Oklahoma agencies to begin searching site for remains of missing teens in 1999 cold case

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Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible (family photo)

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PICHER, Okla. – A dive team is set to search a site in northeast Oklahoma where it is believed two teens were kept the last week of their lives.

On December 30, 1999, the bodies of Danny Freeman and his wife Kathy Freeman were found in their burning home in Welch, near the Kansas border. Their 16-year-old daughter, Ashley Freeman, and her 16-year-old friend, Lauria Bible, disappeared.

Since then, there have been three suspects in the case: Warren Phillip Welch II, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick.

Of the three, Busick is the only suspect still alive. He was charged in 2018 with murder, kidnapping and arson. He has denied the charges.

Authorities said several witnesses said the men killed the Freemans over money owed for drugs.

According to the Tulsa World, 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 on January 4, 2000, that the two 16-year-olds were both killed and their bodies were dumped in a mineshaft southwest of Picher, Oklahoma.

The paper states multiple witnesses told officials the men threw the teens’ bodies into a pit or mineshaft or dumped them into a cellar which was later covered in concrete.

FBI agents investigated the tip at the time, but didn’t find anything. Now, investigators are hoping to possibly identify the anonymous caller, and are looking into if the information called in was interpreted correctly.

On Tuesday, the Tulsa police dive team will begin their search for the girls’ remains, centered near the former residence of Welch in the abandoned town of Picher.

Michelle Lowry, spokeswoman for District Attorney Matt Ballard’s office, says it’s not known how long the search will last.

“There is no greater, or lesser, expectation that this week’s searches will result in recovery of the remains, compared to all past searches,” Lowry said.

Several agencies will conduct this week’s search, including the Quapaw Nation, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Ballard’s office.

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