LET’S JUST GO full monty subhuman and declare Sherri Papini guilty of having faked her November 2nd abduction. Why dance around the burning bush when we already know what happened?
We know Sherri, or an accomplice, planted her iPhone on the side of the road where she regularly jogs. It was just too perfectly placed to have been tossed out a window or dropped when she was grabbed — and Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko seems to agree.
We know she has some very telling Pinterest boards that seem to support the possibility she wrote a 2003 racist blog post on a skinhead website, despite denials from her friends, family and ex-husband.
And we know she may have faked an abduction ten years ago. So here she is, folks, back at it again, and her husband Keith may have helped.
We don’t know what questions were asked when Keith was polygraphed and cleared of any involvement in his wife’s disappearance, but we do know polygraphs aren’t admissible in court because they can’t be trusted. Criminal profiler Pat Brown, and body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass, both hope their analyses of this case are wrong, but they took a hard look at Sherri’s husband, and things aren’t looking good.
So let’s just declare Keith guilty, too.
The media has all but vilified this swankering duo — and they’re so anxious for updates, they’re resorting to fancy headlines to keep readers engaged and coming back for more. The New York Post ran a story that says Sherri and her family “skipped” town and “abandoned” their dogs. US Weekly and a posse of lemmings copycatted them and are now paying homage to those same words.
Criminals skip town and abandon dogs, you see. More evidence of their guilt.
Things got weird fast in this missing persons case, and then Pee-wee Herman and John Walsh’s lovechild Cameron Gamble exploded out of a shipping container and screamed, “Boo! Ha! Gotcha!” — and weird went intergalactic and was last seen growing potatoes on Mars.
Dude, seriously, a leather jacket with the collar turned up, as you stand in a dark warehouse, backlit by mood lighting? You’re guilty, too — and I’m reporting you to Perez Hilton as soon as I’m done writing this essay. That jacket is scandalous.
But what if we’re wrong.
What if we’ve gathered together a bunch of soggy bread crumbs, also known as unsubstantiated rumors, and turned them into apple pie? And do you know how long it took to paste together those first couple of paragraphs you just read? Fifteen minutes, and that includes rounding up four dogs for a trip to the dog yard in slushy snow and looking up swankering in a dictionary.
Fifteen minutes to completely smash someone into the mud — and for your edification, swanker is a word; swankering is not, although I did just add it to my Mac’s dictionary.
Despite the iPhone, the racist rant, the rumors, and Pee-wee Walsh, who, by the way, does seem a tad smitten with the publicity he’s been receiving — he registered his new domain CameronGamble.com four days before Sherri was found — I’m about to demonstrate to you how easy it is to pummel someone who very well may have been victimized by someone other than herself or some alleged bad decisions from her past.
Yes, this case is weird. But how many people are serving life sentences in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, all because weird stacked up against them to the exclusion of the truth?
Most assuredly, this isn’t what I intended to write, but let’s see how this goes.
ONE OF SHERRI’S friends asked me a question: “What have you done in your life that makes the most terrible details of someone else’s tragedy your business?”
What little I know about Sherri Papini comes from discussion forums, the media and rumor flinging — and her Pinterest boards, where I learned she loves the Gilmore Girls as much as I do. But I don’t have to know someone personally to feel deserving of the details in a missing persons case, especially when it happens in my own town.
Sherri wasn’t trading diabetic test strips for meth behind a vape shop in downtown Redding when she disappeared. She wasn’t a runaway adolescent, an addict with needle tracks, a pimped beauty on a street corner looking for her next trick. Sherri was none of those things; she wasn’t high risk. She was simply jogging on a country road near her home, and maybe thinking about her kids and dinner.
And then she was gone, just like that.
We all deserve to know what happened. Was she targeted for a dark deed from her past? Was this racially motivated revenge? Was this entire thing a hoax? Or was it random?
No, I’d say it definitely wasn’t random. Humans are incapable of random selection, unless they’re asked to choose a number from a hat. While some oxymorons actually ring true, this one does not, and shame on law enforcement for tossing this prospect around. We are machines that churn out patterns, and these patterns are biases that enable selection, and selection unhinges this mythical notion of randomness in an abduction.
So if Sherri’s abduction wasn’t personal to her past, or self-created, then it was personal to the person or people who grabbed her. She made sense to them. Her blond hair, blue eyes and feminine physique triggered an impulse, or aligned with a victim profile they desired — and logic says an abduction that follows that same framework could happen again.
That right there is why the terrible details belong in the public domain: to keep us informed and safe. I’m no Scooby Dumb, though.
The Sheriff’s office knows not to divulge the kinds of details that could compromise this case. But in a rather oddly worded statement to Good Morning America on November 29th, five days after Sherri was found alive on Highway 5 in Yolo County, Keith took it upon himself to chastise people as “malicious subhumans” for wanting to know the “gory details” of his wife’s abduction — and then he put that car in reverse when he indulged us in the gory details himself, unbeknownst to the Sheriff.
For a “very private family,” as Keith described it in his statement, this was very not private behavior, and it kind of gave law enforcement the bird — and his dad sold gave an exclusive interview to a UK gossip rag just a few days later and included a Thanksgiving Day photo of Sherri and Keith’s young children, more evidence of that privacy they’re so fond of.
Cameron Gamble gave law enforcement the bird, too, when he thumbed his nose at the Sheriff’s office and took matters into his own two hands with the reverse ransom. Personally, I feel he helped intensify the media’s involvement, thereby making Sherri “too hot to handle” and contributing to her Thanksgiving Day release. But let’s bookmark that for another essay.
We haven’t seen photos of Sherri’s wounds, we don’t know the “message” that was branded into her skin — there are rumors, of course, but I’m staying clear of that for now — and we don’t know if she was sexually assaulted or raped. But we sure want to know, especially regarding sex crimes. Wouldn’t you?
And here’s me giving Mayor Missy of Redding a courtesy bird for labeling everyone who has dared to question this case a “troll.” And my bird just pooped on her.
Is there a serial rapist roaming our streets? Shouldn’t we at least be told this much about Sherri’s case? Why so much darn silence? It’s like a large body of water was sucked out to sea and isn’t returning any time soon. Except eventually it will, and when it does, you know what that’s called: a tsunami.
But no updates since Sheriff Bosenko’s November 30th press conference. Twelve days and no more information on the abductors, no composite sketch, no indication that she had been raped? The silence seems highly unusual in an already unusual case. When the Sheriff’s office pulls a Brigadoon like this and all you’ve been given is a handful of wee little morsels to chew on, questions about what really happened kind of implode, conspiracy theories get flung about, and people get fidgety and scared.
But we do have that description Sherri provided of her abductors. It was revelatory.
And guess who pulled in line behind me at the Starbuck’s drive-thru yesterday? A Latina woman in an SUV, and she had thin eyebrows, long hair and pierced ears. Maybe she was spending some of the ransom money, that allegedly was never paid, on a skinny vanilla latte and a chocolate croissant.
She also had a crucifix hanging from her rearview mirror, so she’s probably Catholic. Sherri’s family is Catholic, and the Starbucks is maybe a mile from their church.
Just call me Carla McGruff, your local crime sniffer person and case solver, thank you very much.
YEARS AGO WHEN acid washed jeans were a thing, my mom made a tunafish casserole and dished it out for dinner.
There was just one problem, something mom didn’t realize until she was done eating, and something I didn’t realize at all because I despised tunafish casserole and always fed it to the dog: She forgot the tuna.
I’m not taking writerly liberties here. Mom put everything but the tunafish in the tunafish casserole, and no one knew. In case you don’t believe me, I conducted my very first exclusive interview just for this essay series. It goes as follows:
“Mom, so tell me about that tunafish casserole. You know the one I’m talking about. I think dad was watching a new episode of the A-Team that night and we all ate in separate rooms.”
“I hated the A-Team, but I loved the casserole.”
“Without the tuna?”
“Yes, but I never forgot the tuna again.”
“But how would you know?”
“I’d never do something like that twice. Now, leave me alone. My Hallmark Christmas movie is about to start.”
Can you call a tunafish casserole a “tunafish casserole” without the tuna? Or an apple pie an “apple pie” without the apples? You can call it anything you want, I guess. But close enough isn’t good enough when it’s missing the most important ingredients.
And now we return our focus to Sherri Papini. Go ahead and roll your eyes. I’m rolling mine, the dogs are rolling theirs. We’re all just rolling our eyes right now. My segue sucks.
So here’s the problem I’m having with Sherri and this bizarre case: Something is very wrong, so wrong I’ve spent the last several days wondering why the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office has hung two Latina women and their eyebrows on the laundry line and left them there. It’s like these ladies are dangling participles without any nouns to modify.
Wondering what it means, the laundry just kind of hangs there, you know?
We don’t know much about this case, and for good reason: Law enforcement doesn’t know much, so there isn’t much to share; or they’ve pretty much got it figured out and are waiting for some of the corner pieces of the puzzle to slide into place before breaking the news in a press conference.
It’s one or the other, which leaves gobs of time for speculation, based on a smattering of soggy breadcrumbs.
Criminal profiler Pat Brown says it like this:
On the outside of an investigation, we know far less than the police; any analysis is based on public information. This does not mean an outside analysis cannot be right or that the police analysis is necessarily right, but we just need to understand that unless we have access to all the police reports and evidence, we can only base our understanding on what is publicly available at any point in time.
Does weird mean guilt? Can you shove speculation in a pie and call it done? The only facts we actually know about this bizarre case lack context; they’re just isolated fragments that hint at something suspicious, but on their own they really don’t say much.
Yes, it’s a whopping big deal that, thanks to gabby Keith, we know Sherri was beaten and branded — lots of questions and worries extend from his disclosure — and the neatly placed iPhone is disturbing. But when I referred to Part One in this essay series as a “bare bones summary,” I wasn’t kidding; pretty much all we were told was that her phone had been found, and that’s it.
Sherri was released eighteen days ago, and that’s still pretty much all we know.
But aside from a sparse description of the female Latina abductors, we do have something else, and this is where things got interesting and the rumor mongers rumbled and roared. It wasn’t someone with a badge who unearthed that 2003 racist blog post, allegedly written by Sherri Graeff, her maiden name, and published on a skinhead website.
Nope, an armchair McGruff found it. Once I find the very first mention of this, I’ll update my essay with a link.
Armchair sleuths also found Sherri’s wedding blog, where she posted thoughts on her upcoming wedding to Keith and said she had never lived with a man before — which is odd considering Keith wasn’t her first pony ride to the alter. And people who claimed to know Sherri stated on Reddit and Heavy that “extended family” has knowledge of Sherri having staged her own abduction in 2006. It may never have been reported to law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
So if you layer all of this together, like those encyclopedia transparencies of the human body, you can just about bake that apple pie — or build yourself a custom Barbie. But without some muscle and skin, we’re back to boring bones, and that’s why I’m not ready to go there and play out all the various scenarios just yet and declare this entire shebang a hoax.
Poor Pee-wee Walsh, though.
Folks are questioning Cameron’s credentials and the non-profit status of his business Project Taken — which is now, rather strangely, a Chinese gambling website — and his role in the reverse ransom. And they’re also wondering whether, just maybe, the ransom had actually been paid. But I really wonder if weird has stacked unfairly against him, too, and he’s actually fully, or at least mostly partially, legit.
Adverbs are my delight.
FOUR CRIMINAL ANALYSIS experts say something is wrong, really wrong. I mentioned Pat Brown and Dr. Lillian Glass, and there’s also serial killer profiler John Kelly, and Peter Hyatt who runs a popular statement analysis blog.
It’s not that these respected experts want to frame Sherri for having hoaxed her own abduction, or that they’re dead set on nailing Keith. Their analyses are based on years of professional experience — and each one concludes that something just doesn’t add up in this case. Someone isn’t telling the truth.
Yesterday, for about two seconds, I participated in a new discussion on Reddit that was started by someone who claimed to be a local journalist, anonymously offering to address questions regarding this case. She (my choice of pronoun) struck me as being genuine, and the information she shared seemed to have come from a place of personal experience in a newsroom.
But I’m stage shy in discussion forums and deleted my comments and deactivated my new account. People love to bully, and I became uncomfortable fast and decided it was best to quietly observe from my armchair and not partake, although I do feel the Reddit folks have done a good job sleuthing this case.
The one place where I did participate was on Facebook. I set aside my farewell to social media and resurrected my account as soon as Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing launched a Facebook page for Sherri. And I noticed some interesting comments, most notably by Keith’s stepfather Rod Rodriguez.
It was his glaring lack of comments on Thanksgiving Day, and the two days that followed before they closed down the page, that struck me as curious. When it was announced not long after those yellow wildlife stranglers were released at Redding’s Turkey Trot, that Sherri had been found alive, Rod was quick to post a thank you on a Redding crime group’s Facebook page, and also on his own page.
He did not, however, post anything on Sherri’s Nor-Cal Alliance Facebook page, where he had posted several comments throughout her three week absence, and where almost 19,000 subscribers cheered on the family, prayed for Sherri, donated funds, participated in the searches organized by Nor-Cal, and kept the discussions and social media presence alive. They didn’t all do these things, of course, but they followed that page because they cared.
Not one measly little word of thanks from Rod.
You can argue it was Thanksgiving Day, for crying out loud, the best one ever for Sherri and her family. Maybe he simply forgot to tip his hat at all those subscribers and the organization that played a central role in keeping thousands of people updated on this case. Maybe I’m just reading fluff between the lines. But there was a reason for his notable absence, and I suspect it had nothing to do with carving a turkey or spending time with his family.
Here’s some context to preface what I’m about to say: I’m wearing purple velour pajamas right now, and I’m sitting in an armchair, and I have an eight-month-old kitten in my lap. Dogs are on the floor, chewing bones and grooming end zones. And my mom is a mystery writer, and together we’ve probably watched every darn episode of Murder, She Wrote.
Just keep that in mind. Subtext: What do I really know? I look like a purple people eater, and I’m surrounded by gross creatures. Okay, now that that’s done:
I’ve noticed a distancing throughout all of this mayhem between Sherri’s family and law enforcement. And I see dead people patterns — and although I’m standing in a bursting vat of soggy bread crumbs, while also sitting in my chair, I’m wondering what all of this means.
Cameron Gamble says the ransom wasn’t paid, and I believe him. But he also told the abductors he was operating completely independent of law enforcement. Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing works closely with law enforcement, and Rod Rodriguez made a point of posting his thank you on two Facebook pages the same day Sherri was found, except for the Grand Central Station Facebook page for this entire case, where he had previously posted comments throughout her disappearance.
Soggy bread crumbs are squishing between my toes.
But here’s where I try to wrap up this fried fritter — I’m abandoning the apple pie thing — and coerce a very anxious puppy home:
There is one perspective I’m sticking to, one golden grail in this weird missing persons case that has become my Ground Zero, and although I’m not naive, I’m not a Scooby-dum (the preferred spelling), I am holding out hope for Sherri Papini — and therefore I choose to believe, until proven otherwise, that she was brutalized, she was victimized, and she may be one very frightened survivor.
FOR A GOOD rundown on the armchair sleuthing of this case, read the Heat Street article by William Treat that just posted today. And especially be sure to read Cathy Young’s excellent writeup, also in Heat Street.
On another note, I generally post new content on Sundays, but as I say on my about page:
I’m not sure which Sunday — this coming Sunday, the following Sunday, the Sunday that coincides with a supermoon, blood moon, lunar eclipse combo and falls on my birthday. But Sunday for sure.
I’m terrible at self-promotion, folks, so if you enjoyed reading this rambler of an essay, please share it with your pals. And be sure to subscribe to my essays if you would like to be notified of the next installation in this most unexpected of series.
Here’s the roundup of essays in this series, for easy reference:
Peace and glad tidings.