(NewsNation) — A young mother with a troubled past disappeared, detectives seeming to write her off as a runaway, but years later, her family still wants answers.
Angelina Schirmer was just 3 years old when her mother, Renee Yeargain, disappeared.
“She was a really good person. You know, she wanted to be a nurse one day,” Schirmer said. “She had goals and she had ambitions.”
Yeargain’s white Subaru was discovered abandoned at a Wyoming rest stop on Aug. 12, 2004. Her purse, ID, keys and phone were still inside, but there was no sign of the 24-year-old mother of four.
Yeargain’s mother called the police department and said she was dismissed by officers who assumed Yeargain would turn up again at some point.
Yeargain had run off once years earlier, her wild side costing her custody of her children.
“She worked really hard to get us kids back. She went through a spurt where she was not the healthiest person and we were taken away. But she worked. She worked her butt off. She really did,” Schirmer said.
Jess Oaks worked with Yeargain at a restaurant before becoming a reporter for a Wyoming newspaper.
“She loved those kids. And she would have never left those kids,” Oaks said.
Oaks was stunned to recognize her friend on the front page of the paper with headlines referring to the case as one of child abandonment.
Oaks has spent the last 19 years digging for information, trying to get answers for her friend’s children.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave my children thinking that I abandoned them, that I walked away, and that I didn’t want them,” she said.
As she tracked down information about Yeargain’s disappearance, Oaks began to feel something wasn’t right.
“I had to track down a lot of information to put it all together to understand that something is fishy,” she said.
Yeargain had been living in Torrington, Wyoming with her fiance, Josh Minter. He reportedly told police she left on Aug. 9, 2004 with a grocery store bag full of clothing, possibly over an argument about their wedding plans.
Oaks said law enforcement didn’t do much of an investigation. Four years after Yeargain’s disappearance, Oaks found police had no evidence on her case.
“No evidence had been obtained. No evidence had been collected, no evidence had been checked in or checked out regarding Renee’s disappearance.”
For Oaks, that lack of evidence is telling.
“Somebody didn’t do their job. That’s what it says to me,” she said.
While police may not have dug deep into Yeargain’s disappearance, one of her children was reported to have told a very different story than Minter.
Jerry Numon was co-director of Goshen County Sheriff Search and Rescue in 2018, when he became involved with Yeargain’s case.
“The daughter remembered this guy Josh throwing her stuff in the car and he drove away with it. Somebody else brought him back to the house,” Numon said.
Numon and his cadaver dog, Pax, were called in more than a decade later, in 2018, when a private investigator looking into Yeargain’s disappearance received permission to search Minter’s mother’s property.
“We went out and did a search and had two hits, where the dog actually dropped and barked,” Numon said.
That behavior was the dog’s way of alerting handlers that it smelled human remains.
Police obtained a search warrant, returning to the property with equipment to dig.
As they worked, they found water underground. Pax would hit the hole, where water was rushing in, and alert.
“It was just basically like an underground river and the scent was coming from upriver,” Numon explained.
Police determined whatever Pax was smelling must be coming from upstream. So they covered the hole and left the property.
“I was outraged,” Numon said.
Oaks said she knew Josh Minter from high school, where he was a talented art student. Years later, his work would catch the attention of a detective, who showed Oaks work Minter had posted online.
“He showed me a profile picture that Josh Minter had on his Facebook. And it scared me,” Oaks said. “You zoom into the picture, and you can see the words like ‘involved.’ And ‘I know the grave.’ It definitely looked like a self-portrait.”
Oaks said she would have loved to see what the rest of the painting included. It’s not the only thing she thinks investigators should have looked at more closely.
Yeargain had previously purchased a house from a local realtor under a “contract for deed.” After a fire, Yeargain filed an insurance claim and paid the land owner for the land, but it’s not clear if she got the deed she was looking for.
“She received $80,000 as a payout. She paid the gentleman who owned the land and asked for the deed for the land,” Oaks said. “Two weeks before Renee disappeared, she threatened this realtor and said, hey, if I don’t get my contract, I’m going to have to get an attorney.”
Oaks doesn’t know if police ever looked into the dispute for a possible connection to Yeargain’s disappearance
Police declined to talk to NewsNation about their investigation.
Oaks thinks everyone should be concerned about the unsolved case and the seeming lack of law enforcement attention.
“Honestly, this could happen to any one of us. Any one of us at any given time can be abducted, can go missing, our car can fall off a cliff,” she said. “And if the people in charge of investigating our disappearances aren’t doing their job, that’s a problem for me.”
For Schirmer, her mother’s absence is upsetting and the lack of progress frustrating.
“How could you allow a person to literally just vanish into thin air and not do anything about it? We shouldn’t have to fight for answers.”