On December 29th, 1999, Lauria Bible celebrated her friend, Ashley Freeman's 16th birthday. The girls spent the day together and ended up having a sleepover that night. Somewhere between the hours of 5:30 to 6:00 AM on December 30th 1999, a passerby called 911 to report that the Freeman house was engulfed in flames. Ashley's parents, Kathy and Danny Freeman were found dead, but the girls were missing. Ashley and Lauria had been kidnapped by Ronnie Busick, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington. Kathy and Danny Freeman were murdered over drug money and the girls were held in a trailer for several days before being murdered and their bodies haven't been located.
Today's story is from Oklahoma. Ashley Freeman was a member of the Welch High School basketball team and Lauria Bible was a cheerleader who planned on becoming a cosmetologist after high school. Both girls were well-behaved, never really got in trouble,a and were great friends.
On December 29th, 1999, Lauria Bible celebrated her friend, Ashley Freeman's 16th birthday. Lauria got permission from her parents to have a sleepover at Ashley's trailer home. Ashley's mom, Kathy, took the girls to a local pizza place. After dinner, they met up with Ashley's boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst, at a local Wal-Mart. Jeremy gave Ashley her birthday gift, a silver chain with a heart-shaped pendant embedded with her birthstone. Jeremy arrived at Ashley's place and the girls were just shortly behind him. The Freeman's trailer didn't have running water and was heated by a wood-burning stove in the living room, but they did have phone service and electricity. The Freeman's were avid hunters and loved the outdoors and living in the remote location. They had a stockpile of firearms in their home. Around 9:30 PM is when Jeremy stated he left the Freeman's home. Some relatives that were there that night, say he actually left about 10:30 PM. Either way, he didn't stay too late because the girls had plans in the morning. Ashley was going to take her driver's test and Lauria had to make sure she got home in time to get to her dental appointment.
Somewhere between the hours of 5:30 to 6:00 AM on December 30th, 1999, a passerby called 9-1-1 and reported that the Freeman house was engulfed in flames. During the investigation, law enforcement determined that the fire was arson. Inside the home, they found the charred remains of Ashley's mother, Kathy, lying on the floor of her bedroom, and she had been shot in the head. The police didn't see anyone else in the home at first. They wondered, could Ashley's father, Danny Freeman, have murdered his wife and taken off with the girls? The scene wasn't making sense. Lauria's car was parked in the driveway and the keys were in the ignition.
On December 31st, Lauria's parents, Lorene and Jay Bible went to the scene. They were hoping they could find an additional clue that may have been missed. They were walking around and suddenly, they found something. It looked like another body, so they notified the police. Just for the record, Lauria's parents are fucking rock stars. They led a team of volunteers and combed the property for clues. They also refused to leave the property until they knew the place had been thoroughly searched this time. Authorities told Lorene to leave and let them do their jobs. She said, “I let you do your job yesterday, and nine of you told me you were 100% sure there wasn't another body in there. If you're going to be part of this, you're just going to have to do it our way.”
It was determined that the second body was Danny and he had been shot in the head execution style. The police reexamined the crime scene and there was still no sign of the young girls, Ashley and Lauria. They did find something else though. Lauria's purse was discovered and it had her driver's license and $200 in cash. It didn't make sense that she would leave the house without this, and it certainly pointed to a possible abduction. Lorene told reporters that Ashley was saving money to purchase a used vehicle and she believed that she had about $1200 saved up. Her boyfriend Jeremy said that Ashley told him she actually had $3 to $4000 saved for the car. She had been working part-time at Roscoe's convenience store in Welch. Jeremy says that Ashley didn't have a bank account, so she kept her money in a sealed Tupperware container in the family's freezer. The police were not able to find this money after the fire.
Lorene did tell authorities that Ashley and her father, Danny had been arguing a lot over a vehicle. Ashley had a different idea than her father about what she wanted. Danny had a violent temper and had been charged in the past with abusing his son, Shane, in 1998. He was acquitted of these charges in 1999 and always denied the allegations.
The medical examiner determined that Danny's right collarbone had been fractured prior to the fatal gunshot wound. The coroner said that Kathy died at approximately 5:00 AM.
To say that this was botched from the beginning, would be an understatement. An arson investigation wasn't ordered, the second body wasn't discovered at the scene on the first day, and an alert wasn't put out for the missing girls. This is why Lauria's parents took over, they had to.
Two convicted killers, Tommy Lynn Sells and Jeremy Jones have confessed to murdering Ashley and Lauria, but they've both recanted. Jeremy Jones claimed that he murdered Ashley Freeman's parents as a favor for a friend over drug debt, took the girls to Kansas, shot them, and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine. The mines were searched and nothing was found. Afterwards, Jeremy Jones admitted that it was all a lie and he was just trying to get better food and better phone privileges in prison.
In 2001, the show Unsolved Mysteries, mentioned a rumor that the locals had been discussing. It was rumored that the Craig County Police Department had been feuding with the Freeman's at the time of their murder and the fight was over the death of their son, Shane, who was shot by a deputy after stealing a neighbor's truck and gun. Shane's death ended up being ruled justifiable, but the Freeman's threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Danny Freeman's brother, Dwayne, was claiming that Danny told him the deputies were trying to intimidate him. Danny said, if anything ever happened to him, look at the sheriff's department.
This all looks very bad, but the Craig County Sheriff's Department voluntarily handed the case over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. They consented to polygraph tests and they were all cleared and it was concluded that they had nothing to do with the murders or the missing girls.
After the murders, the small town was talking. They were saying that Danny was a small-time drug trafficker. The police just didn't think the pieces fit correctly. Why would the children be abducted if the murder was drug related? They just didn't think it made sense. There was another theory. What if Ashley Freeman murdered her own parents and then she took off with Lauria. It was something that had to be considered. It was known that Danny and Ashley didn't have a great relationship.
Lauria's parents were not going to give up. They led their own investigation and they were fearless. Lorene often put herself in harm's way and she drove a pickup truck filled with people who had connections to the drug cartel so she could meet a notorious and violent drug kingpin. This bad ass lady, met the kingpin. They said, “How do you know I won't kill you?” She calmly replied, “How do you know I won't kill you?” She questioned the kingpin until she was absolutely certain that the drug cartel had nothing to do with the disappearance of Ashley and Lauria. Afterall, they did make a valid point. No cartel would risk kidnapping American teenagers, it would bring too many cops.
In April 2018, 66-year-old Ronnie Dean Busick was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Lauria and the Freeman family. There were two other suspects, Warren Phillip Welch II who died in 2007 and David Pennington who died in 2015. According to The Washington Post, there were at least a dozen witnesses that claimed all three of the men were bragging about raping and murdering Ashley and Lauria and they took Polaroid photos of them. The witnesses stated that the Freeman's WERE actually killed over drug money and the girls were held in Welch's trailer for several days before they were murdered. There are SO many stories about Welch. He apparently disciplined his children with cattle prods. One time, his wife forgot to get butter and he took a hammer to her fingers.
There was a female witness who lived with Welch for a bit and she provided a sworn affidavit that she heard conversations between the three men where they stated that the murder victims owed them money. She also said that Welch had a briefcase that had the photos of the girls, bound and gagged with duct tape, lying on a bed. Welch was lying next to the girls in some of the photos. It's stated that Welch, Pennington, and Busick claimed they raped and tortured the girls before they put their bodies in a pit or mine shaft. This lady was terrified to talk to the police when she originally found out who killed the girls. Several witnesses saw the photos, but they were all threatened.
An auto insurance verification card was found near the scene of the crime a few days after the murders. The police didn't find this, one of the search parties did. The card belonged to Welch's then-girlfriend. She was questioned and said she didn't know the Freeman family, hadn't been to their home, and had no clue how her card got there. She admitted that Welch knew Danny and was their neighbor, living in a house that was less than a mile from their trailer. So, that means DAYS after the murders, police already knew there was a connection to these guys. According to a witness, Pennington says they were all at the Freeman's residence and the parents were buying drugs from them. Suddenly, Ashley and Lauria walked into the room. Pennington claimed that they decided right then to take the girls and “have some fun”. He referred to them as “two little bitches”.
Ronnie Busick was sentenced to 10 years behind bars and 5 years of probation. He would have been sentenced to only five years if he would have led investigators to the girls' remains. Ronnie originally faced first-degree murder for his role in this case. He admitted that he withheld information and plead guilty to one count of accessory to murder in the first degree. He received credit for his 2018 arrest in connection to this crime. Lorene got to speak to Ronnie in court and she was a total warrior. She said, “They were young and beautiful, but you know that. They were innocent, but you and your other buddies took that away from them. She was not yours for the taking, but you did anyway. When you took her though, you messed with the wrong girl. You see, though you stole her from us and all of her future from us, you will never steal our memories of her. They aren't tainted by the awful things you did to her. And we, the family of Lauria Bible, are faced with a choice of forgiveness. That's a tough place to be, because forgiving you would mean betraying her. Would she forgive you? The answer is yes. She would have forgiven you if she had the chance.”
She ended the statement by letting Ronnie know that he was an evil man and said, “May God have mercy on you.”
Now, the whole reason Ronnie got a plea deal with such a small sentence was because he promised to tell investigators where the girls' bodies are, but he hasn't followed through. Lorene Bible is very sick and wants some resolution. She is in stage 4 liver failure. She needs a liver transplant and has to see multiple doctors. At this point, Lorene should be completely focused on her health, but that isn't possible because she's still searching for Lauria and Ashley.
Ronnie did admit that on the night of the abduction, Ashley and Lauria tried to run and hide, but they grabbed them, tied them up with rope, stuffed socks in their mouths and abducted them. He says they kept the girls alive for two weeks before they were murdered. Police have continued to search for the girls, but they doubt that they will find them at this point. Ronnie claims he has suffered from memory loss and doesn't remember what happened that night or where the girls are. He has suffered brain damage from all of the drug use and there was also an incident in 1978, when he was shot in the head.
I'll leave you with this last quote from Lorene Bible. She says, “I'm a storm to be reckoned with, and I need a place to say, that's where my daughter is. You lose a loved one, you go to a cemetery. I don't have that. And that's what I want.”
Murders of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman
Lauria Bible & Ashley Freeman
How 'Fearless' Loren Bible, Mom of One of the 'Hell In The Heartland' Girls, Kept Her Daughter's Case Alive
Mother of Murdered Teen In 'Hell in the Heartland' Case Pleads For Help Locating Child's Body As Her Liver Fails
Missing Welch Girls: Ronnie Busick Sentenced to 10 Years as Lauria Bible's Mother Calls Him 'Evil Man'
Missing Welch Girls: Man reveals new information after conviction
Hell hath no fury than a mother ignored: A mom's quest for justice
The Charley Project