Husband details abducted California woman's rescue

REDDING, Calif. -- The husband of an abducted northern California woman says she had trouble finding someone to help her after she was dropped off by her captors, bound on the side of the road.


Sherri Papini and her husband Keith

Sherri Papini, 34, disappeared Nov. 2 after going for a jog near Redding. She was found Thanksgiving Day along the side of a road by a motorist she flagged down in Yolo County about 150 miles south of where she vanished. Papini’s husband Keith has said the woman was emaciated, covered with bruises and burns, had her hair cut off and was chained at the waist and wrists when she was found.

“She screamed so much, she’s coughing up blood from the screaming trying to get somebody to stop,” Keith Papini said in an interview with 20/20. “And again just another sign of how my wife is, she’s so wonderful. She’s saying, ‘Well maybe people aren’t stopping because I have a chain that looks like I broke out of prison’ so she tried to tuck in her chain under her clothes.”

Papini said his wife’s captors had been driving with the woman chained inside their vehicle by one of her arms. He told 20/20 the captors “cut something” that freed her and pushed her out onto the road, still chained at the waist with a bag over her head. Papini has said the woman used the bag to eventually flag down a driver.

“She was bound … she had a metal chain around her waist,” he said. “She had a bag over her head...she was chained anytime she was in a vehicle.”

Keith Papini said his wife had endured mental and physical abuse and was beaten repeatedly. Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko confirmed at a Wednesday press conference that the woman had been “branded” by her captors before they released her, but didn’t provide details.

Bosenko said investigators still have not been able to determine a possible motive or discern whether the crime was targeted or random. Bosenko had initially said police were searching for two Hispanic women driving a dark SUV, armed with a handgun.

Major crimes detectives have been able to conduct more detailed interviews with Sherri Papini over the last two days, Bosenko said Wednesday. He described the interviews as “very intense” for both the detectives and Papini. He said Papini had to re-live traumatic events and hailed her as “cooperative and courageous.”

Bosenko said Papini was “held against her will and was isolated” during her captivity, but he wouldn’t speak to where she was held or whether it was more than one location. He said Papini couldn’t provide detailed information to investigators about her captors’ appearance because they covered their faces, and also sometimes covered her head. However, she did offer some clues.

In the interviews, Papini described a “younger” suspect as having a thick accent, pierced ears, long curly hair and thin eyebrows, Bosenko said. She described the second, “older” suspect as having straight black hair with some gray, and thick eyebrows. She said the two women spoke Spanish most of the time.

Investigators showed Papini surveillance video of dark SUVs seen near the location of her abduction, according to Bosenko, but she said none of the vehicles matched the one her captors were driving.

The sheriff acknowledged there are still “a lot of unknowns” about the abduction and the suspects. He said investigators are working with a sketch artist to determine whether there’s enough information to develop suspect sketches.

“Sherri was taken from us for 22 days, and suffered incredibly through both intense physical agony and severe mental torture,” Keith Papini said in the statement released to Good Morning America Tuesday. “My reaction was one of extreme happiness and overwhelming nausea as my eyes and hands scanned her body. I was filled with so much relief and revulsion at once. My Sherri suffered tremendously and all the visions swirling in your heads of her appearance, I assure you, are not as graphic and gruesome as the reality.”

Bosenko said he wasn’t aware Keith Papini was going to release the information about his wife’s battered condition and said it’s possible the details could affect the integrity of the investigation. Speaking on Good Morning America Tuesday, Bosenko said he was “familiar” with the details but they hadn’t yet been publicly released.

Speaking on the show Wednesday, Bosenko said it’s possible “sick” individuals cut off the woman’s hair in an attempt to humiliate her. He said the brand was a “message” rather than a symbol.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Bosenko said Wednesday there’s no information to indicate the abduction was related to a drug cartel or sex trafficking.

Evidence uncovered in Yolo County was being turned over to the California Department of Justice for physical examination and processing. Investigators are seeking additional search warrants for cell phone information and delving into Papini’s past for clues, he said. 

Anyone with information is asked to call the Shasta County Sheriff tipline at 530-245-6135.