The Real Story of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’
Kathy Page’s 30-year-old case is still unsolved.
The original signs via southernfriedtruecrime.com
Director and writer Martin McDonagh was travelling across America on a Greyhound bus when he saw the hand-painted signs on the side of the I-10 in Vidor, Texas. The signs had been written by James Fulton, whose daughter was murdered in May 1991, after frustration that her killer was never charged.
The signs have changed over the years, but the message remains the same; his daughter was sexually assaulted and murdered, and the police have done little to solve the case.
34-year-old Kathy Page had recently split up from her husband, Steve, and their daughters were living with Kathy in the family home. On the night of her death, Kathy was heading out for some drinks and needed a babysitter. She called her estranged husband to ask if he could look after them while she went out with a girlfriend. In reality, she was going on a date and meeting the man at his hotel in Beaumont, a few miles away.
Steve agreed and headed over to the house, where Kathy was getting ready. She left around 11 pm in her car and headed to the hotel.
Kathy Page via Texas Department of Public Safety
The next morning at 5 am, Kathy’s black Mercury Tracer was found in a ditch 100 yards from her home. Kathy was dead in the driver’s seat and the crash appeared to be an accident. However, when the police arrived, they agreed that something was very wrong with the crime scene.
“Kathy Page was not killed in her vehicle. She was killed at another location, cleaned up, redressed, and placed back in her vehicle and after the vehicle had been rolled into the ditch.” — Detective Ray Mosely.
The car was at an angle, nose-first in the trench, yet Kathy was sat bolt upright in the seat with her head back against the headrest, despite not being strapped in by a seatbelt. The contents of her purse hadn’t spilt, nor had the can of open soda, and the exterior of the car wasn’t damaged. There was also grass on her clothing, despite Kathy being found fully inside of the car.
Detective Ray Mosely walked up the road to Kathy’s home and knocked on the door. Inside, Steve Page opened it to find the man he’d grown up with, telling him the news that his wife had been found dead. He became upset, wailing in despair. However, Mosely later recounted the story and said that Steve wasn’t crying.
“He said, well, his wife was not home and directly looked straight down the street towards where the car was. Steve seemed to be quite upset. He began to cry, and at times, threw himself on the couch crying. But yet, he would jump right back up, and we were talking, and there would be no signs of tears in his eyes. This seemed strange to me.” — Detective Ray Mosely.
Kathy’s autopsy showed that she’d been strangled, and her nose has been broken prior to her death. There was blood in her underwear and later it was confirmed that she’d also been sexually assaulted by someone who’d had a vasectomy, due to a lack of sperm in the semen. There was also blood found on the back of her neck and transferred blood on her clothes, which investigators agreed that she’d likely been killed elsewhere, reclothed and placed in her car.
Kathy’s date, known as ‘Tom’, volunteered his help in the investigation and passed a polygraph test, and he was never considered a suspect in Kathy’s murder. He told investigators that she’d left his hotel room around 2.30 am and had driven home. He said that she’d been wearing white jeans, a grey top, a watch, her wedding ring and earrings, and had a full face of makeup on. However, when Kathy was found, she was bare-faced with no jewellery on her and she was missing her socks.
Kathy’s sister, Sherry, would later state at trial that her bare face was indicative of Kathy’s nightly routine of removing her makeup and jewellery and getting in the shower, just before she went to bed.
As is the case in most investigations, Steve wasn’t questioned straight away, nor were his daughters. It wasn’t until two days later that Steve was asked to go to the police station to answer questions.
During his interview, he told police that he and Kathy had sex that night before she went out. Steve had a vasectomy a few months earlier, and it would explain why there was semen found inside her.
Kathy and Steve met when she was 21 in Vidor. Steve was an insurance salesman who’d swept Kathy off her feet, despite a lot of interest from other young men at the time. The couple married in November 1981 and their oldest daughter was born soon after. Their second daughter was born four years later, but by 1991 their marriage was over, and Kathy had asked Steve for a ‘friendly’ divorce.
Steve had moved out just a few days before Kathy was murdered and was living in a condo nearby to be around for their children. He told investigators that they were working things out, but Kathy’s sister told them that wasn’t the case and Kathy had already moved on.
Kathy had told Steve that she was meeting her friend Charlotte that night for drinks. Distrusting her story, Steve called Charlotte and she picked up the phone, despite Kathy asking her not to. Steve knew that his wife wasn’t out with her friend, and underneath Charlotte’s phone number was the number for the hotel in Beaumont, which he called.
Steve was announced as the prime suspect in Kathy’s murder later that day, but he claimed he was innocent. He said that he’d received phone calls from an unknown person, threatening him with the same fate as his wife.
He claimed he tried to help in the investigation, but he was told he wasn’t needed and instead the police dragged his name through the mud. He later told the Daily Mail, “We don’t have any evidence it’s not me, that’s the police’s response. They didn’t help me one bit. They have smeared my name to hell and back.”
Despite the announcement that a suspect had been named, police never arrested Steve and their lack of action angered Kathy’s family. James Fulton was convinced the police were covering for Steve as he’d grown up members of the police force and his parents were friendly with Detective Moseley’s mother and father. He began painting signs to attract attention from people driving through Vidor, in the hope of pushing the police department into investigating his daughter’s case further.
The sign’s statements have included, “Steve Page Brutally Murdered His Wife In 1991. Vidor P.D Does Not Want To Solve This Case. I Believe They Took A Bribe. The Attorney General Should Investigate. James Fulton — Her Father.” The sign includes images of Steve and Kathy. Steve eventually left Vidor for Houston in 1995, following the billboard creation.
The billboards got bigger via Real Art (and politics and culture)
After Kathy was buried, the flowers left at her grave were found scattered across the cemetery on more than one occasion. James Fulton hired a private investigator, who caught Steve Page on camera, kicking the flowers and marking her grave.
The two families fought each other, stating that the other was hiding information, and as the police wouldn’t arrest Steve, James Fulton instead took him to civil court for the wrongful death of Kathy and to stop Steve from collecting her life insurance payments.
During the trial, the video of Steve kicking the flowers at Kathy’s grave was screened, and other accounts came to light. According to Dorothy Fulton, Kathy’s mother, she’d arrived at Kathy’s home an hour after her daughter’s body was found. Steve had a scratch on his nose and was pacing the living room, wiping his hands. Despite the early hour, he’d also been doing laundry and there was a fresh wash hanging up around the house.
Dorothy and James had also visited the house four days after Kathy’s death, where they witnessed Steve and some of his family members trying to clean the carpet in the living room. She said they were working on one spot on the carpet, and according to her testimony, that was the moment her husband realised that Steve had killed his daughter.
Because it took three years to get the district attorney to sign off on a warrant to search Kathy’s home, any evidence that could have been in the house would have been long gone, so the trial was mostly made up of witness accounts.
Steve had also told police that all of Kathy’s watches were missing but later found all except the one she’d been wearing the night she died. He also denied calling Kathy’s friend, Charlotte, the night of her death but had already told others he had spoken to her.
Steve was found financially liable for his wife’s death and was ordered to pay $200,000 to the Fultons. Later, he was also found guilty of repeatedly vandalising her grave.
Whether Steve Page killed his wife or not, the police investigation was flawed from the start. When the car was found, the usual steps weren’t taken to ensure that all evidence was preserved, including photographs. Evidence was lost by police not cordoning off the crime scene, and there was no film in the police’s camera, so there were never any photographs taken of the scene.
Any evidence from Kathy’s home that may have led police to the killer would have disappeared by the time the warrant was issued, three years later.
Steve Page went on to become a carpenter and remarried. According to the Daily Mail, he now has a ‘very young girlfriend’. He sent his daughters to live with his parents in Alabama, after the death of their mother.
The blog, A Billboard in Texas, is run by daughter, Erin. She wrote about the relationships she had with her father and grandfather, and about updates to the investigation, that has stalled since its reopening in 2018. Kathy’s youngest daughter, Monica, died several years ago and is remembered on the blog by her sister.
The reward for information about Kathy’s death was increased to $6,000, but the case still remains unsolved. The family continue to remind the residents of Vidor about Kathy and take adverts out in the local paper on her birthday.
Newspaper advert via the Daily Mail
James Fulton has spent more than $200,000 on the billboards that continue to sit next to Interstate 10, and he said in 2018 that he had no plans to remove them;
“I’ve had the signs there [by the freeway] ever since I started putting them up and they’ll stay there until I die. We can’t go to the Vidor police because they’re not going to do nothing. I know they’re not going to do nothing. Everybody’s saying, to solve this case, it has to be the Texas Rangers — have someone from outside coming in and taking over.”
The case is still open, and tips can be called into Crime Stoppers 1–800–252-TIPS (8477).
The Real Life Murder Story That Inspired Three Billboards Film — Express Digest Southern Fried True Crime (Podcast) Steven Allen PAGE, Appellant, v. James FULTON, Dorothy Fulton, and Diane Daigle, as Next Friend of Monica Page, A Minor, Appellees — Find Law A Billboard in Texas — Blog DPS Offers Increased Reward, Seeks Leads in 1991 Orange County Murder — Texas Department of Public Safety Man Helped Inspire Three Billboards Says He’s Innocent — Daily Mail Kathy Page — Unsolved