Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I am thrilled to let you know that there has been what appears to be a huge break in this case. The disappearance of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman is one of the first cases I covered, and I have been following it closely for years.
For background details about the case, I suggest that you read my initial post below and then return here to learn about the update.
On April 23, 2018 the police named three men in connection with the abduction and murder of Ashley and Lauria: Warren “Phil” Welch, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick.
Both Welch and Pennington are deceased, but Busick was arrested in Wichita. The 66-year-old was returned to Craig County to face four murder counts. He is accused of murdering Kathy and Danny Freeman, Ashley’s parents, and then abducting and murdering Ashley and Lauria. At the time of this update, Busick denies any involvement in the crimes. He remains incarcerated with his case stalled as both the defence and prosecution have “mental capacity tests” performed.
The arrest affidavit released by the Craig County prosecutors provides an overview of what allegedly happened to Ashley and Lauria. On the night of the young women’s disappearance, Welch, Pennington, and Busick visited the Freeman home to settle a “bad drug deal.” Witnesses have told investigators that after murdering Ashley’s parents, the three suspects took “the girls and [had] fun with them.” Another witness told the authorities that Ashley and Lauria were held for days at Welch’s trailer and were “raped and violently strangled to die.” The police believe that their bodies were then “thrown in a pit.”
As in many cold cases that eventually get solved, a former partner of one of the suspects is playing a key role by providing much-needed information. An ex-girlfriend of Welch’s told police that he had decorated his trailer with Ashley and Lauria’s missing persons poster. Even more, his ex said that Welch had Polaroids that showed Ashley and Lauria bound and gagged on his bed. Apparently at least a dozen witnesses have reported that the three men kept numerous photographs as trophies to brag about their crime and to threaten witnesses into keeping silent.
One other key discovery led to the recent progress in the case. In February 2017, documents came to light that led the current investigators to two private detectives that initially looked into the abduction and murders. Tom Pryor, one of the private detectives, no longer had his files on the case; however, he did still have in his possession “an insurance card found at the scene on the day after the Freemans were killed.” This card reportedly belongs to a woman who was living with Welch at the time. Given that Welch often drove her vehicle, this is believed to place him at the scene of the crime.
In a statement on their Facebook page, Lauria’s family explains that although it might seem like Busick’s arrest is a big break in the case, most of the details have been known for years. It “just” took plenty of time, effort, and patience to finally gather enough information to move forward with charges.
Although I am ecstatic about the progress, I am only cautiously optimistic. Sure, Welch’s girlfriend’s insurance card may have been found at the scene of the crime. Can it be proven that he was the one who dropped it? And during the crime and not on a previous visit? And to what extent can this information be used to prosecute Busick? Also, although many witnesses claim to have seen Welch, Pennington, and Busick with the Polaroids of Ashley and Lauria, the photographs have never been found by investigators. Will witness statements about these photographs be enough in court? Can a guilty verdict be reached, especially without Ashley and Lauria’s bodies to provide forensic evidence? Searches are ongoing for the young women’s bodies. As recently as July 2019 investigators combed through several sites in Picher, Oklahoma. Some of the sites examined include the area surrounding the mobile home Welch once rented as well as several ponds and treed areas. No signs of Ashley and Lauria were found.
Even if the persons responsible for the disappearance and murder of Ashley and Lauria have been identified and Busick is found guilty, this case is far from closed until Ashely and Lauria are found and returned to their loved ones. A $50,000 reward remains in place for information leading to the location of Ashley and Lauria. Let’s keep spreading the word about this case.
The Disappearance of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman
Case File Overview
Best friends Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, both 16, disappeared from Welch, Oklahoma, a small rural town in Craig County USA, in the early morning hours of December 30, 1999.
Lauria was at Ashley’s home for a sleepover to celebrate Ashley’s 16th birthday.
The Freeman’s mobile home went up in flames in the wee hours of December 30, 1999. Kathy Freeman’s body was found inside. Initially, Danny Freeman was suspected in the murder of his wife and the disappearance of Lauria and Ashley. However, the next day Lauria’s parents searched the crime scene and discovered Danny Freeman’s body, which had been partially covered by debris.
Autopsies determined both Danny and Kathy had sustained gunshot wounds to the head and that Danny’s right collarbone had been fractured prior to his death.
Lauria and Ashley have never been found.
Weight: 145 lbs
Hair: Dark blonde
Defining Characteristics: Scar on the upper left side of her forehead
Last seen 12/29/99
Weight: 130 lbs
Defining Characteristics: Mole under her nose and a scar on the top of her head
Last seen 12/29/99
Case File Theories
The Craig County Sheriff’s Department
There was reportedly bad blood between the Craig County Sheriff’s Department and the Freemans. Danny’s son, Shane, was shot and killed by officer David Hayes after Shane stole a truck and a neighbour’s gun. Later, the Freemans threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Craig County Sheriff’s Department even though Shane’s killing was ruled justifiable.
Rumour had it members of the department were trying to intimidate the Freemans. Also, Danny had warned his brother Dwayne Vancil that if anything happened to Danny that the Craig County Sheriff’s Department was responsible.
Did members of the sheriff’s department play a role in Lauria and Ashley’s disappearance? It is highly unlikely. First of all, the Craig County Sheriff’s Department voluntarily turned the case over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Additionally, members of the sheriff’s department took polygraph tests, and Special Agent Steve Nutter of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation cleared the sheriff’s office of any and all wrongdoing.
A Drug Deal/Robbery Gone Bad
Danny was a known marijuana grower, and the Freemans may have been targeted for drugs and/or cash on the premises. Ashley had been saving money for her first car, estimated to be between $3000-$4000, and stashing it in the freezer. The police were unable to locate Ashley’s savings, which suggests the murders and disappearance could be the result of a robbery. However, Lauria’s purse was found at the scene and was said to contain $200, calling into question if robbery was the motive.
Even more, it seems that the last thing a robber or rival drug dealer would want to do after committing murder is kidnap two teenagers. Unless, of course, the person or persons at the scene made the disturbing decision in the moment that taking the young women to torment and assault them was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Lauria and Ashley Committed the Murders and Fled
Investigators dismissed this theory due to a lack of evidence. In fact, both young women were considered well-behaved and good students with bright futures. Also, if they did commit the murders and then flee, it is likely Lauria would have taken her purse. Moreover, it is unlikely they both would have been able to remain hidden all of these years. Agent Nutter explained, “I find it difficult to believe that the girls, by themselves, could hide out that long and not be found.”
Tommy Lynn Sells
In a letter to The Joplin Globe in May 2002, convicted murderer Tommy Lynn Sells confessed to killing Danny and Kathy Freeman and abducting and killing Ashley and Lauria. According to Sells, he was travelling through Welch, Oklahoma and committed the crimes. He stated he was high on drugs and could not recall details of the crime or where he left Lauria and Ashley’s bodies.
Authorities believe Sells may have committed as many as sixteen murders. But they have not been able to find any evidence linking him to the Bible/Freeman case. Sells was executed by lethal injection on April 3rd, 2014. Regardless, he remains a possible suspect.
Jeremy B. Jones
Death row inmate Jeremy B. Jones confessed to killing Danny and Kathy Freeman as a favour to a friend over a drug debt. Jones has been charged with two murders and is suspected in disappearances and murders in six states across the USA. He claimed he took Lauria and Ashley to Galena, Kansas, shot them, and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine.
Some evidence suggests Jones may be the perpetrator in the Bible/Freeman case. For example, Jones was convicted of murdering a woman and setting her house on fire to destroy the evidence. This is disturbingly similar to what transpired at the Freeman’s mobile home. Additionally, during his confession, the type of shotgun and accelerant Jones mentioned matched the evidence found at the Bible/Freeman crime scene.
On the other hand, other evidence indicates it is unlikely he is responsible for the crimes. Jones lived in Ottawa County, Oklahoma at the time of Ashley and Lauria’s disappearance, and he was released from jail at 10:30 p.m. on the evening in question. There is some debate as to whether or not he would have had the time to commit the crimes. Also, nothing was found when authorities searched the mine where Jones claimed he had hid Ashley and Lauria’s bodies. Later, Jones recanted his confession, admitting he lied to receive better food and extra phone privileges while in prison. Like Sells, however, Jones remains a suspect in the case.
What do you think happened to Lauria and Ashley?
Lorene Bible, Lauria’s mother, continues the quest for information about her daughter’s disappearance on her Facebook page. She is counting on someone coming forward to help solve the case.
Related Reading and Listening
“Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman” – The Murder in My Family podcast
“Lauria Jaylene Bible” – The Charlie Project case overview
“Ashley Renae Freeman” – The Charlie Project case overview
“Lauria Bible & Ashley Freeman” – Unsolved Mysteries case overview
“‘Pot-stirring’ gives investigators new leads in cold cases such as missing Welch girls” – Tulsa World article
“New leads in search of Oklahoma girls missing since 1999” – News Channel 4 article
“Disappearance of two Okla. girls stumped police for 18 years. Then they learned about the Polaroids” – The Washington Post article