More than two months have passed since a motorist found Sherri Papini chained, bruised and branded on the side of a Yolo County highway early Thanksgiving morning.
Papini, a 34-year-old mother of two from rural Shasta County, vanished for 22 days and then reappeared with a tale of prolonged abuse at the hands of two women. In the weeks since, neither authorities nor family members have provided details that might help explain the alleged abduction and abuse, or her sudden release.
“We would just appreciate our time to heal and privacy,” Papini’s sister, Sheila Koester, said in a text-message response to a Sacramento Bee interview request. Koester was the family’s primary spokeswoman after Papini went missing Nov. 2 following a jog near her Mountain Gate home.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko has followed through on a pledge he gave at a Nov. 30 news conference that his office would release no new information while the case was being investigated. He has refused to go into details about where his detectives have focused their efforts, or what, if anything, they have turned up.
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“The investigation is still ongoing. It is a priority case,” he said. “We’re still being assisted by the FBI in the case. We’re waiting for some evidence to be processed by the California Department of Justice.”
At the Nov. 30 news conference, he did offer a description Papini had provided of her alleged abductors. One of the women had thin eyebrows and pierced ears, he said. Her hair was long and curly. The other, who was older, had straight black hair and thick eyebrows. Both spoke in Spanish most of the time, according to Papini’s account. They kept their faces covered. Bosenko said Papini couldn’t describe the suspects’ SUV other than that it was dark colored.
The sheriff’s information blackout extends to some public records. The Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies have denied The Bee’s requests, filed under the California Public Records Act, for 911 tapes from Thanksgiving morning, and incident reports involving any other encounters Papini might have had with law enforcement over the years.
California’s public records law gives law enforcement officials discretion to withhold such records if they can justify that their release would harm an investigation.
Court records that might shed light on the case also remain under seal. In mid-November, before Papini was found, Shasta County detectives said they had traveled out of state and authored close to 20 search warrants in the case. Bosenko has said his office won’t unseal the warrants while the investigation is pending.
Detectives have not said how many warrants have been filed, in what counties they were issued or how many hours detectives have spent on the case.
The Sheriff’s Office did provide expense reports for out-of-state travel in the case. Based on receipts, two detectives traveled to Detroit and its suburbs of New Hudson, Northville, Plymouth and Canton between Nov. 9 and Nov. 11.
Bosenko declined to specify last week why the detectives went to Michigan or what they found. A news release issued two weeks after Papini vanished described the overall investigative effort, saying detectives were searching for information that would indicate whether her disappearance was “voluntary or involuntary.” As part of that effort, it said, detectives were sorting through bank records, social media accounts, cellphone records and emails and had spoken to family, friends and people with whom she had had past relationships.
“This type of follow-up has taken detectives out of state in the hopes Sherri could be found,” the release said.
Asked last week whether he expected a resolution anytime soon, Bosenko said it was impossible to say.
“You never know on these cases,” Bosenko said. “Tomorrow, there could be a major break in the case. You just don’t know.”