More than a week after California mother Sherri Papini was found battered but alive on a highway in the predawn hours of Thanksgiving, debate over the legitimacy of her harrowing tale of kidnapping and abuse continues to rage, reports the Sacramento Bee. The comments got so cutting that her husband, Keith, felt compelled to issue a statement in an effort to quell accusations of a hoax. Experts say the skeptical response isn’t surprising given that the details sheriff’s investigators and family members have relayed about Papini’s account don’t fit patterns typical for kidnapping scenarios. They also caution that while many elements of Papini’s story are admittedly odd, that doesn’t mean detectives – or the public – should assume it doesn’t hold up.
“I’ve had some pretty bizarre but righteous cases, where people look at it and say, ‘That didn’t happen.’ Well, it did,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI agent who specialized in criminal profiling. Papini told investigators that the two people who abducted her near her home Nov. 2 were both women and that she didn’t know them. They held her captive for three weeks, sometimes transporting Papini by car, according to authorities, and during that time worked to conceal their identities. She was beaten and branded with a “message,” said Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, then released without explanation. He said there is no known motive for the abduction, saying he has no information indicating her capture was related to cartels or sex trafficking. Kenneth Ryan, a former police officer who teaches criminology at California State University, Fresno, said the branding allegation is rare. He equated it with retaliatory behavior associated with motorcycle gangs. Ryan was struck by the efforts Papini’s abductors made to shield their identities. In general, he said, kidnappers who hold their victims for a protracted time, intent on assault or sexual crimes, don’t go out of their way to hide their identities.