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A mysterious coincidence: Sherri Papini’s schoolfriend also vanished in same area while jogging
Crime

A mysterious coincidence: Sherri Papini’s schoolfriend also vanished in same area while jogging

“They could have been sisters”

Sherri Papini and Tera Lynn Smith could have passed for sisters.

When Tera went missing on August 22, 1998, the whole town of Redding, California, including Mrs Papini (then known as Sherri Graeff) and her husband Keith, wondered what happened to her.

For 18 years the case had been cold until Sherri went missing on the same road on November 2 this year – the northern Californian community couldn’t help but making chilling comparisons.

But, unlike Sherri, who was released by her captors on Thanksgiving morning three weeks after she went missing, Tera was never found.

The rural road in Redding where Tera went missing in 1998.
The rural road in Redding where Tera went missing in 1998.

Prior to his wife’s release Keith Papini – who along with his wife Sherri was in the year above Tera at Central Valley High School – reached out to Tera’s father, Terry Smith. The desperate husband raised the possibility that the person who had taken Mr Smith's pretty, blonde haired, blue eyed, slim built girl had come back and taken his wife.

Sherri and Keith Papini. PHOTO: Facebook.
Sherri and Keith Papini. PHOTO: Facebook.

The prime suspect in Tera’s disappearance was her martial arts instructor, Troy Zink. Zink, then a 29-year-old married father of one, was the last person to see Tera alive.

Zink reportedly told police that the two had fought near her family’s Redding home on the evening she went missing. He allegedly claimed to have dropped her off at her request to an intersection while he continued to drive to a secluded spot to pray before returning to his home at 11:30 that night.

Despite being the prime suspect Mr Zink, now 48, was never charged due to lack of evidence.

Troy Zink.
Troy Zink.

“At least in our case we had a suspect — somebody we think was responsible for it,” Mr Smith told The Sacramento Bee of his meeting with Mr Papini.

“In many ways it’s worse than what we had to go through because at least we pretty much knew who did it, and what he did, and even though we never found her body, we’ve kind of come to terms with that.

“In the Papini case, they’ve got nothing. Nothing at all. I didn’t have a lot of comfort to offer him. I’m not real confident that anything’s going to come out of it, but how do you tell somebody five days after their wife’s gone missing that she’s probably gone for good?”

Amazingly, Mrs Papini didn’t go for good – she was found chained, beaten and burned but alive. When she was returned to her family she claimed that she'd been kidnapped from her jog by two Hispanic women with a handgun who held her captive.

And while authorities do not seem to think there’s a connection between the two cases, they can see how the community might be drawn into speculation.

“Sherri is 34 years old, but she looks much younger,” Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told reporters earlier this month when asked about a possible link between the cases.

Bosenko - who has over 30 years experience in the area - also added: “They could probably pass for sisters.”

Authorities are still chipping away at the Papini case to find out who kidnapped her and why.

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