Vanished in the Heartland

Jana Meisenholder
11 min readMar 29, 2023

The Tragic Disappearance and Suspected Murder of Angela Green & The Missing White Woman Syndrome

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — A few weeks before the state of New York became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak last year, 54-year-old and first-generation Chinese immigrant Catherine Guo got an unexpected call saying her younger sister had died. But the cause of death, unlike for so many others around that time, wasn’t the virus. Catherine was told that her sister, Angela, had died of a stroke in July while committed as an involuntary patient at a psychiatric hospital here in Kansas. As the news traveled through the line and into Catherine’s ear in Long Island, her eyes darted to a wall calendar: Her sister had died seven months ago.

Angela was alive and ran away with friends, her husband Geoff claimed when police conducted a welfare check. The knock on the door fell on President’s Day weekend, so the officers were satisfied to leave it at that. They told Geoff they’d come back the following week to see if his wife had returned.

Courtesy of Angela’s family

To experts and missing persons advocates, the officers’ response isn’t surprising. The fact she was a Chinese immigrant is likely why Geoff, despite being inconsistent with the details leading up to her disappearance, wasn’t pressed for more information. Eventually, he admitted that she hadn’t run away; they had met some people in a parking lot, he forced Angela into a hospital against her will, and that’s where she died. This turned out to be another lie, and her body’s whereabouts are still unknown.

“We’re much more willing as a country to accept a victim if they look a certain way,” Zach Sommers, a legal scholar, told me. In 2016, Sommers published research with Northwestern University Law that supported the validity of the Missing White Woman Syndrome — a term used to describe extensive and disproportionately focused media coverage on young, white, upper-middle-class women or girls who go missing. “This speaks to broader trends in society. If you’re already skeptical of structured racism, it’s easier to handwave Missing White Woman Syndrome if there’s no real data to back it up.”

The small city of Prairie Village, Kansas, is overwhelmingly white. Located in one of the richest counties in the US, it’s exactly how you would imagine a safe affluent suburb in the Midwest: on the last census almost everyone identified English as the only language spoken at home. Colonial revival architecture, manicured lawns, golf courses and parks, retail centers and overzealous police are always on the lookout for people speeding on residential streets. Though crime rates are low, violent incidents still occur from time to time. Last May, Kiven Maquiel — an 18-year-old Bronx-born son of Mexican immigrants — was shot in an armed robbery and bled to death in a school parking lot. Neighbors later recalled hearing gunshots at 3:30am but police didn’t receive a 911 call until three hours later. When they finally arrived, Maquiel was already dead.

OUTSIDERS IN THE PRAIRIE

Of the entire Prairie Village population only 1.29% identified as Asian on the last census (roughly 300 people). Angela, who migrated from China to Prairie Village in the early 1990s, first met Geoff in Beijing while there on business. The daughter of two Chinese history professors who lived through the Cultural Revolution, Angela was an intelligent and strikingly beautiful woman who stood at 5’9”. Catherine remembers the stubbornness her younger sister exuded for most of her childhood and how that was harmonious in adulthood with her unwavering career ambitions. She had wanted to become a journalist.

Growing up as their biracial only child, Ellie Green, who is now 21-years-old, acted as a cultural and linguistic mediator between her parents. Eventually, she became the only thing they had in common — the glue that kept them together in a marriage which she later characterized as businesslike (she pushes back on accusations that her mother was a “mail-order bride”). Geoff has another daughter from a previous marriage, but his attention and guardianship were mostly focused on his youngest.

Her professional ambitions failed to meet the standard of the contemporary American Dream, and Angela never got a job after migrating to the US. This was due in part to Geoff’s domineering nature. He forbade Angela from having her own bank account and always accompanied her whenever she left the house. Ellie explained this was out of fear due to the severe language barrier between her and Prairie Village residents, but she also recognizes this behavior was linked to Geoff’s controlling personality. Angela instead chose to confine herself at home, cutting herself off from family based in the states and creating an existence where she was isolated from everything that once mattered to her.

Courtesy of Angela’s family

Again, researchers weren’t surprised to learn this when I brought up Angela Green’s case.

“Job status is often used to humanize missing women of color,” Danielle Slakoff, assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, told me. She found in her research that the missing women or girls who had lawful jobs (including students and those who had retired) were significantly more likely to have their reputation mentioned in the news coverage, effectively portraying them as productive members of society.

When local news picked up on the story of her disappearance, neighbors admitted they failed to raise an alarm because they thought “she just went back to China”, despite Angela not having been back since she left. Authorities checked with her family living in China, who confirmed they hadn’t heard from her. After the news started circulating, nearby residents expressed on social media that they’d enver heard about the case before. “If she were white and born and raised in America, alarm bells would have gone off sooner and the sense of urgency would have been greater from public pressure,” Michelle Guo, Angela’s 29-year-old niece, told me.

THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA

Michelle’s intuition is backed up by research. Slakoff analyzed a number of news articles for her research that was published in 2019, confirming the disturbing trend: Missing white women and children were indeed more likely to garner media attention than missing women and girls of color.

In other research with the same focus, Slakoff highlighted the case of Khoua Her, a Hmong immigrant who killed her children and was subsequently publicly characterized as a bad person. In contrast, Andrea Yates, a white woman who drowned her children in 2001, was described as having mental health issues (which was accurate). “The portrayal of Her, on the other hand, did not provide any legitimate justification for her actions. Instead, the media depicted Her’s murders in the context of her subordinate role in the family home. She was an unhappy caretaker with little emotional support,” Slakoff argued in her research.

Wider news coverage adds pressure on law enforcement agencies and, in turn, how they allocate their resources. For missing individuals in particular, with the first 72 hours being the most critical, this means disproportionate or unequal news coverage is directly linked to the chances of finding them alive and well. But the problem extends beyond scant coverage and into the way missing women and girls of color are discussed and represented in the news, which can result in a prejudiced view of the subjects. Slakoff’s research found that missing women and girls of color are often linked to their stereotypes, adding that the media portray Black and Latina female victims as coming from poor neighborhoods or as having unstable family lives. “These representations serve to normalize crime in these communities and families. If people perceive Black female victims as risk-taking, then this may help explain why offenders who harm white women receive far longer sentences than those who harm Black women,” said Slakoff.

“People readily accept the narrative of an innocent damsel in distress, a woman who has to be saved by a man,” Sommers, the legal scholar, told me. He found eligibility for this category throughout much of society is typically reserved for white, attractive, and wealthy women.

For his research, Sommers analyzed missing persons news stories published on four major news websites. He found that while one-third of covered cases were attributed to white women and girls, they accounted for half of the total coverage. “Their coverage was more intense than the missing women and girls of color,” he told me.

Courtesy of Angela’s family

THE DAUGHTER’S TRUTH-SEEKING JOURNEY

Angela struggled with the empty nest despite her daughter, Ellie, initially choosing a college close to home; a feeling that was exacerbated when Ellie studied abroad in Italy for a month after freshman year. Angela herself had noticed herself becoming disproportionately reactive, confiding in her daughter just before her disappearance that she felt like she was unraveling. In June 2019, Angela’s displaced cry for help resulted in kicking Ellie out of the house. Ellie texted her dad that night to let him know that she was staying with her then boyfriend’s family.

Three days later, Geoff texted her that it was all clear to come home. “We met the mental health people in the store parking lot, and it was a struggle. Better than trying to pry her out of the house,” he wrote, shown in a screenshot Ellie shared with me. He claimed to have forced Angela into a psychiatric hospital (which he had threatened to do in the past), but this would’ve been legally impossible in the state of Kansas without a mental health professional authorizing the admission.

He then sent a follow-up message:

“Oh, don’t let anyone know about mom. Including the Guo’s until I know more about her condition,” the text message read.

After Catherine ended the call with Ellie, she tried calling her sister’s cell. She left voicemails, and unbeknownst to her, Geoff was listening to them and clocking every incoming call and text. In the following week after telling Ellie her mother was taken away, Geoff canceled his line and took Angela’s number as his own.

Ellie never stopped asking her father questions about her mother’s condition. She demanded answers, but her inquiries were always met with circuitous ramblings. It wasn’t until the following month, July, that she received some semblance of an answer. In the driveway of her then boyfriend’s family’s home, Geoff told her that her mother unexpectedly died of a stroke. But before any more questions, Geoff drove away.

After the police visit at the start of President’s Day weekend, Geoff retained top criminal defense attorney Paul Cramm. The attorney notes on his website that he’s experienced in dealing with serious charges stemming from involuntary manslaughter and premeditated murder, and that the “gold standard in criminal defense is outright acquittal of the charges at trial, or dismissal of the charges due to inadmissibility of evidence.” When the officers returned to the house, Geoff handed them Cramm’s business card. Since then, he hasn’t cooperated with the police or responded to any media requests.

Seven months after her mother’s supposed death, Ellie decided to take matters into her own hands. She’d stop complying with her father’s request not to tell anyone about Angela’s death and filed an official police report, prompting a missing person investigation.

What she found sent a cold shiver down her spine: There was no record on file nationwide that her mother had died. All she found was her parents’ marriage certificate. Both Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed Angela Green had never left the country: her passport, driver’s license, car keys, wallet, and purse were all left at home and the money in her bank account hadn’t been touched since she was last seen. Later on, Geoff asked his daughter to forge her mother’s signature on her life insurance policy.

Ellie promptly asked Geoff for a copy of the death certificate. He said he’d text it over but never did. During a number of recorded phone calls between Ellie and her father, which she shared with me, Geoff seems to have trouble keeping the facts straight.

When she demanded to see her mother’s body, Geoff said he’d paid $1,500 cash to an unidentified man in his 40s who helped cremate the body and place the ashes in an urn. When police showed up with a search warrant and questioned Geoff, he admitted that Angela hadn’t been placed in a mental health facility and changed the story he’d been telling his daughter for months. The police then found an empty, new urn that Geoff had bought with his credit card the day after telling Ellie her mother had been cremated. Geoff has not been charged in the case and the police have not publicly named a suspect.

In a sea of neglected, forgotten, and discarded missing women of color, this is nothing new to researchers who’ve studied the phenomenon.

Slakoff’s research on Missing White Woman Syndrome posits that it affects crime control policy, as well as public consciousness.

“Over 86% of named laws passed in the United States between 1990 and 2016 honored white victims, showing that the protection of white people is very important to lawmakers,” she wrote. “Sensationalistic United States media coverage of missing white women and children led to a moral panic about rare stranger abductions. In reality, strangers abduct less than one percent of missing children in the United States. Intimate partners, family members, and acquaintances are much more likely to victimize women and girls than strangers.”

THE FIGHT FOR JUSTICE

Ellie and Michelle have never stopped fighting to get this case publicized, knowing that police inaction is often correlated to media coverage (or lack thereof). They’ve appeared on the Dr. Phil show, where two investigators from the TV show, Profiling Evil, got involved and have since been working with Ellie to help solve the case. They’ve uncovered new leads, information that was previously unknown, that they shared with law enforcement. This included uncovering 36 unidentified female bodies across the US that matched Angela’s description, to which the police have since followed up.

Police initially did get two search warrants, one for where Geoff keeps his cars and the other for the family home. But the third property — a 32,000-square-foot one Geoff bought five months after Angela went missing — was previously unqualified for a search warrant due to the time lapse between Angela’s disappearance and the date of purchase. At the family home, police brought in forensic investigators and cadaver dogs. They dug up the backyard, searched Geoff’s car for DNA, and used UV light to try and detect any blood or evidence of a cleanup. Nothing incriminating turned up.

Similarly, at the storage unit, police sent dive teams into the nearby 4.5-acre marble quarry. But again, nothing surfaced. Geoff and his brother, Brad Green, spent a lot of time doing construction and remodeling at the third property, as per Ellie. She also remembered seeing a pickup truck hired by him with cash in the driveway and noted that he took a few days off work. When asked if neighbors or colleagues were questioned, the lead investigator, Sergeant Adam Taylor, told me that “it’s clear they don’t know anything.” He emphasized without anyone coming forward with new information, it would be hard to pin down a suspect.

After the work on the house was completed, Geoff offered the house to Ellie and her college friends. She turned it down. Ellie no longer speaks to her father, suspecting him of being involved in her mother’s disappearance. The police declared the case cold as there was no new information available, and all leads had been exhausted.

The two investigators from the Dr. Phil show recently instructed Ellie to collect dirt samples from the property. They then spread the samples out in three different areas, with two cadaver dogs independently marking all three spots as positive for human remains. After presenting the evidence to the police department, the judge signed off on the third warrant just three days before Christmas in 2021. When asked if cadaver dogs were brought to the property to assist the long-awaited search, Sergeant Taylor told me that they were not, before adding, “We did dig by hand, though.”

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Jana Meisenholder

Independent journalist focusing on culture, true crime, and human interest stories. Living in the US with a Vegemite accent. IG: @addsodium 📸