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'The Vanishing Act': How Sherri Papini fooled investigators, family with phony kidnap plot

By Amanda Caroline  •  October 01, 2022  •  21

It was the shocking abduction of a mother of two small children that rocked a family, a Northern California town and the nation. After Sherri Papini turned up on the side of a highway three weeks after her mysterious disappearance, investigators worked tirelessly to find the people responsible.

But in the end, it was Sherri Papini herself who masterminded her own disappearance, and inflicted numerous injuries on herself while staying with an ex-boyfriend, who was unaware of her scheme. Papini told investigators that she was taken by two fictional Hispanic women and held against her will for weeks before being let go.

MORE: Sherri Papini sentenced to 18 months in prison in hoax kidnapping case

Last week, Papini, 40, owned up to her lies pleading guilty to one count of making false statements and one count of mail fraud She was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, double the amount of time requested by federal prosecutors.

PHOTO: Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse after Federal Judge William Shubb sentenced her to 18 months in federal prison, in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 19, 2022.
Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse after Federal Judge William Shubb sentenced her to 18 months in federal prison, in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 19, 2022. Federal prosecutors had asked that she be...
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

"I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of dishonor. I stand before you willing to accept, to repent and to concede," Papini said during the Sept. 19 hearing. "What was done cannot be undone."

A special "20/20" airing on Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. ET takes viewers inside the six-year saga and investigation using newly obtained photos, 911 tapes and police interviews to lay out how investigators were able to unravel Papini's lies.