20/20 Special Reports on Kidnapped, Branded California Mom

Shasta County Sheriff's Office
Shasta County Sheriff's Office

Keith Papini, the husband of kidnapped-then-found California mom Sherri Papini, gave an exclusive interview to ABC’s 20/20 in which he discussed the ordeal their family has endured as they are now living at an undisclosed location.

The 32-year-old mother of two went missing on November 2, and was not seen again until Thanksgiving Day. Mystery has surrounded the abduction of the young woman who had seemed to vanish — her phone, headphones and strands of her hair found by a mailbox down the road from their family home on the day of her disappearance.

Family, friends, law enforcement and strangers showed up to help search for the woman as police began investigating what exactly happened.

A GoFundMe campaign raised approximately $50,000 to aid in the search for the young mom.

Then came Cameron Gamble. Gamble calls himself an international kidnapping and ransom consultant, and was retained by an anonymous donor according to his own account. Mr. Papini said in the interview with 20/20 that the anonymous contributor contacted him and suggested the use of Gamble as a different way of trying to rescue his wife.

20/20 reported that Gamble is a former U.S. Air Force senior airman who now trains military, law enforcement and private citizens on “how to evade and escape capture.”

Keith Papini was willing to try almost any suggestion. “There was no idea or thought that if I think could work, that I was not going to try.” He didn’t let skeptics — like the local sheriff, according to the interviewer — dissuade him.

With the husband’s consent, 12 days into Sherri Papini’s disappearance, Gable posted a video online in which he spoke to the camera, addressed the kidnappers and offered a ransom for Sherri Papini’s return.

When Mrs. Papini wasn’t returned by November 23, Gamble posted a second video to the Internet in which he again addressed the kidnappers, saying that the time for them to collect their ransom had passed and an increased reward amount would now be offered to any member of the public who found Sherri. “I wanted to make it so tempting that the abductor’s own mother would have turned him in,” Gamble told 20/20.

Then, on November 24, early Thanksgiving morning, Keith Papini received a call to his cell phone that he missed, followed by a call to his home phone that he picked up only to hear, as he describes it, his wife screaming on the other end of the phone. A sheriff responding to a holiday traveler’s 9-1-1 call about a woman on the side of the road led the deputy to Sherri. He was there with her when she was finally able to make the call to her husband.

A San Diego private investigator who volunteered in searching for the young woman told 10 News in a Friday evening report that aired after the 20/20 special that he believes the abduction was related to human trafficking.

An account of Sherri’s release detailed in the 20/20 report described a shackled woman who was pushed out of a car onto the side of a road. She was said to then have taken a bag off her head; run to try and find help at a house, then a building; then tried to stop motorists. Finally, a woman saw her, pulled off the road and called 9-1-1. Radio transmissions from first responders described Sherri as “heavily battered” and the cause, “It is going to be some sort of an assault.”

She had been found in Yolo County, California, 150 miles from her home in Redding.

Keith Papini said officers warned him of her condition and that she had been “branded.” He described intense bruising and bumps on her face, and said her long hair had been chopped off. The already slim woman had lost 15 percent of her body weight in 22 days.

The report identified four possible scenarios police may be investigating. One is that it was a local crime possibly involving a sex offender in the area. All leads in connection with that theory failed to produce results.

Theory two was that the couple carried out a hoax. Mike Mangas of KRCR-TV in Redding told 20/20 that he could not believe someone would have been beaten so severely just for money.

Theory three was that Sherri was abducted for the purpose of sex trafficking. Gamble suggested that the branding is indicative of this and that it would be done to “mark a girl.” Others have suggested the brutal treatment of Sherri may not fit the sex trafficking theory and pointed to a different potential motive.

Theory four was that a cult abducted her. Brad Garrett, an ABC News crime expert and former FBI profiler, suggested 22 days of intense physical agony and mental torture was used to try and break her will. If that is the case, more people could be in the group’s captivity now.

The law enforcement investigation into Sherri Papini’s 22 day disappearance is ongoing.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana 


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