When Sherri Papini Disappeared She Was Compared to One Woman — What Happened to Tera Smith?

Tera Smith's family have never forgotten about the one man they believe did something horrible to their daughter.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Jun. 19 2024, Published 11:22 a.m. ET

(L-R): Tera Smith; Sherri Papini
Source: YouTube/Dateline NBC (video still); YouTube/Hulu (video still)

Content warning: This article mentions rape.

In November 2016, the town of Redding, Calif. was desperately searching for Sherri Papini. The 34 year-old mother of two was out for a jog when she disappeared. Her husband used the Find My app to locate his wife's phone which was discovered smashed on the road near their home. She miraculously returned 22 days later, beaten and traumatized. Papini wove a wild tale about being kidnapped by two Hispanic women that was proven to be a lie six years later. This landed her in prison for 11 months.

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During the three weeks Papini was allegedly missing, people couldn't help but compare her situation to that of Tera Smith. Both were attractive blonde women who were abducted while going for a run. They were also incredibly loved by their family and friends. Unfortunately Smith's story did not end the same way Papini's did. What happened to Tera Smith? Sadly, this one is a true story.

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What happened to Tera Smith?

Nearly 25 years after their daughter went missing, Terry and Marilyn Smith sat down with Dateline's Keith Morrison to relive that awful day. As the oldest of six children, Smith was incredibly kind and loving towards her siblings. Because she was the eldest child, Smith was definitely more responsible but still had a playful side. "She just really loved life," said Marilyn.

Despite Smith's status as a very good kid, that didn't stop her from the occasional grounding which is what was going on the day she disappeared on Aug. 22, 1998. Part of her punishment involved running errands with her mother who dropped Smith back at their home along with her little sister Sierra before she had to work. Smith was a licensed driver with a car who also had a job and was scheduled to work that day. When she never showed up, Marilyn grew worried.

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Sierra told her mother that Smith said she was going for a jog and would be back in 20 minutes, but she never returned. Marilyn went searching for Smith along her daughter's usual jogging routes but came up empty. She then phoned all of Smith's friends which also got her nowhere. Later that night Marilyn finally got some sort of answer, but it wasn't good. One of Smith's friends called her back and said, "I think she was having an inappropriate relationship with Troy Zink, her Taekwondo instructor."

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Where is Troy Zink now?

Zink was 29 years-old and was a new addition to Smith's life, who had only recently started taking Taekwondo classes. According to NBC News, Terry and Marilyn immediately went over to Zink's house to have a chat. "This was probably around 9:00 at night,” Terry told the outlet. “His wife told us that he wasn’t home." Two hours later Zink called the Smiths and told them a fairly strange and convoluted story that never changed.

Zink claimed that Smith called him and asked to borrow $2,000 so he went to pick her up. Apparently he refused to lend Smith the money unless she told him what it was for. This angered Smith who evidently asked to be dropped off on Old Oregon Trail, where Papini was allegedly taken 18 years later, so she could go for a jog. Here's where it gets weird. Zink said he then went up to Hang Glider Hill where he prayed for five hours. Though he was questioned by police, Zink was never charged with any crimes.

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At one point while looking through Smiths things, hoping for some sort of clue, her parents found a letter addressed to Zink. "I think originally she had written it all out thinking she would either mail it or give it to him in person," Terry theorized. "And then decided she would just tell him in person." They believe she was planning on ending their relationship. This was further complicated by a terrifying piece of information they later uncovered.

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In 1992, Zink had been convicted of spousal rape, though court records state he "denied the claims that he had forced his ex-wife to have sex with him at knife point," per NBC News. In his version of events, Zink had consensual sex with his ex-wife while telling her he planned to take his own life. This conviction made Zink a felon, which made owning the guns police found on his property illegal. On June 24, 1999 he was sentenced to four years in prison.

In December 2016, the DailyMail.com "discovered Zink has since changed his first name from Troy to Charles Zink, the same as his father, and still lives locally." He was married and owned a $640,000 four-bedroom house in Redding and was running his family's gold and silver trading business, Chuck's Coins. Terry Smith told the outlet that, "Almost 20 years have passed and he has gotten more comfortable, changed his name and thinks that people have forgotten. We haven't forgotten."

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