MISSOURI — Yes, the crime is real, the billboards are real, but the town is fictional.  

Director Martin McDonagh explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the inspiration for the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” came to him almost two decades ago.  

Director Martin McDonagh, from left, actors Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson pose for photographers at the photo call for the film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ during the 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

McDonagh saw three billboards in Texas when he was traveling on a Greyhound bus. Those images sparked the idea of the movie, and he set the crime in the fictional town of Ebbing. 

The movie’s site-specific title is notwithstanding. There is no such place as Ebbing, Missouri, but McDonagh said that he just enjoyed the way those two syllables sound.  

Filmmakers found the small town, Sylva, in North Caroline to serve as the fictional setting. 

The three billboards McDonagh spotted outside of Texas are related to the unsolved murder of Katherine “Kathy” Page. A mother of two, Page was found dead on May 14, 1991, in the early dawn when Vidor, Texas police discovered a wrecked car.  

The woman behind the wheel was dead, but within minutes, police suspected the wreck to be staged. The details of the wreck were not pieced together.  

Page was dead and her skin was cool to the touch, but the dead woman had no obvious wounds, and the car was barely damaged.  

This photo is from the Vidor Police Department Facebook page.

The soft drinks did not spill, and the woman’s feet were back against the seat rather than at the pedals; she was not wearing a seatbelt, and the crash did not throw her forward. 

McDonagh said that he did not know much about the case when he wrote the movie. He was not aware of who put up the billboards but decided that it had to be the mom. 

After the “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” movie was released in 2017 and became successful, information was revealed that Page’s father put up the original billboards. Eerily, the movie and the actual case have some similarities. 

The Texas billboards are owned by Page’s father, James Fulton, 91, from Vidor, Texas. They read “Vidor Police Botched Up the Case”, “Waiting for Confession”, and “This Could Happen to You.” 

Fulton continues to purchase billboards and says that the billboards will stay up until the case is solved or until his death.  

If you want to learn more about Kelly Page’s murder, Crime Junkie podcast has a detailed episode. Unsolved Mysteries also has an episode on Kathy Page.