Murders of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman
|Date||December 29 or December 30, 1999|
|Location||Welch, Oklahoma, U.S.|
Lauria Jaylene Bible
|Arrests||Ronnie James Busick|
Ronnie James Busick
|Charges||First-degree murder (four counts)|
Lauria Jaylene Bible (//; born April 18, 1983) and Ashley Renae Freeman (born December 29, 1983) were American teenagers who disappeared between the evening of December 29 and the early morning hours of December 30, 1999, from Freeman's home in Welch, Oklahoma.
Firefighters arrived at the Freeman home shortly after 5:30 am on December 30, when a passerby reported a fire at the residence. After the fire had been extinguished, the bodies of Freeman's parents, Danny and Kathy, were recovered. Both had been shot to death at close range. However, law enforcement was unable to find any trace of Bible or Freeman in the rubble of the home.
On December 29, 1999, high school friends Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman spent the evening together celebrating Freeman's sixteenth birthday. Bible received permission from her parents to spend the night at Freeman's home. Earlier that day, the girls had spent time at a local pizzeria with Freeman's mother Kathy.
At approximately 5:30 am on December 30, 1999, a passerby called 9-1-1 reporting that the Freeman home was engulfed in flames. Law enforcement determined the fire had been an arson. Inside the home, the charred remains of Kathy were discovered lying on the floor of her bedroom; she had been shot in the head. Initially, no other remains were located, leading local law enforcement to extrapolate that Ashley's father, Danny Freeman, had slain his wife and fled with both girls. Bible's parked car was in the driveway of the home with the keys in the ignition.
On December 31, Bible's parents Lorene and Jay returned to the scene, hoping to find any additional clues that law enforcement may have missed. Amidst walking around the extensive rubble, they discovered what appeared to be another body and notified the police. The second body was determined to be that of Danny; like his wife, he had also been shot in the head execution-style. Following this discovery, the crime scene was reexamined, yet no sign of Bible or Freeman was found. In 2010, the Freeman family initiated court proceedings to have Ashley declared legally dead.
Suspects and confessions
In the decade following the disappearance of Bible and Freeman, two convicted killers—Tommy Lynn Sells and Jeremy Jones—confessed to murdering them, but subsequently recanted their admissions. Jones had claimed that he murdered Freeman's parents as a favor for a friend over drug debt, then took the girls to Kansas, where he shot them and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine. Searches of the mine Jones identified proved unfruitful, however, and Jones subsequently admitted he had fabricated the story in order to get better food and additional phone privileges in prison.
In a 2001 profile on Unsolved Mysteries, it was mentioned that rumors had circulated among locals that the Craig County Police Department had been feuding with the Freemans at the time over the death of their son, Shane, who was shot by a deputy after stealing a car. While his death was ruled justifiable, the Freemans had threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Danny's brother, Dwayne, claimed that Danny had confided that deputies had tried to intimidate him.
2018 arrest of Ronnie Busick
In April 2018, it was reported that Ronnie James Busick, age 66, had been arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Bible and the Freeman family. Two other suspects—Warren Phillip “Phil” Welch II (died 2007) and David Pennington (died 2015)—were also identified. According to The Washington Post, "at least a dozen" witnesses claimed all three men bragged about raping and murdering Bible and Freeman, and went so far as taking Polaroid photographs of them. Several witnesses alleged that the three men killed the Freemans over drug money, and that the girls were held captive in Welch's trailer for several days before being murdered.
A female witness who lived with Welch a short time after the disappearances provided a sworn affidavit that "she heard conversations between the three men where they disclosed that the murder victims had owed them money," and that Welch kept a briefcase containing the Polaroid photos which showed both girls "bound and gagged with duct tape and lying on a bed," with Welch lying next to the girls in some of the photographs. According to the affidavit, Welch, Pennington, and Busick had claimed to have raped and tortured the girls before disposing of their remains "in a pit" or mine shaft in Picher, Oklahoma. Law enforcement also stated they believed the girls' remains could have been "dumped in a cellar that was later covered in concrete."
In a public address, the Bible family issued a statement in which they stated they had been aware of the alleged photographs "for years,“ and that "At this time all focus is on finding Lauria and Ashley. We welcome all information leading to their recovery. Until they are home with us, this will never be over." After his arrest, Busick told reporters he wished to speak to the Bibles. On April 26, 2018, Bible's mother Lorene confirmed she spoke with Busick, but that he denied knowing the whereabouts of her daughter or Freeman.
The disappearances of Bible and Freeman were profiled on America's Most Wanted in 2000, and on Unsolved Mysteries in 2001. The case was later featured on the series Vanished with Beth Holloway. In 2013, it was profiled on the documentary series Disappeared on Investigation Discovery.
In September 2018, one of the main witnesses in the case against Ronnie Busick, as well as the cold case investigators who filed the charges, gave their first interviews to the Tulsa World for a special report.
The case was featured in a new four part series on HLN titled "Hell In The Heartland" starting June 2nd 2019, which will shed more light on the disappearances of the girls and the main suspects. The show will be hosted by crime writer Jax Miller who is also writing a book on the girls' disappearances which will be released in mid 2020 titled By the Dawn's Early Light.
- Moore, Elizabeth Armstrong (January 26, 2016). "Case of girls missing since 1999 gets new look". USA Today. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Nolan, Caitlin (April 24, 2018). "Man Arrested in Nearly 20-Year-Old Cold Case Killing of Teens, Couple". Yahoo!. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "The Fire". Hell in the Heartland: What Happened to Ashley and Lauria?. June 2, 2019. CNN. Lauria's name is consistently pronounced like "Laura" by family, friends, investigators, and the episode narrator.
- "Lauria Jaylene Bible". The Charley Project. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
- "Ashley Renae Freeman". The Charley Project. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
- Associated Press (April 23, 2018). "Murder Charges Filed in 18-Year-Old Oklahoma Abduction Case". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "Lauria Bible & Ashley Freeman". Unsolved Mysteries. Retrieved April 29, 2018 – via Unsolved.com.
- Swenson, Kyle (April 26, 2018). "Disappearance of two Okla. girls stumped police for 18 years. Then they learned about the Polaroids". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "A timeline of the 1999 case of missing Welch girls Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible". Tulsa World. April 24, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Stogsdill, Sheila (April 28, 2018). "18 years later, finally answers: How investigators solved the murders of 2 Welch girls". Tulsa World. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Inside Edition Staff (January 4, 2018). "Newly Found Investigation Notes Provide Leads in 1999 Cold Case of Missing Girls". Inside Edition. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Stogsdill, Sheila (January 16, 2016). "Search for missing Welch girls turns up empty". The Miami News-Record. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Helling, Steve; Pelisek, Christine (April 27, 2018). "Graphic Polaroids Lead to Arrest of Man Accused of 1999 Abduction and Murder of 2 Oklahoma". People. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Palin, Megan. "Accused killer of missing teens charged following new evidence almost 20 years later". News.com.au. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Stogsdill, Sheila (April 23, 2018). "Charges filed in 18-year-old northeast Oklahoma slayings". NewsOk. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "Man charged in Oklahoma killings says he'll talk to families". Times Union. April 26, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Mummolo, Burt (April 26, 2018). "Mother of Lauria Bible speaks to alleged perpetrator". ABC8 Tulsa. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "Out of the Ashes". Disappeared. January 21, 2013. Investigation Discovery.
- World, Tulsa. "Still Missing: Inside the Welch Girls Investigation: A Tulsa World Special Report". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
- "Documentary series on disappearance of Ashley Freeman, Lauria Bible from Welch debuts Sunday". Tulsa World. May 31, 2019. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
- Lehr, Jeff (May 18, 2019). "Disappearance of area girls HLN series focus". Joplin Globe. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
- District court affidavit detailing crime and Busick's involvement (April 23, 2018)