When a reported kidnapping or missing person case turns out to be a hoax, it hurts the victims of real crimes. Police, the media and the public can become suspicious when circumstances are similar. While hoax kidnappings have been around for decades, today’s social media give skeptics a bigger platform to speculate.
The unsolved case of Sherri Papini, who was missing for three weeks last November before she was found on Thanksgiving Day, has been the subject of such speculation. But Nancy Grace is convinced, as are police, that Papini really was grabbed off a northern California jogging path at gunpoint and kept captive in isolation. Papini was bruised, emaciated and she carried a brand she said was put there by two hispanic women she could barely describe.
Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl movie, the psychodrama about a wife’s bizarre disappearance, doesn’t help. There’s also the bizarre “runaway bride” case of 2005. Jennifer Wilbanks was reported missing by her fiancé, who told police she disappeared while out for an evening jog in her Duluth, Georgia, neighborhood.
#ThisDayInGAHistory in 2005 Jennifer Wilbanks, aka “Runaway Bride,” pretended she was kidnapped to avoid her wedding pic.twitter.com/u0alLCnl6c
— Today In GA History (@2DayInGAHistory) April 26, 2016
The media made a big deal out of the Wilbanks case, especially because she disappeared just days before her planned wedding, which was set to include 28 bridesmaids and 600 guests. Candlelight vigils were planned and intense searches executed. A $100,000 reward was posted for her return.
Cheers rang out in Georgia when Albuquerque police reported finding Wilbanks at a New Mexico convenience store. She told them she had just been released by her kidnappers, whom she described as a hispanic man and a white woman, both in their 40s. But shock soon followed when she confessed she lied. She left Georgia on a bus, bound for Las Vegas, because she didn’t want to attend her own wedding.
Wilbanks became infamous, but she sold the rights to her story for $500,000. She served two years on probation in a plea deal to settle a felony charge of providing false information to law enforcement.
A more recent hoax crime report emerged in southern California recently. Angela Marie Diaz told police her husband’s ex-girlfriend, Michelle Susan Hadley, had threatened to have her raped. Hadley was arrested after men showed up at Diaz’s Orange County home, thinking they were there to engage in a consensual rape fantasy. Handley, 30, was accused of luring the men there through a Craig’s List ad.
Handley was freed after three months in jail and all charges were dropped when investigators discovered Diaz had initiated the contact with the contact with the men as part of a scheme to frame her husband’s former girlfriend. A possible motive was that Handley and her husband were involved in a dispute over a condo they once shared. Diaz is now charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and perjury.
[Feature Photo: Shasta County PD]