Marianne Asher-Chapman and her daughter Angela Michelle Yarnell had a close, special bond.
Each week, they would talk on the phone at least twice, but they also wrote each other letters almost as often.
“Angie loved making homemade cards and would fill them with confetti. I would open it and it would go everywhere. I would say, ‘Dang, I wish she would stop doing that,’” Marianne said with a smile. But then, one day those letters and calls did stop. On Nov. 1, 2003, Marianne hosted a fifth birthday party for her son Eric’s daughter, Samantha, at her home in Holts Summit. Having talked to her adult daughter a couple weeks before, she knew Angie would come since she had already purchased a Barbie and Vespa scooter toy for her beloved niece, even telling her mom the details of the gift bag in her excitement.
As family and friends enjoyed the birthday party, Marianne’s concern for Angie grew as she had yet to arrive.
“I knew she wouldn’t miss this. I thought maybe they (Angie and her husband Michael) had car trouble,” she said, noting the phone reception is also bad where they live at Ivy Bend in Morgan County.
Repeated phone calls and messages were left with no reply until about 5 p.m. that evening when Michael arrived at Marianne and her husband Tommy’s home in Angie’s car with her two dogs.
“I opened the door and Mike was standing there, and I asked what had happened. He stepped inside and sat down in the rocking chair. I looked back outside and said, ‘Where is Angie?’” she recalled. “He said she is gone now … He said eight days earlier he came home from work and she was gone. ‘I guess she may have ran away with another man,’ he said. … I can’t imagine she would do something like that. I knew they were unhappy, but I just couldn’t believe it.”
That started a search for Angie that is still going on 15 years later. Marianne spent the first few years hanging flyers, seeking family’s support in an investigation, working with law enforcement and garnering help from the public and media – anything she could do to keep Angie’s story alive.
Marianne had suspicions Mike was involved with Angie’s disappearance or had information about it, and four years later those inclinations were confirmed when the Morgan County Sheriff ’s Office listed him as a person of interest in her case, even though his whereabouts were unknown. Through the help of a local reporter who was following Angie’s story, Marianne was able to file a missing person’s report on Mike and later an important piece of evidence allowed law enforcement to bring him back to Morgan County for questioning in Angie’s disappearance. A confession led to Mike facing a handful of felony charges, and he later took a plea bargain with some of those charges dropped. In June 2009, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for serving four.
Angie was presumed dead. Even though Mike directed law enforcement to where he allegedly disposed of her body, she has yet to be found. Marianne continues her mission to her remains. In starting this journey with little guidance, Marianne learned a lot about searching for Angie and co-founded a successful nonprofit organization that supplies education, resources, awareness and support to families embarking on the same mission. It is an important and challenging journey that parents like Marianne and her fellow organization volunteers know helps families “never, never, never give up.”
“That is our (Missouri Missing) motto, ‘never, never, never give up.’ It is a powerful quote from Winston Churchill,” she said. “This is a hard fight, but don’t give up.”
About 10 days after filing a missing person’s report the day after Angie went missing at Morgan County Sheriff ’s Office, Marianne received a postcard that was postmarked from Arkansas. It read, “Mom, Gary and I are on our way to Texas to visit his family, and we’ll write when we are settled,’” Marianne recalled.
“I showed the postcard to the detective at Morgan County and they decided to close the case. I thought about it and then I tried to decipher it. It looks like her writing kind of, but it was not her normal, flowing, flowery writing. I decided she hadn’t written it,” she said. “I went back in to talk to them about it … and they finally decided to re-open her case.”
For two years, Marianne felt like she was wondering aimlessly, determined to find Angie through hanging flyers, repeatedly following up with law enforcement and seeking help from the public.
“All those years ago, I didn’t have any place to turn. You hear about missing people, but until it comes to your family you don’t get it. It is like a chronic illness, you get it when you get it,” she said.
Through a determined perseverance and support from trusted resources like a former News Tribune reporter who followed her case, she gained knowledge and start chipping away at the mystery. She was asked to appear on the nationally syndicated Montel Williams talk show in 2005, telling Angie’s story and able to share her picture to millions of viewers. Mike’s family then notified Marianne he had left town, with a few years going by before that same reporter was able to help her get missing person’s report filed for Mike. Several months later he was found him in Mississippi.
In 2008, a forensic document analyst was able look at the postcard Marianne received, determining it was in fact Mike who had written and sent her that postcard, Marianne said. According to a follow-up article the reporter did about Marianne and Angie and published on LakeExpo.com, that information prompted two felony charges of tampering with physical evidence and forgery, expediting Mike Yarnell back to Morgan County where he later gave his confession.
After Mike’s conviction, Angie’s case was closed and her name was removed from the Missing Persons Unit with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Marianne said.
“Angie is still missing. I told them I needed to re-open her case and file a missing person’s report again. They wouldn’t let me … but then agreed finally to close the criminal part and the missing part was reopened,” she explained, stating she believes it is one of the first times that had happened in Missouri. “That is something I can advise others to do when they are presumed dead but have never found the body.”
Years before many of those details of Angie’s disappearance came to light, Marianne was intrigued by the case of another young missing woman, Jasmine Haslag. Angie had been missing for four years when Marianne heard about Jasmine on Channel 13, and knowing what she was going through she decided to reach out to her mother. Marianne went down to where they were searching for Jasmine, saw her mother, Peggy Florence, standing on a van watching the process. She introduced herself and asked if she would like to talk over coffee.
“Peggy and I came together as mothers with two missing daughters. At that point, my daughter was missing for four years and hers was newly missing. Peggy had a lot more enthusiasm then than I did,” Marianne said.
“There is this big hole you can find yourself in, and even to this day there are times I can find myself down there. But I can pull myself out of it, and at that time I was there. Peggy would say you need to be more positive and pull yourself up, and I did.”
In August 2007, Marianne and Peggy co-founded Missouri Missing, with Marianne still serving as its executive director. Their mission is to provide a voice for the missing and unidentified who can no longer speak for themselves, as well as support for families how have missing loved ones through an outreach program.
“We speak with families pretty regularly. Twice a week I talk to someone at least. I know the steps to tell them to take to help,” Marianne said.
Outside of gaining their state and federal recognized 501c3 status as a nonprofit organization six years ago, Missouri Missing is an all volunteer organization, with all of its members (with the exception of one) having or had a missing person in their family. One of the first things Marianne and her fellow volunteers do is explain what they need to do immediately, starting with getting the missing person’s report filed, which they can help with if needed. The Highway Patrol will also release a flyer once the report is filed.
“It is such a tragedy. In our state – and it changes daily – we have about 1,000 missing persons listed and those are just people that have filed a report. We also have about 60 sets of remains, and they are missing persons, too. Missing people are getting more attention now, but back when (Missouri Missing) started it was a silent epidemic. It still is an epidemic,” she said.
With the family’s full approval, the volunteers make flyers and share them on social media and elsewhere.
“When we share it out on social media, thousands more people will share it. We have had success stories from those flyers,” Marianne said, noting they also encourage them to contact the media and support them in handling their case. “We have had people the next day or next week that are found. Ideally, we want them found and they are safe, but quite often their remains are found. … The not knowing is the worst thing.
When they are found deceased, at least those people aren’t digging with a shovel like I am. No matter how bad it is, if you know it is easier than not knowing.”
Marianne said if the family is missing a child they need to enter their name into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s list. If the person has been missing for a longer time, they also should enter that person into the NaMus, a federal government-ran National Missing and Unidentified Persons system.
“Maureen (Reintjes, executive director of communication for Missouri Missing) is extremely proficient in this system. Essentially it is repository of missing and unidentified persons. You get your person entered and can give more specific descriptions, tattoos, all these things,” Marianne explained, noting the police can also add additional information and updates that the families cannot into this system.
Marianne said they often hold candlelight vigils and memorials, do research and host benefits, rallies and events for families with missing loved ones. Missouri Missing also hosts a few of its own events, such as Green Ribbons for Angie, which observes her during a gathering every October to tie a new green ribbon around Marianne’s tree on her front lawn, and Missouri’s Missing Christmas Tree of Love and Hope, which is now filled with 200-plus handmade ornaments in honor of those missing or unidentified. One of their largest events is the Missouri’s Missing and Unidentified Person’s Awareness Day, with the first held in 2008 on the same date Jasmine Haslag went missing (June 17). This community event is received with an annual proclamation from the Missouri Governor and also received a month-long recognition last year.
Scheduled from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, June 8 at Memorial Park Pavilion this year, the Missouri Missing and Unidentified Person’s Awareness Day includes food, multiple baskets of goodies and products from local businesses and handmade items from the Jefferson City area prison systems, raffles, honored families of missing and unidentified loved ones, and guest speakers.
Marianne said a lady in Millersburg also donates doves each year for an event for Parents of Murdered Children, in which Marianne is involved with, and this picnic.
“We do a dove release and balloon release in remembrance,” she said. “The families also get the opportunity to have their flyers and talk about their person. We have lots of families and speakers there, which is beautiful, but it is a public event and we encourage them to come.”
Missouri Missing is also involved in many other related awareness and education events and programs where their knowledge and experience can be most beneficial, including their hunting awareness campaign that asks them to be aware of their surroundings for possible human remains. Marianne and a two volunteers attended a Night of Remembrance event in Kansas City, participated in National Crime Victims Rights Week in Jefferson City, and for the first time Marianne was the keynote speaker at an event held during that same recognition week at the women’s prison in Vandalia, Missouri.
Speaking at prisons about being a victim of a crime is something close to Marianne’s heart. She started as part of a victim panel through the Parents of Murdered Children organization, and now represents Missouri Missing often alongside a fellow volunteer on those panels, which are part of the prison’s crime victim awareness program.
“I tell them my story and give them the statistics and they ask questions. The whole idea of the program is for them to see what a victim looks like. My daughter is a victim, but then I am, too. It is a ripple effect through my family, our community and society. This is what crime does. If they see what a victim looks like, they will think before they reoffend when and if they get out,” she said. “I like to think I am helping them, and what I really know is they help me. I never show them disrespect. … I want to leave a positive impression with them.”
That impression she leaves is someone will “never, never, never give up.” Marianne lives by that motto each and every day for the families she helps at Missouri Missing and in her search to find Angie. A week after Angie went missing she wrote her daughter a letter. She thought if she would eventually know where to send it. That journaling process of writing letters to Angie soon filled a whole spiral notebook, and now Marianne has 25 notebooks full of “Letters to Angie.”
Christmas came seven weeks after Angie went missing, and she had bought Angie presents, wrapped them and placed them under the tree. She later put them in a closet, then buying her presents for her birthday in May thinking she would come home, but didn’t.
“Shortly after that I went and bought a big trunk and started ‘Gifts for Angie.’ I would find really unique gifts, things that I would see that were so Angie I would buy. It is now full of all these years of Christmas and birthday presents,” Marianne said. “This last Christmas, her trunk was so full. I have my great-grandmother’s trunk upstairs and that became Angie’s trunk, too. People say, ‘When are you going to stop doing that?’ I say, ‘Maybe when I find her remains, I’ll stop. But not until then.’”