Woman ran away to her ex, cooked up kidnap story, say US cops
A 34-year-old woman went missing in 2016 and was later found, starved, bruised and branded, saying she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women in the US.
Now Sherri Papini, whose story had been widely reported at the time, has been arrested.
Police say she made up the elaborate tale while she spent time with an ex-boyfriend.
Her husband Keith had reported her missing after she failed to pick up their two children from day care.
She had last been seen jogging near their home in Redding, a city in northern California.
Her phone was found abandoned by the road, and a massive search got under way.
Then, three weeks later, she was found by a rural road over 200km away, where she claimed she had been left by her kidnappers.
She said they had beaten and burnt her, locked her up, fed her only once a day and played “annoying Mexican music”.
Police had doubts about her story.
They found a man with whom she had been exchanging flirtatious messages, but that led nowhere.
They also found that there was male DNA on her clothes.
Eventually, a search of DNA records turned up a partial match with a man, whose son, the ex-boyfriend, told them a very different story.
According to him, she had contacted him saying her husband was abusive and she wanted to escape.
He told her to get a prepaid phone card to stay in touch with him and then drove seven hours from his home in Costa Mesa in southern California, to pick her up.
He had the impression that they would rekindle their relationship but claimed that at his place she took over the bedroom and they did not have sex.
She ate very little, cut off her hair, and got him to help give her minor injuries and “burn a phrase” on her shoulder using a heated tool.
Then she told him she missed her kids and wanted to go back.
So he drove her all the way back.
He claimed it was only after all this that he saw the news coverage of her disappearance, but he did not go to the police, believing they would find him if he had done anything wrong.
Neighbours said that after her return, Papini became a recluse for a while, before slowly returning to her old lifestyle.
She had been married once before, to a military man. Another man, who claimed to have briefly dated her in the past, reportedly said she was a habitual liar and attention seeker, and he had been sceptical of the kidnap story all along.
She collected more than US$30,000 (S$40,000) from the California Victim's Compensation Board, and it was reported that she and her husband had also spent about US$50,000 collected with a crowdfunding campaign after her disappearance.
But Keith Papini was not arrested and it was not clear if he is suspected to have been complicit in her alleged ruse.
Sherri Papini faces the prospect of more than 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if she is convicted.