When Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri began playing in cinemas, Marianne Asher-Chapman’s friends began calling her. They told her she had to see this movie. They said it was just like her life.
Three Billboards… is the story of a mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose daughter Angela has been raped and murdered. Hayes rents three billboards to draw attention to the crime and push the local police into taking action.
The film’s writer, Martin McDonough, told Slash Film he came up with the idea after seeing billboards about an unsolved crime “somewhere down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner” in around 2000.
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Following her friends’ calls, Asher-Chapman did go to see Three Billboards... According to The Australian, she was “blown away” by the similarities to her life.
Asher-Chapman’s daughter Angie went missing in 2003. Angie was 28, married to Michael Yarnell and living in Ivy Bend, Missouri. Asher-Chapman was expecting Angie and Yarnell to turn up to her home in nearby Holts Summit on November 1st for a birthday party for Angie’s niece. They didn’t arrive. Later, Yarnell appeared on his own, claiming Angie had run away with another man.
Asher-Chapman didn’t believe him. She’d seen the presents Angie had bought for her niece. She couldn’t believe Angie would have left her purse behind, let alone her two beloved dogs, Blossom and Penny. Plus, Asher-Chapman was battling throat cancer.
“I just knew she wouldn’t leave me through all that,” she told local media at the time.
The next day, Asher-Chapman filed a missing persons’ report with the police.
“I was so scared,” she told the BBC in a recent report.
“I knew instantly something was real wrong.”
About a week later, Asher-Chapman received a postcard, supposedly from her daughter. It was sent from Arkansas. It read: “Mom, we are going to Texas tomorrow to visit Gary’s family. Will write soon as we are settled. Love, Angie.”
Asher-Chapman said it looked like her daughter’s handwriting “kinda, sorta, but it looked very strained.” And she didn’t know anyone called Gary.
She kept calling the police, every day. But to them, there was nothing to investigate. Angie had run away with another man.
“I was made to feel I was bothering them,” Asher-Chapman remembers. “For five years I was hearing from this one detective: ‘No body, no crime.’”
But Asher-Chapman refused to give up. She posted flyers, and when that didn’t work, she had the flyers blown up to a huge size and stuck on billboards she rented.
“They’re so big,” she says. “People notice those. They can’t help but see the billboard.”
Eventually, Asher-Chapman sent the postcard to a handwriting analyst in Texas, Peggy Walla. Walla concluded that Angie’s husband Yarnell had forged the postcard.
Asher-Chapman went on national TV with the evidence she had. Soon afterwards, Yarnell disappeared. Finally, police took an interest in the case.
In late 2008, police tracked down Yarnell. He confessed to killing Angie, but he claimed it was an accident. He said they’d had a fight, and she’d fallen off the deck of their house and hit her head on a rock and died. He said he’d dumped her body in a lake.
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Yarnell was sentenced to seven years in jail for involuntary manslaughter. Asher-Chapman so badly wanted to find Angie’s body that she pleaded with her daughter’s killer.
“I even went to visit him in prison and begged him, literally begged him, to tell me where I can go collect her remains. He won’t tell me.”
Yarnell was released from jail after four years. Asher-Chapman is still searching, still sticking up flyers, still driving around with a shovel in her car boot to dig for Angie.
She believes Yarnell buried her daughter’s body in a shallow grave on the Ivy Bend property where the couple lived. The current owner of the property lets her search there whenever she wants.
“For a long time, I was so scared I was going to find Angie, and now, I’m so scared I'm never going to find her,” Asher-Chapman told the News Tribune last year.
“I want to find her. I want to find a skull. I want to find it.
“I go in caves, been in sinkholes, crawled under homes, old abandoned properties. I've walked through burnt-out properties. I’ve had people come up to me and want to know what I’m doing on their property.”
Asher-Chapman is now in her sixties. People tell her that she should just let it go, but she can’t.
“I have to find Angie. I have to find her, as her mother. I will never give up.”
Feature image: BBC
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