small plug-in similar in size to an electric tooth brush with letters that snapped into the top of it.   

Papini sat on the floor next to the tool and pulled her shirt up so he could make the brand with the phrase that she wanted. Reyes said he could not remember the phrase but that it was something meaningful.  

The tool was so hot it glowed red, but Papini did not complain about the pain when he branded her right shoulder. 

According to the indictment, during the period of her disappearance Panini never left Reyes’ residence and asked him to pick up clothes for her to wear. He purchased sweats, socks and t-shirts from Target, TJ Maxx, or Ross.

The area where Sherri Papini was found near the I-5 freeway outside of Yolo, California

The area where Sherri Papini was found near the I-5 freeway outside of Yolo, California

Papini told her ex-boyfriend to pick her up on November 2 from her home in Redding, California. She then sat in the backseat, lying down, while he drove seven hours south to Costa Mesa. For three weeks, they stayed in his apartment. She occupied the bedroom and he slept on the couch, according to prosecutors. He then drove her back north, dropping her off in Woodland

Papini told her ex-boyfriend to pick her up on November 2 from her home in Redding, California. She then sat in the backseat, lying down, while he drove seven hours south to Costa Mesa. For three weeks, they stayed in his apartment. She occupied the bedroom and he slept on the couch, according to prosecutors. He then drove her back north, dropping her off in Woodland 

She also asked him to board up the windows. 

During the period of her disappearance, Papini never left Reyes’ two-bedroom apartment. He continued to go to work every day.

Reyes isn't sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him

Reyes isn’t sure if that was what prompted her to reach out to him. She called him at work and said she had a plan to run away to him

Papini selected the room she wanted to stay in. He believed she purposefully selected the room with ‘less exposure.’ 

Reyes told investigators that it might sound ‘bland,’ but they really just ‘talked,’ ‘hung out,’ and ‘ate food,’ but they did not go anywhere.  

Reyes said he believed Papini was purposefully trying to lose weight while she was staying with him.

‘She was not eating as much as she would…she would just minimize what she was eating,’ he said, adding that she would only eat half of a banana in an attempt to appear emaciated. 

Reyes said he came home one day to see Papini had chopped her hair off.  

Papini’s disappearance in November 2016 sparked a nationwide manhunt, with husband Keith making a series of emotional appeals for her to come home.

Three weeks after she vanished, the 39-year-old was discovered wandering down a road in Woodside, California, with a broken nose and her long blond hair hacked off.

She told police that she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women – but her story fell apart when she was arrested and charged with mail fraud for making the whole tale up.  

Keith Papini was in tears when he spoke about his wife abduction 20/20.

Keith Papini was in tears when he spoke about his wife abduction 20/20.

The 'supermom'  seemed to be getting back to normal when she went for pizza with her husband Keith in Redding, California in December, 2017

The ‘supermom’  seemed to be getting back to normal when she went for pizza with her husband Keith in Redding, California in December, 2017

It was only when he saw the intense media coverage of Papini returning home that Reyes started to panic, he said. 

He said he did not come forward because he thought that police would approach him if he had done something wrong, so he stayed quiet. 

In August 2020, police confronted Papini with the evidence but she continued to deny it and say there is ‘no way’ it could have been the ex-boyfriend. 

She admitted speaking with him over text, as she did with other men, but said it was merely a mistake and nothing criminal. 

‘When I went out of town for work. I talked with other guys … I made a mistake and I talked to other men and I shouldn’t have,’ she said.  

Skepticism about her disappearance came after it was revealed she had previously run away as a teenager.

And according to the Sacramento Bee, uncovered documents from 13 years ago outlined how Papini’s mother, Loretta Graeff, called police asking for help after her daughter was allegedly self-harming and trying to blame the wounds on her.

The incident report, filed in December 2003, is just two lines long and reads: ‘RP states her 21y/o daughter that was living with her was harming herself and blaming it on the RP.

‘RP states female is coming back to live with them and she wants advice.’

The newspaper also found two other incidents involving Papini, where her father and sister both claimed she damaged their property.

In 2000, Richard Graeff said his daughter ‘burglarized his residence,’ before Sheila Koester, ‘alleged her back door had been kicked in and she believed Papini was the suspect’, the Bee reported.

In retrospect, ‘we are relieved that the community is not endangered by unknown, violent kidnappers,’ said Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office.

According to the arrest affidavit, Papini confessed to making up her story after being confronted with Reyes’ testimony – and admitted to having multiple affairs during her marriage to Best Buy employee Keith. 

Papini and Keith spent the $49,000 raised on a GoFundMe page to ‘bring her home’ to pay off their personal credit cards and contribute to personal expenses, federal prosecutors claimed.

Sherri is now Inmate number 5393800 in the Sacramento County Jail, where her attorney says she cannot eat.

During a Zoom court appearance this week attorney Michael Borges said Papini had only been able to eat an apple since she was taken into custody in front of her kids at her home on Thursday.

He said the mother of two – who weighs only 100lbs and is 5ft. 3in. tall – has food allergies which prevent her from being able to eat anything else.

It is believed she and Keith have separated. 

HOW THE SHERRI PAPINI DISAPPEARANCE UNFOLDED: AMERICA WATCHED IN ANGST AS POLICE SEARCHED FOR ‘SUPERMOM’ WHO IS NOW ACCUSED OF MAKING IT ALL UP AS PART OF AN ELABORATE HOAX 

Nov. 2, 2016

10:37 a.m.: Sherri Papini sends a text message to her husband, Keith Papini, to ask whether he will be home for lunch. He replies later in the afternoon that he won’t.

About 5 p.m.: Keith Papini returns to the Mountain Gate home he shares with his wife, Sherri Papini, and cannot find her or their two children. He learns the children had not been picked up from daycare and uses the Find My iPhone app to track her phone less than a mile from their home to the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Sunrise Drive. Her earbuds are wrapped loosely around the phone, and there are strands of hair.

5:51 p.m.: Keith Papini reports to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office his wife is missing with suspicious circumstances.

Arriving deputies canvass the area; witnesses report last seeing Sherri Papini wearing a pink running jacket and jogging on Sunrise Drive. One recalls seeing her at 11 a.m. and another at 2 p.m.

Nov. 3, 2016

Search and rescue teams with the sheriff’s office comb the area of Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail. The California Highway Patrol assists with an aerial search. Patrol deputies and detectives begin to make checks on 290 registered sex offenders who live in the area. Sherri Papini’s sister, Sheila Koester, says the family thinks she has been abducted.

Nov. 4, 2016

Secret Witness of Shasta County announces a $10,000 reward for information. Volunteers with community groups show up at the Papini home to help in the search.

Nov. 5, 2016

Family members add $40,000 to the reward, bringing the total to $50,000.

Nov. 7, 2016

The family refocuses search efforts to get the attention of national news organizations and social media networks.

Nov. 9, 2016

Sheriff’s Lt. Anthony Bertain announces Keith Papini is not a person of interest in the case after he passes a lie-detector test and no physical evidence links him to the disappearance.

Nov. 13, 2016

Family hires a private investigator.

Nov. 15, 2016

Koester and Keith Papini attend the Redding City Council meeting to thank supporters and announce they will release balloons at a future date to get Sherri Papini’s face ‘around the world.’

Nov. 17, 2016

An anonymous person sets up the website www.sherripapini.com to offer an undisclosed ransom for Sherri Papini’s immediate release, setting a deadline of 5 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23. A letter provides instruction to ‘the person who has Sherri Papini’ and names Cameron Gamble as the middleman. Gamble, who describes himself as a kidnap and ransom consultant and is connected to Bethel Church’s missions, says he is acting independently from law enforcement and family.

Sheriff Tom Bosenko says there still is not enough evidence to classify the disappearance as an abduction and cautions the approach could make the family a target of scam artists.

Nov. 20, 2016

The sheriff’s office confirms it has served more than 20 search warrants and received about 400 tips.

Nov. 22, 2016

Gamble says he believes the purported abductors are ‘still in decision-making mode,’ while Rod Rodriguez, Keith Papini’s step-father, warns on Facebook that if the deadline expires without information, the money will turn into a reward after the deadline passes. Gamble declines to say how much the alleged abductor would receive, but says a tipster who helps get Sherri Papini home safely will receive a six-figure reward.

Nov. 23, 2016

Gamble posts a new video saying the ransom has been withdrawn and the money will be combined with the $50,000 reward previously posted.

Nov. 24, 2016

4:30 a.m.: Sherri Papini is spotted by a motorist on Interstate 5 near Woodland, about 150 miles south of Redding.

10:31 a.m.: The sheriff’s office makes public the big break in the investigation, stating she is safe, receiving medical clearance and reunited with her husband.

2 p.m.: Bosenko describes her captors as two Hispanic women with a handgun driving in a dark-colored SUV. He says one of the captors left her alongside County Road 17 off the freeway, where she was bound by restraints. She was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released from a hospital in Yolo County, Bosenko says. He declines to elaborate on her injuries or whether she was sexually assaulted.

Nov. 25, 2016

Koester in a press conference credits social media for bringing attention to her sister’s case. Bosenko says his office has no reason to doubt Sherri Papini’s story, and authorities are combing surveillance videos and traffic cameras to identify the perpetrators.

Nov. 26, 2016

Audio of the 911 call and response to the discovery of Sherri Papini reveals that California Highway Patrol officers found her ‘chained to something’ and ‘heavily battered.’

Nov. 29, 2016

Keith Papini issues a written statement to ‘Good Morning America’ that his wife was branded, covered in bruises from repeated beatings and starved down to 87 pounds. Her ‘signature long, blond hair had been chopped off’ and she was thrown from a vehicle with a chain around her waist, attached to her wrists and a bag over her head.

Bosenko says after her release, Papini walked to a nearby church. But nobody was there, so she walked to Interstate 5 and County Road 17 where she flagged down a motorist. His office still does not know whether Sherri Papini was targeted or abducted at random.

Nov. 30, 2016

Bosenko holds another news conference. He elaborates on the description of the two suspects and reveals they branded a ‘message’ into Papini’s skin.

One is younger, with long curly hair, thin eyebrows, pierced ears and a thick Spanish accent. The other woman is older with straight black and gray hair and thick eyebrows. Bosenko says he does not have specific information to know if the case was related to a cartel or human trafficking.

Bosenko also reveals to the ‘Today’ show that Papini’s phone and earbuds appeared to be neatly placed on the ground rather than lost in a struggle, with the screen facing up and the earbuds loosely wrapped around the phone.

Cameron Gamble, in an interview with KRCR News Channel 7, says ‘history was made’ with this case and speaks about Redding serving as a test case for a model that can be duplicated on other abduction cases. He says ‘no money exchanged hands at any point in time’ but the community and media played their part in spreading awareness about the case.

Dec. 1, 2016

Bill Garcia, the private investigator hired by the family of Sherri Papini, on the ‘Today’ show says he believes sex trafficking may be a motive. Hostage experts cast doubts on that theory.

Dec. 2, 2016

Keith Papini gives an interview to ABC’s ’20/20′ in which he describes the ordeal and reveals, among other things, the family is not staying at home but at an undisclosed location.

Dec. 3, 2016

Redding-area residents gather to take a Welcome Home Sherri Community Holiday Photo on the lawn in front of the Redding Civic Auditorium

February 2017

The mystery man who offered a reward for ‘supermom’ Sherri Papini’s return says he thinks the Redding woman was kidnapped last year for sex trafficking.

The man, who anonymously offered a $100,000 reward for her return, made the claim on the television show ‘Crime Watch with Chris Hansen.’

April 2017

Call records obtained by the Sacramento Bee reveal that Sherri Papini in 2003 allegedly had been harming herself and blaming her mother for her injuries. The revelations, reported by the Bee, were the latest in the Papini saga.

Loretta Graeff, Papini’s mother, in a December 2003 Shasta County Sheriff’s Office incident report called authorities to ask for help with her daughter, who Graeff alleged had been hurting herself and blaming the injuries on Graeff, the Bee reported. The Bee received the report after filing requests under the California Public Records Act. The report doesn’t say whether investigators found evidence that Papini had harmed herself.

Papini’s family, in a statement to ABC News, ripped the Bee story, calling it ‘shameful.’

October 2017

Detectives still don’t know who abducted Sherri Papini or why, but they reveal that texts with a man in Detroit, male DNA that didn’t come from her husband and a brawl Papini described between her and one of her captors have all been part of the investigation.

Shasta County Sgt. Brian Jackson says one of the angles detectives pursued is Papini’s alleged relationship with a ‘male acquaintance from Michigan.’ Jackson saysPapini planned to meet the man days before she disappeared because he was coming to California for business, but investigators later determined he wasn’t involved in her disappearance.

Jackson also says officials found DNA from two people on Papini — that of a man and a woman. Jackson says authorities collected the woman’s DNA from Papini’s body, while the man’s was found on the clothes she wore when found.

He says the male DNA was not that of her husband, Keith Papini.

November 2017

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office releases video of Sherri Papini shortly after she was released from her alleged abductors in Yolo County.

The Nov. 24, 2016, video was captured by a church near the northbound on ramp to Interstate 5.

Papini can be seen running to the church north on Highway 99W and then south on Highway 99W until she goes out of view, heading toward the I-5 northbound on ramp.

The Sheriff’s Office said the video surveillance date and time were validated by detectives as occurring at 4:15 a.m.

November 2019

Three years after the Redding-area mom vanished and re-appeared, officials say they still have no identifiable suspects except for two sketches of Hispanic women Papini says held her captive for three weeks.

‘When you say something’s cold, (it means) we just don’t have an active lead to work on at the moment,’ Shasta County sheriff’s Capt. Pat Kropholler said. ‘But it doesn’t mean the case is closed.’

Meanwhile, some experts believe the truth could be hiding in DNA samples collected from her clothes and body.

June 2021

The Record Searchlight reports that Sherri Papini’s alleged kidnapping is one of 22 cases dating to 1984 in Shasta County that remain unsolved.

Secret Witness of Shasta County was still offering up to $10,000 was still offering for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the culprits. 

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