TV & Movies

The Sherri Papini Kidnapping Hoax, Explained

Hulu’s Perfect Wife docuseries revisits the bizarre saga.

'Perfect Wife': The Sherri Papini Kidnapping Hoax, Explained

A new true crime docuseries revisits the Sherri Papini kidnapping hoax, featuring interviews with several of the people affected by it — from friends and family to investigators who helped crack the case.

Hulu’s Perfect Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Sherri Papini (which dropped on June 20) begins with Sherri’s disappearance while out on a run near her Redding, California home in November 2016. After being found on the side of the road on Thanksgiving three weeks later, the mom of two claimed that she’d been kidnapped by two Spanish-speaking women and showed signs of multiple injuries, including a branded message.

However, as the three-part docuseries shows, the truth of what happened to Sherri was very different.

Lingering Doubt

Sherri’s husband, Keith, recently told ABC News that he was skeptical of Sherri’s story from the very beginning. “When I pulled back the curtain, and I saw her, and I saw the look in her eyes, I felt that she was lying,” he said of reuniting with his wife in the hospital in 2016.

After seeing all of her injuries, he dismissed this feeling as “horrible,” but as he shares in Perfect Wife, his doubt never fully went away. He told his therapist, for example, that he believed she was capable of carrying out her own injuries, citing past examples. “In a very shameful way, I was like, Yeah. I can actually kind of see her doing that,” he says.


A Break In The Case

Ultimately, Keith’s suspicions were confirmed.

In the docuseries, the father of two describes a challenging period following Sherri’s reappearance — from covering windows and avoiding new people, to having “moments” where she reportedly depended on her children for emotional regulation.

Then, in 2020, there was a development. Investigators used DNA and other clues to track Sherri’s case to an ex-boyfriend, James, in Southern California. However, as Perfect Wife notes, James passed a polygraph test to confirm he didn’t kidnap Sherri. Rather, as he told investigators, he was trying to support a friend by giving her a place to stay. He helped her stage some of her own injuries using hockey gear and a wood-burning tool, he said.


In 2022, Sherri pleaded guilty to mail fraud and making false statements to the FBI. “I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me,” she said at the time. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

Keith filed for divorce days later. Sherri was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released in August 2023 before a brief period in a halfway house, per People.