When a beautiful mother-of-two seemingly vanished into this air while out for a run early last month, her frantic husband vowed to leave no stone unturned until she was found.
But as the weeks slipped by and there was no sign of Sherri Papini, hope began to fade.
Then, 22 days later, on Thanksgiving Day, a badly beaten Sherri flagged down a motorist more than 240km from where she went missing.
After interviewing the traumatised mum, police remain flummoxed by the motive, have announced they are searching for two Hispanic women in a black SUV.
The Papinis, from Redding, California, are now in hiding – and with no clear reason for Sherri's kidnap or release, the rumour mill has gone into over drive.
New Idea explores the popular theories.
Theory 1: The husband did it.
Though he played the doting spouse card seamlessly, Keith Papini’s behaviour since Sherri was found has set alarm bells ringing.
Despite declaring his family were intensely private, Keith wasted no time in publicly divulging gratuitous details of Sherri’s injuries.
Theory 2: She faked the whole thing
If Sherri was as badly injured as Keith indicated, it seems odd she was discharged from hospital so quickly.
Right now we have the husband claiming she had severe bruising, a broken nose, severe burns, a branding and that she was severely emaciated from starvation. Yet she did not even remain in hospital overnight.’
Theory 3: Hostage negotiator was ‘dodgy’
Mystery surrounds self-professed hostage negotiator Cameron Gamble, who claims he was retained by an anonymous donor offering $50,000 for Sherri’s safe return.
Despite claims that he has successfully rescued kidnap victims around the world, business was far from booming for the former US airman, who declared bankruptcy in 2012.
Theory 4: Sherri’s past is haunting her.
In 2003, a person using the name Sherri Graeff – the kidnapped mother’s maiden name – boasted on a skinhead website how she’d broken a ‘Latino’ girl’s nose
Theory 5: She was kidnapped by sex traffickers
'Branding is a huge sign of human trafficking,’ says sex trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender.
Though most sex trafficking victims are aged between 18 and 24, and usually have no loved ones, Sherri – who looks much younger than her 34 years – could have been picked up spontaneously.
Theory 6: A Mexican drug cartel is responsible
The area where Sherri went missing is known as the Emerald Triangle, and it notorious for drugs. One Reddit user claimed rumours were swirling that Sherri ‘trimmed marijuana’.