On November 2, 2016, Sherri Papini, a 34-year-old mother of two from Redding, California, was kidnapped while out for a morning jog. Nearly a month later, she was found over 150 miles from her home on the side of a highway. She was only 87 lbs. when she was found by a passerby, who said she looked “panicked and frightened” while she called 911. For those 22 days, Papini was beaten, burned and branded by kidnappers authorities now believe may be sex traffickers. While police continue to search for more answers, they have discovered a bizarre connection — Papini’s kidnapping is eerily similar to the case of her missing high school friend.
Tera Smith, an old friend of Papini’s, went missing on the evening of August 22, 1998 while out for a jog in Redding, California. She never returned home and disappeared without a trace. Smith was 16 years old at the time of her disappearance and went missing under the same circumstances (while jogging) and in the same town as Papini. It was so eerily similar that Papini’s husband Keith even reached out to Smith’s family looking for guidance.
“I felt bad because Keith had so much hope and so much confidence that she’d be found,” said Tera’s dad, Terry Smith. “I didn’t have a lot of comfort to offer him. How do you tell somebody a few days after their wife’s gone missing that she’s probably gone for good?”
When Papini returned home, Terry became convinced that it wasn’t a random kidnapping and that it was somehow connected to his daughter’s case.
According to the Daily Mail, Tera had plans to meet up with Troy Zink, her martial arts instructor, the day she went missing. After finding numerous journal entries and letters, Terry believed that the two were having an affair, a belief Tera’s friends later confirmed. Eventually he learned that Zink was also a convicted rapist, but he was never named a suspect or arrested in Tera’s case due to a lack of sufficient evidence. He eventually went to jail for four years after being charged for possession of firearms.
At the time of Tera’s disappearance, Zink did go through a standard police interview, but he refused to be questioned by investigators again. He still lives in the same town as Papini and is running a successful business.
“It is heartbreaking and very frustrating,” said Terry. “The guy still lives in Redding. Almost 20 years have passed and he has gotten more comfortable, changed his name and thinks that people have forgotten. We haven’t forgotten.”
Terry and his wife are convinced that Zink is connected in someway to their daughter’s disappearance. Investigators are still trying to figure out who kidnapped Sherri Papini and why.