WELCH, Okla. (KFOR/KJRH) – Nearly 20 years later, family members in Oklahoma are still searching for answers related to the deaths and disappearances of loved ones in a high-profile crime.
The case began in 1999 when investigators discovered the bodies of Danny and Kathy Freeman inside their burning home in Welch. Authorities soon learned that the couple’s daughter, 16-year-old Ashley Freeman, and her friend, 16-year-old Lauria Bible, were missing.
Although rescue teams searched the area, they never found any sign of the teenagers.
The initial investigation didn’t get very far, but authorities said a review in recent years uncovered new evidence, including witness statements linking Ronnie Busick, Warren Phillip Welch and David Pennington to the killings.
Several witnesses said the men killed the Freemans over money owed for drugs, according to authorities.
19 years after the murders, authorities charged Busick with four counts of first-degree murder in relation to the cold case. The other two men have since died.
In an arrest affidavit filed in Busick’s case, authorities believe Ashley Freeman and Bible were “kidnapped, tied up, raped and held at Welch’s mobile home for a ‘matter of days’ before being strangled.”
An anonymous caller told investigators that the teens were both killed and their bodies were dumped in a mineshaft southwest of Picher, Oklahoma.
Although authorities say they have searched the area, their bodies have never been found.
However, officials say they are not giving up.
On Tuesday, search crews headed to mineshafts in Picher to search for the teens’ remains.
Officials with the Tulsa Police Department say a dive team spent a couple of hours searching a 100-year-old mine shaft.
According to KJRH, the dive team lowered a camera about 175 feet to the bottom of the shaft to get a better look at spots where divers simply couldn’t reach.
Authorities say they are working to determine if the dive team will be able to put more equipment in the mineshaft.
Lauria Bible’s mother, Lorene, says she isn’t giving up hope that her daughter will be found, but is being cautious.
“A lot of times you look and you look and you don’t find anything,” she said. “It ends to no avail. So, you don’t put yourself on that rollercoaster. You just want to investigate and see what we find.”