Freeman & Bible
On December 29th, 1999, a teenager named Lauria Bible was spending the night with her friend, Ashley Freeman. They were celebrating Ashley's 16th birthday, and it was the first time that Lauria had been allowed over to Ashley's home in a year-and-a-half. At around 6:00 AM, on the morning of December 30th, a passing motorist noticed flames emerging from the Freeman's country home. When police arrived, they found a suspicious scene... but the events that would unfold later on cemented this story as one of the most enduring mysteries of the 21st century.
January 14th, 2018 Kristen Skinner & Micheal Whelan
Welch, Oklahoma, a town in northern Craig County, is located roughly eight miles south of the Kansas state line. This is a small town, with a population of roughly 600 people at the dawn of the new millennium. Surprisingly, this small population makes it the second largest town in Craig County, just to give you some indication of the area and its size.
At roughly 5:30 in the morning, on the morning of December 30th, 1999, a call is forwarded to the local fire department. A trailer located just outside of Welch city limits, at the end of a half-mile dirt driveway, is on fire.
In the frigid winter air, Welch authorities fought to contain and extinguish the inferno, which was now burning out of control. By the time the blaze was fully extinguished, the trailer had been reduced to a pile of rubble and ash.
Within the wreckage, investigators would find the bodies of the homeowners, Danny and Kathy Freeman. Missing from the scene - and nowhere to be found - were Danny and Kathy's sixteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, and her best friend, Lauria Bible, who had been spending the night.
Their disappearance would launch an investigation that would span over eighteen years and explore a variety of motives including burglary, kidnapping, drugs, serial killers, sexual assault, and a police cover-up. With seemingly no stone left unturned, the families of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible would spend weeks, months, and years wondering what happened on that fateful night just before New Year's Eve.
Married at a young age, Danny and Kathy Freeman lived together in a small rural town in Craig County named Vinita. Vinita, which contained a predominant Native American population, was the second oldest town in the state, having been established in the middle of the 19th century.
Boasting a population of just over 6700 residents in 1980, Vinita was referred to as the "Crossroad to Green Country." It's a nickname that rings true, as Vinita - which is located in northeastern Oklahoma - sits at the base of the Ozark Highlands where forests blend into the golden prairies which define the state.
On November 6th, 1981, twenty-two-year old Danny and nineteen-year old Kathy welcomed their first child into the world, Shane. A little over two years later, on December 29th, 1983, their family continued to grow when Kathy gave birth to a daughter, named Ashley.
With their four-piece family complete, the Freemans would relocate to the outskirts of Welch, Oklahoma, roughly seventeen miles from Vinita... depending upon which route you would take.
The Freeman property was identifiable by the mailbox that sat on top of an iron-chain stand. The half-mile dirt driveway was marked with a rock entrance that led to the family home, which was only slightly visible at night thanks to very few light poles in the area.
The Freeman family was known for their love of the outdoors and they were avid hunters, so it was no surprise that there was a stockpile of firearms inside the home. Despite her young age, Ashley would often assist with hunting trips to put food on the table.
The Freemans also enjoyed living in a remote location, and while their mobile home was equipped with telephone and electricity, they did not have running water and relied primarily upon a wood-burning stove to heat their home.
Danny had accumulated an impressive arrowhead collection, many of which he found while out walking along Cabin Creek behind their home. Cabin Creek was a location where Union and Confederate forces had engaged each other during the Civil War, and to this day still has a strong historical significance.
Needless to say, I wouldn't mention Danny's arrowhead collection if it wouldn't come into play later on.
The Freeman family dynamic was often strained.
Danny, suffering from a work-related injury, struggled to find steady employment. The family relied on Kathy's income from her job at Doctor's Optical Supply Company, where she was noted as being a dependable and caring person. Despite this kind nature, the position didn't pay all that well, and finances would become extremely tight in the Freeman household.
Danny reportedly grew marijuana for personal use near the family's home and several community members would later admit to having purchased the drug from him.
In addition to employment and financial woes, Danny's violent temper appeared to cause serious problems within the family. In 1985, Danny was charged with assaulting his father-in-law after the latter trimmed the bushes and shrubs in their yard without his consent.
There have also been rumors that Danny was abusive towards his children, in particular Ashley, but this has never been confirmed so I will again emphasize that this is just a rumor. Even so, there were signs of things in the Freeman home deteriorating, so much so that both Ashley and Shane tried to avoid spending time there as often as possible.
Lauria, Ashley's best friend, was banned from spending the night at the Freeman home for over a year-and-a-half due to her parent's concerns about the environment there. Lauria's mother, Lorene, has stated that Ashley spent a majority of her time either at the Bible family home or at the home of another of her friends. Lorene has also spoken about the reasoning for this being the aforementioned issues within the Freeman household.
Friction within the family continued to grow throughout 1998, when Ashley's brother Shane - who was never a particularly quiet or obedient kid - faced suspension and expulsion as a result of his ongoing behavioral issues. While Danny and Kathy often met with teachers and various school officials to discuss potential solutions, many believed that it was Danny's treatment of his son that caused him to act out in the first place. In an attempt to help Shane cope with his psychological and behavioral issues, he was required to see a school counselor on a regular basis. According to this counselor, it was during these sessions that Shane detailed a deeply abusive relationship between father and son.
One day, at the age of sixteen, Shane arrived at school displaying what appeared to be signs of physical abuse. The school staff expressed concern for the teenager's physical and psychological well-being. After noting that Shane's buttocks were bruised and bleeding, those same school officials contacted authorities.
Shortly thereafter, in August of 1998, Danny Freeman was charged with abuse. While prosecutors made a case for excessive force, Danny maintained his innocence, arguing that the incident - that of a parent simply punishing his child for reckless behavior - was being blown out of proportion.
During this time period, as Danny Freeman prepared to face charges, Shane was removed from the home by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The DHS, if you will - an organization I made references to throughout the "Hughes" Family episodes.
Shane and his family were ordered to participate in a counseling program. When this program was completed, Shane was allowed to move in with some friends of his. His attitude had improved significant. Lorene Bible, the mother of Ashley's friend Lauria, allowed Shane to visit their home and stay whenever he felt like it, hoping that providing a friendly and welcoming home would continue to improve his behavior.
Unfortunately, things would continue to take a turn for the worst. Shane Freeman began breaking into homes, where he would shower, help himself to food, and then make off with money and small items.
"He did some stealing, but he just wasn't violent," said Shane's father, Danny, in a 1999 news article.
According to Danny, despite the crimes Shane was committing, most didn't want to report Shane to authorities because nobody wanted to see him in trouble. Even so, Shane's behavior resulted in several run-ins with local police and he soon became well-known among members of the Craig County Sheriff's Department.
At the beginning of the New Year in 1999, Shane's grandmother gave him the keys to her truck which he did not return. Then, after stealing a red flashing light - similar to those found on police cruisers - he began driving down US Highway 69 toward his aunt's house in Louisiana. McAlester Police began to receive reports that a man was attempting to pull people over and dispatched some officers to investigate.
Police found Shane with a young woman he had pulled over on the side of the road. Recognizing the police, Shane quickly jumped into his grandmother's truck and led the officers on a high-speed chase outside of town. Eventually, this led to a wooded area, where Shane proceeded to abandon the truck and run into the woods.
Believing that Shane was impersonating an officer, police conducted a search with tracking dogs, but they lost the scent of this perpetrator before long. Shane's crime would go unknown for the time being, and they dubbed this criminal the "Red Light Bandit".
Shane would later brag about his possession of the red light to friends at school, and when local newspapers reported on the "Red Light Bandit," many became suspicious that the suspect was - indeed - Shane Freeman.
On January 7th, 1999, Shane stole a number of items from the Bible household, including small personal items, money, and at least one of the family's firearms.
The following day, on January 8th, the stolen vehicle that Shane was driving broke down on a back country road north of Welch, Oklahoma. It's unclear if the problem with the vehicle was mechanical or if he simply lost air in a tire, but several farmers were reported to have recognized him and offered to give him a lift into town. They did this, Danny contended, because they knew him to be a well-mannered kid who had no history of violence or aggression. This is, of course, despite his reputation as being a local bandit and his own reputation of claiming to be the Red Light Bandit.
Ultimately, Shane elected to stay with the vehicle and it was there that Deputy David Hayes pulled up behind him. According to Hayes, when he confronted Shane, the teenager reached behind his back and pulled out a .22 caliber handgun. Hayes contends that he ordered Shane to surrender and give up the gun, but that Shane chose a confrontation instead. This prompted Deputy Hayes to shoot and kill 17-year old Shane Freeman.
Several members of the Freeman family disagreed with Deputy Hayes' version of events. They argued that it was unlike Shane to be confrontational with law enforcement and that he had a history of running away from authorities. That said, friends close to Shane reported that he had contemplated committing suicide in the past, and even floated the idea of suicide-by-cop.
An autopsy confirmed that Shane was shot toward the back of the body, leading his family to believe that he was turning to run, and not facing the deputy with his gun drawn, as Officer Hayes described.
An investigation into Officer Hayes' actions concluded that they were justified.
Missouri newspaper, the Joplin Globe, reported that the Craig County Sheriff's Department and the Craig County District Attorney ignored the newspaper's request for documents related to the shooting. Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, law enforcement agencies are required to make available to the public a number of documents, if kept, including any incident and arrest reports. This also requires a prompt response and reasonable access to the records on behalf of law enforcement.
George Vaughn, Craig County Sheriff at the time of the shooting, said that all material related to the death of Shane Freeman was present when he left office. Incoming Sheriff Jimmie Sooter, who took office in January of 2001, stated that it was his policy to deny all open records inquiries, and that he believed the records related to the shooting had actually gone missing.
They were eventually released to the Joplin Globe in April of 2002.
Despite the results of the investigation, the Freemans threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Craig County Sheriff's Department.
In the months following Shane's passing, Danny Freeman inquired about the location of Deputy David Hayes' residence and would visit there regularly, often watching his family - including children - and following them in his car.
Hayes, despite being an officer in Welch for less than a week before the shooting of Shane Freeman, was an experienced lawman with a prior history working for the Vinita and Big Cabin City police forces.
Investigators, apparently believing that Danny was planning to avenge his son's death, would routinely visit the Freemans' neighborhood, parking close to their trailer to keep an eye on his movements. Danny told his brother, Dwayne, that he believed it was an attempt by the deputies to intimidate him and his family... he even went as far as saying that if anything were to ever happen to him, it would be the fault of the local police.
Several witnesses confirm seeing police vehicles parked in the area, although the motive for their presence has never been officially confirmed.
This so-called "feud" between the Freeman family and local law enforcement prompted Kathy and Ashley to search for a new residence in Louisiana, but they eventually returned to Oklahoma when Kathy decided to simply ignore the alleged harassment.
Danny Freeman's abuse trial proceeded, despite Shane's death. The jury ultimately acquitted him of the charges stacked against him.
Before I continue, I need to take a step back for a moment.
What I just told you was a bit of a side-bar, about the life of Ashley's brother, Shane, and his relationship with their father, Danny. What I haven't really gone into yet was the relationship between the two girls, and how it blossomed throughout their lives.
Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, born just eight months apart in 1983, met in kindergarten and immediately became best friends. Even when the Freemans moved outside of the Welch city limits, resulting in Ashley switching schools, they remained close. According to Lauria's mother, Lorene, the two girls had differing interests, but that didn't hinder their bond in any way.
In contrast with her brother, Ashley Freeman was an intelligent, active, well-liked kid who never got into any trouble. With dark blonde hair, blue eyes, and an athletic build, Ashley was a proud member of the Welch High School basketball team. Equally invested in academics as she was in basketball, Ashley was also a member of her school's National Honour Society. She had a passion for the outdoors and frequently hunted for food to provide for her family.
Lauria, on the other hand, was an artist that loved to draw, paint, and make scented candles. A cheerleader with brown hair and hazel eyes, Lauria loved to do hair and make-up and planned to attend cosmetology school upon graduation. She loved spending time with children, and made money working as a babysitter throughout the area, often packing a babysitting suitcase that she would take with her whenever she got a call for a job.
Ashley Freeman worked part-time at Roscoe's, a convenience store in Welch, and was saving money to buy a used car. This was a point of contention between Ashley and her father, and the two supposedly argued in early December about which car Ashley should buy. Exactly how much money she had managed to save is unclear. Lorene Bible, Lauria's mother - who knew Ashley well - believed the total to be over $1200, which was kept in a savings account.
Meanwhile, Ashley's boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst, argued that Ashley didn't have a bank account and instead kept her savings - totaling over $4000 - in a sealed tupperware container in the family's freezer.
Members of the Freeman family have confirmed that Ashley did keep her money in the freezer, however none have been able to verify the exact dollar amount.
On Wednesday, December 29th, 1999, Ashley and Lauria went out for dinner to celebrate Ashley's 16th birthday. Lauria had slept over the night before for the first time in over a year, and her parents decided to let her stay an additional night so that she wouldn't have to drive home in the dark.
Lorene Bible told authorities that Kathy Freeman took the girls to Pizza Hut in Vinita for dinner. It's possible that the girls had intended to go to Pizza Hut and changed their minds later on, as officials believe they ended up visiting Big Bill's Barbecue in the 350 block of North Wilson Street in Vinita.
After dinner, Ashley's boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst, met the trio at a local Wal-Mart, where he gave Ashley a silver chain with a heart-shaped pendant embedded with her birthstone.
Travelling in Kathy's blue Toyota, the group - including Jeremy - stopped to pick up feed for the Freemans' livestock and water before returning to the Freeman trailer.
Jeremy told investigators that nothing appeared amiss during his visit, and that he departed at approximately 9:30 PM. However, relatives of Danny that were also present at the Freeman home that evening indicated that he left closer to 10:30.
The following morning, both girls were supposed to have been gone early, with Lauria scheduled for a dental appointment and Ashley planning to take her driver's test.
Not much information is available about the relatives that visited that evening, likely because they were ruled out as suspects early on in the investigation. The investigation, of course, zeroed in on them because they were the last people known to have seen Danny, Kathy, and Ashley Freeman - as well as Lauria Bible - alive.
At approximately 6:00 AM on the morning of December 30th, 1999, a motorist noticed a fire in the vicinity of the Freeman home and reported it to local authorities.
The Craig County Volunteer Fire Department and members of the Craig County Sheriff's Department raced to the scene, located on the outskirts of Welch, and fought to contain the blaze. One of the first officers on the scene was none other than David Hayes, the same officer responsible for the death of Shane Freeman roughly one year beforehand.
When the last of the flames had been extinguished, investigators taped off the scene and began searching the wreckage while anxious family members - including Lauria's parents, Lorence and Jay Bible - stood at the end of the long driveway awaiting any update. Several hours later, after the fire had been extinguished, the charred remains of an adult female were found face down on the bed located at the front of the residence. These remains would later be identified as Ashley's mother, Kathy.
Once Kathy's body was found, Craig County officials immediately and voluntarily contacted the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) to take over the case, presumably due to the conflict of interest stemming from their strained relationship with the Freeman family.
The OSBI continued to search the wreckage and, expecting to find more bodies, were puzzled when they completed their search and found none. This was especially strange because of the vehicles in or around the Freeman driveway, including a blue Corsica belonging to Lauria Bible, which had the keys sitting in the ignition.
Their puzzlement quickly turned to surprise when the county coroner confirmed Kathy's cause of death: a single shotgun wound to the back of the skull.
With no additional bodies found and the sun disappearing fast, the OSBI released the scene. This happened at approximately 6:00 PM, just twelve or so hours after the fire was first reported.
Investigators immediately shifted focus to their rapidly-developing theory, which centered around the man they had been having issues with in the months beforehand: Danny Freeman.
Their theory was that Danny Freeman shot and killed his wife, set their shared home on fire to destroy any evidence of his wrongdoing, and then kidnapped both teenage girls and fled.
That evening, Lauria's parents were called in and questioned about the Freemans' relationship and any marital discord between them. The OSBI was interested in the family dynamic, especially that between Danny and Kathy Freeman.
During this window of time, investigators informed the Bibles that they were absolutely certain no other bodies had been found in the wreckage of the fire.
The Bibles, believing that authorities were allowing their rocky relationship with Danny to influence the direction of the investigation - and desperate to find clues about the disappearance of their daughter - returned to the scene the following morning. Greeted by charred wood and ashes, the Bibles felt strongly that investigators had not been thorough enough in their search of the wreckage. After all, they had learned about the fire early on December 30th, and stood at the end of the driveway throughout the day as the various teams had worked over the scene.
The Bibles feared that the girls, perhaps frightened by whatever events unfolded in the Freeman's home that evening, had rushed into hiding, possibly in a cupboard, and perished in the ensuing flames.
When the two began combing over the remains of the Freeman home, they immediately noticed the body of a Rottweiler laying among the rubble. The dog, named Sissy, had belonged to Danny, and after spotting the corpse of an animal in the wreckage, the Bibles knew that something was amiss.
Within five minutes of sifting through the ashes, Jay Bible found Danny Freeman's body under debris at the foot of the same bed where the remains of his wife, Kathy, had been found just a day earlier. According to rumors, his remains were covered in footprints from investigators, who had been walking over his body the day before. Lorene quickly ran to phone authorities to notify them of this discovery.
As with Kathy, Danny's death was deemed a murder, the cause of death being ruled as a shotgun wound. The blast had apparently sheared off the bottom portion of his face, having been a particularly close blast. He had also sustained a fracture to the right collarbone prior to the fatal blow that ended his life, suggesting a struggle with his murderer or murderers.
Upon receiving the call, an OSBI investigator returned to the scene to verify the discovery of the body. Lorene Bible reported watching the investigator pick up his radio and say something along the lines of "that thing I came to check on, the answer is yes." Lorene contends that he didn't want to openly confirm on the radio that they, the supposed experts, had somehow overlooked the body of a victim.
At this point, the OSBI intended to conduct a second search of the scene, but Lorene and Jay Bible - now beyond frustrated - argued that the scene was no longer theirs. After all, they had released it more than twelve hours beforehand, the same day that the first body had been discovered.
Instead, the Bibles were joined by roughly 150 local volunteers, who spent the day painstakingly sifting through the remains of the mobile home. They brought in chainsaws to cut the axls on the home, moving items as they went so that they could gain access to sections buried underneath.
In addition to Danny Freeman's body, the Bibles also discovered Lauria's purse propped inside Ashley's bedroom, with her driver's license and approximately $200 still inside of it, as well as the clothes she had packed for her overnight stay. No other evidence of the girls was found at the scene.
Missing from the wreckage, however, was the reported Tupperware container with the money Ashley had been saving to purchase a used vehicle. The lack of glass found at the scene raised some questions, as well. As I mentioned earlier, Danny Freeman had a large and valuable collection of Native American arrowheads. Some of the artifacts had been displayed behind glass in shadow boxes and hung on the walls; others had been in open display. The arrowheads were never found.
The trunk of Lauria's car, largely ignored by authorities the day before, was also searched for possible evidence, but nothing significant was found.
It is theorized that Danny was killed first, and that Kathy was killed while attempting to flee, possible explaining why her gunshot wound was to the back of the skull. The coroner later determined that Kathy had died at approximately 5:00 AM, meaning that the fire had been burning for approximately an hour before being spotted by a passing motorist.
The following day, on January 1st, 2000 - while most people were anticipating the fallout from Y2K - Lorene and Jay Bible were conducting a grid search along with roughly 500 volunteers. On foot, horseback, and ATV, they scoured a ten-mile radius in search of any clue that might lead them to the two missing teenage girls.
At the same time, they began printing thousands of flyers for circulation.
Apart from a muddy shirt and a piece of insurance verification from one of the Freeman vehicles, not even a hint of Ashley or Lauria was found.
Fortunately, the Bibles and some of the Freeman relatives were able to get in touch with John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," and a segment on the story aired just weeks later, gaining them some significant publicity. While hundreds of calls came in as a result of the episode, none turned up with any viable leads.
The families continued to meet with local authorities and report being met with both indifference and ineffectiveness. For example, the family was told that the girls would be put into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computerized index of criminal justice information, on Thursday, January 6th. By Saturday, January 8th, they still hadn't been entered into the system.
As you might imagine, the failure to discovery Danny's body by the OSBI amplified concerns about police sloppiness. It also sparked rumors that members of local law enforcement were actually responsible for the murders and disappearances, and that they were attempting to cover-up their involvement by pinning the blame on Danny.
After all, it was well-known that the Freemans had been planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Craig County Sheriff's Department. The deadline for them to file was January 9th, 2000 - just eleven days after the night in-question.
In an effort to squash public criticism, Deputy David Hayes and his brother - also a member of the local police department - voluntarily took polygraph tests in an attempt to prove that they were not involved in the murder of Danny and Kathy, or the disappearances of Ashley and Lauria.
They passed, but later that year, Deputy David Hayes left the department.
While neither are considered suspects in any case, there are those that still believe that the Craig County Sheriff's Department played a role in that fateful night either by direct involvement or by sloppy police work that would forever hinder the investigation.
While the fire marshal's office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation acknowledged that Danny's body was overlooked during the initial search of the rubble, they had stated that they don't believe any evidence was lost or that the investigation was hampered by the oversight.
The Bible family disagrees: Lorene Bible disagrees. She has since gone on the record, stating that police wasted valuable time investigating Danny's role in the alleged crimes on the day his body should have been discovered.
With both Danny and Kathy's bodies found, and Ashley and Lauria still missing, authorities entertained the idea that Ashley had killed her own parents, setting the fire to cover up her crimes, and fled with Lauria. In this scenario, she would have used the money she had been saving up for a used car, an amount allegedly upwards of $4000, to aid in her departure.
This theory was quickly abandoned. Not only did the girls NOT have a history of violence, it juts didn't make sense that Lauria would leave behind her purse and her own money, and that they would leave behind Lauria's vehicle to make their escape.
In October of 2001, several of the girls' relatives and acquaintances participated in "What Really Happened?" a television program that never aired. They were there for the filming of the show's pilot episode, but the rights were never purchased and the show was shelved and almost immediately forgotten.
DeAnna Dorsey, a nurse who assisted the Freemans on the night of Shane's death - and whose teenage daughter was a friend of Ashley's - appeared on this program.
Shortly after the taping - as in, later the same day - DeAnna was shot and killed at the hospital she worked at. Authorities pinned the murder on a paranoid schizophrenic named Ricky Martin... not to be confused with the Puerto Rican singer of the same name. Martin, who was reportedly angry about the hospital's decision to "downsize," was killed by police shortly after DeAnna's murder.
According to reports, Martin and DeAnna never met one another, making his justification for shooting her sound somewhat asinine... after all, why would someone lash out at a nurse instead of a hospital executive? And why would a mentally ill individual concern himself with the hospital's future decision to downsize?
Going back to the shooting of Shane Freeman, DeAnna Dorsey had been an advocate for the Freeman family. She had long-believed that the police were in the wrong when it came to Shane's death, and she was rumored to have validated several quotes by Danny Freeman, blaming the Sheriff's Office for his future death. Her involvement with the television program about the missing teenage girls - which was immediately followed with her untimely demise - has led to many questions about police involvement.
After ruling out the girls as suspects in the Freeman murders, investigators worked on the theory that intruders entered the home, shot and killed both Danny and Kathy, and then kidnapped the girls, setting a fire to cover their tracks. Investigators considered the possibility that the crimes were connected to Danny's involvement in the drug trade, especially the idea that his murder might have been the result of debts accumulated to the wrong people.
Rumors swirled that the girls were kidnapped and sold into the sex trade. Bounty hunters traveled to Mexico to investigate and, because of Lauria's distinctive facial mole, were confident in confirming that neither of the girls were found there.
Hundreds of thousands of flyers have been distributed across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, but the last confirmed trace of the girls was a scent which police dogs picked up that led across the Freeman yard to a dirt road in rural Craig County.
Over the years, investigators have responded to hundreds of leads that might help them answer what happened to Danny, Kathy, Ashley, and Lauria. Among those leads, several have resuscitated a case that many feel may never be solved.
The first major lead in the case came a two-and-a-half years after the crime took place, in May of 2002, when convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells wrote a letter to the Joplin Globe claiming to be involved in the case. Sells stated that he was headed back to St. Louis, Missouri, and happened to be travelling through Welch, Oklahoma on the night that the girls disappeared.
At the time of this confession, Sells had been in prison for approximately seventeen months. He had been arrested in December of 1999 in Del Rio, Texas, after fatally stabbing a teenage girl. Sells is believed to have murdered at least twenty-two people, however police suspected he may have killed many more.
Several elements of his confession were significantly different than what the evidence showed, including where the Freeman home was in proximity of the road, and he was eventually ruled out as a suspect.
Investigators believe that he confessed to the crimes so that he could spend a day outside of prison, showing officers where he allegedly dumped the bodies of the two girls. No evidence has ever been found to link him to the murders or disappearances, and he was executed by lethal injection in April of 2014.
Another serial killer, Jeremy Bryan Jones, was identified as a possible suspect.
At the time of the fire, Jones lived in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, and was released from jail at approximately 10:30 PM on the night of the crime. Arrest records show that Jones was then arrested for public drunkenness and possession of drug paraphernalia at 4:00 in the morning on December 30th, 1999, roughly 18 miles from the Freeman home.
Jones's previous crimes bear a striking resemblance to the murders of Danny and Kathy Freeman, including one case where Jones raped, shot, and killed a woman before setting her home on fire.
Jones has been in police custody since September 19, 2004, and is estimated to have upwards of twenty-one victims. Investigators questioned Jones in 2005 about the Freeman/Bible case, at which time he reportedly confessed to murdering Ashley's parents and then abducting and killing the girls after they fled the trailer.
This confession contained information that required firsthand knowledge of the crimes and was therefore taken much more seriously than others before it. It's speculated that he was either solely responsible for the crimes, a participant that was present at the scene, or somehow had detailed information about them.
Interestingly, Jeremy Jones was known to Danny Freeman as they shared a mutual friend: then-local drug dealer and currently-convicted killer, Charles Christian Krider. Because of their relationship, it's alleged that Krider knew where the Freemans lived and could have easily relayed that information to Jeremy Jones.
According to Jones' confession - which is detailed in Sheila Johnson's book, "Blood Lust" - he went to the Freeman home on the night of December 29th, 1999, because Danny owed one of his friends money and Jones was going to get Danny to pay up... or otherwise make him do so. Jones originally stated that Danny owed approximately $20,000, but eventually changed this amount to $5000... which is an amount pretty close to whatever Ashley had stored in the family freezer.
While high on methamphetamine, Jones alleged that he went searching for the Freeman home, which he didn't find until some time after midnight. Once found, he claimed to have taken a shotgun out of his truck, entered the trailer, and shot the Freemans in their bedroom while they were sleeping. He then claimed to have scattered some clothing on the floor, dousing it with accelerant before torching the room and returning to his crime.
Then, according to Craig County Sheriff who took the confession, Jones was apparently surprised when Ashley and Lauria ran from the burning trailer toward his truck. According to Jones, they had believed him to be a good Samaritan who was passing by and stopped by to help with the fire. At this point, Jones convinced the girls to get into his truck by telling them that they would go to get help. Instead, he confessed to driving them to a remote area of Kansas, near Galena, where he sexually assaulted one of the girls, shot both - one as she tried to escape - and then threw their bodies into an abandoned mine pit.
Acting on Jones' confession, in June of 2005, investigators searched these abandoned mines. The mines, an important source of development for the state, comprise a series of underground tunnels large enough for large trucks to drive through to collect minerals and rocks. Long holes connecting the tunnel of the mines to the surface were periodically placed to allow for air exchange: to let them "breathe," so to speak.
To assist with the search, authorities hired an outside company called Necrosearch in an effort to ensure that the latest technologies were used to probe the deep and hazardous environment. Despite advanced technologies, the search faced serious roadblocks. As it turned out, the old mines had been used as illegal dumping grounds for years, and the accumulated garbage interfered with ground penetrating radar. The trash also threw off the scent of cadaver dogs, rendering them ineffective with the search. Submersible cameras used to explore caverns of the mines submerged in water also yielded no results.
Ultimately, no evidence of Ashley or Lauria were found.
Shortly after confessing to police, Jeremy Jones recanted all of his confessions, including those related to thirteen additional crimes. He claimed to have lied to authorities to get better food and extra phone privileges in prison. Lorene Bible, however, believes he recanted in an effort to ease the burden on his then-ailing mother.
Jones is currently on death row in Alabama for rape and murder, but has not been charged with anything involving the Freeman family or Lauria Bible.
Ashley Freeman's grandmother, Celeste Chandler, and Lorene Bible have their doubts that Jones is the killer. While they do believe he was at the Freeman house that night, they think that whoever he was with kicked him out of the vehicle being used to transport the girls. They don't think he knows where the girls are, but that he does know more than what he has already told police in various confessions.
In 2009, OSBI investigators revealed that they had received a tip early on that a small, four-door, dark-colored sedan was seen near the Freeman home, travelling east on a rural road towards Welch between 5:30 and 6:00 AM on the morning of December 30th, 1999. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown said that they had to determine if the lead was credible before they released this information to the public.
A year later in 2010, investigators received another tip that a dark-colored pick-up truck was seen heading north towards Chetopa, Kansas, in the same time period between 5:30 and 6:00 AM. Chetopa is approximately twelve miles north of Welch, accessible via US highway 59.
Investigators continue to receive periodic tips about possible sightings of the girls in the early morning hours of December 30th.
In 2015, sixteen years after their disappearance, a woman came forward claiming that a vehicle drove passed her between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, and inside the vehicle, she could see Lauria Bible, who had a look of horror painted onto her face. This woman confessed that she had stayed quiet all of those years because she was scared what might happened to her if her identity had been made public.
No further leads have developed as a result of these vehicle sightings, however the same year as this alleged sighting would also see some new information come to light.
In 2015, authorities learned that Danny had told some friends about an argument had had two weeks before he and his wife were killed. Apparently, two men came to his property looking for... something. What that something is remains unknown, however it's possible - if not downright likely - that this interaction was drug-related. One of the men is said to have known Danny and the other he knew by reputation.
Although it's unclear what this meeting was about, there was a heated exchange and Danny apparently ran the men off of his property and stated that if they came back, he would run them off with a gun.
It's uncertain whether this argument was connected to the case at all, or if it was just a random occurrence that looks suspicious in retrospect. Either way, investigators would like to identity these men and interview them so that they can determine if it is a piece of the puzzle or not.
Lorene Bible has remained very active in the search for her daughter, interviewing potential witnesses, following up on leads, and working closely with law enforcement. She set up a Facebook page called Find Lauria Bible and in 2016, she received a tip that said authorities should check an old well on a property in Chetopa, Kansas.
This property had once been owned by convicted murderer, Charlie Krider. If you recall, Krider was a local drug dealer at the time of the girls' disappearance and was known to Danny. He was also featured in Jeremy Jones' confession to police as one of the friends that Danny owed money to.
Investigators searched the well, but all that they could find was an old bucket.
Authorities later learned that a two-story home with a basement burned down on the property years beforehand, and thinking that they might have searched the wrong place, returned to the old Krider residence and dug in and around the area of the destroyed house. Yet again, no trace of the girls were found.
Celeste Chandler, Ashley Freemans' grandmother, hired a private investigator to look into the case, who gave her the names of three people with criminal histories. Celeste believes at least one of these men - if not all of them - was involved in her family's crime.
This private investigator met with authorities and gave them the information about the suspects, but according to Chandler, authorities weren't very interested in cooperating. Lorene Bible also believes that these three suspects were involved, and even visited one of the men while he was sitting in a Tulsa jail.
Because the three suspects have never been charged, their names are not public record. Former County Sheriff Jimmie Sooter maintains that there is no proof that the three men were involved.
In 2010, surviving members of the Freeman family had Ashley legally declared dead. Lorene Bible refuses to do the same with Lauria and stresses that even though it's likely that her daughter has passed away, she won't stop looking until she finds her. Until then, she and her daughter can never have peace.
According to members of the Craig County District Attorney's office, Lorene's persistence has paid off, with the case being more active in recent years than it has ever been.
As of January 2017, investigators have conduced a number of interviews, at least one inside of a prison. They've also hypnotized a possible witness to get information the person couldn't consciously recall.
Lorene has noted that many of the people coming forward were the children of people involved in the drug world and other not-so-flattering lifestyles. She thinks that there is someone out there that has information which could crack the case, but that they are too afraid to come forward.
In addition, a number of leads that came in early on in the investigation to the OSBI and Craig County were apparently never followed up on. Now, according to Lorene, those leads are coming in once again, only this time, they are coming directly to her.
Just a short time ago, in the early days of this January, 2018, the Craig County Sheriff, Heath Winfrey, announced that they had made a find in the still-active cold case.
Long-lost detective's notes and documents, accumulated by the prior administration, had been discovered in a police department closet. The mass of papers, left in an old office crate, had been presumed lost over the years.
Despite the age of the investigation, these notes harken back to the original thoughts that detectives and investigators had. Primarily, the leads, which are harder to come by as an investigation persists.
"These notes and documents have proven to be extremely valuable," said Gary Stansill, District 12's DA Office Investigator. "This information has produced leads that have produced additional leads."
While this information hasn't immediately appeared to be the smoking gun needed to solve the case, it has opened up new investigative avenues that police have long thought closed. After all, this information surfaced early this month, just days before I record this episode. Only time will tell how this find affects the investigation, and whether it comes up with any new suspects.
Despite Lorene's mission to find her daughter and her efforts to "stir the pot," as she calls it, the disappearances of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible - as well as the murders of Danny and Kathy Freeman - remain unsolved.
A $50,000 reward has been established for any information that leads authorities to the girls' whereabouts.
The surviving members of the Freeman family are split on what they think happened to the Freemans and the missing girls. Several believe that local law enforcement are responsible for the crimes, while others - including Celeste Chandler - believe people known to Danny were involved.
The Bibles have their own ideas.
Regardless of who committed the crimes, Lorene thinks that it will all come back to Danny: who he knew, the activities he was involved in, etc. She firmly believes that whoever killed the Freemans didn't know that the girls were home at the time. Lorene thinks that the girls took those responsible by surprise when they ran out of the house, away from the growing fire. She continues to fight to find answers so that she can bring Lauria and Ashley home.
Anyone with information about the case should get in touch with Lorene Bible via her Facebook page, "Find Lauria Bible," or call the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation hotline at (405) 848-6724.
The disappearance of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, as well as the murders of Danny and Kathy Freeman, remain unresolved.
April 23rd, 2018 Micheal Whelan
In the early morning hours of December 30th, 1999, the body of Kathy Freeman was found in the trailer home she lived in with her family, outside Welch, Oklahoma. A day later, the charred remains of her husband, Danny, were found just feet away. Both had been shot to death, and their remains had been left behind in the trailer, before it was doused in an accelerent and set ablaze.
Missing from the scene, however, was Danny and Kathy's teenage daughter, Ashley, who had been celebrating her sixteenth birthday with her friend, Lauria Bible.
As the scope of this crime scene began to include the past of family patriarch Danny Freeman, it became apparent that this crime was as violent as it was mysterious, and included not only the shooting deaths of Danny and Kathy Freeman, but the abduction of teenagers Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible.
For over eighteen years, the loved ones of these two families have had to struggle with unanswered questions and endless speculation.
When I first brought you this story, back in January of this year, 2018, newly-elected Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey had announced a promising update for this case. After taking office, he and his officers had found an office crate full of abandoned notes and documents pertaining to the county's biggest case: the unsolved Freeman & Bible affair.
Now, just a few months later, it seems like this find has begun to bear some fruit.
The suspect that police have apprehended, Ronnie Dean Busick, has a long history of drug arrests dating back decades... not only arrests before the Freeman & Bible incident, but after, as well.
Now in police custody, in Harvey County Jail in Newton, Kansas, Busick is facing four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of arson. I'm sure that more charges will present themselves as the investigation moves forward.
The police have also identified two other suspects, who have since died.
Warren Phillip Welch II, who died in 2007 at the age of 61, has emerged as the ringleader of this particular incident.
The other suspect, David Pennington, died in 2015 at the age of 56, and has been alleged to have been involved in this crime.
It is believed that the two girls, Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, were kept alive for several days after their abduction. There have long been rumors that some prisoners came forward in the past to tell authorities about there being polaroids showing the girls being held captive at a home on New Year's Eve, a day after their disappearance. These rumors have never been confirmed, but a new affidavit seems to give those rumors some merit.
A 29-page probable cause affidavit claims that the girls, Ashley, and Lauria, were tied up, drugged, and sexually assaulted before being strangled. At least one witness claims to have seen the girls "lying on a bed, facing each other, with their hands tied and their mouths gagged." This same witness claims that the ringleader of the incident, Warren Phillip Welch II, took polaroids of the girls in captivity, including some pictures with him lying next to the bound teenagers. It is said that he kept these photos "like a trophy," in a leather briefcase which he would distribute around to other drug dealers.
It is believed that the home the girls were being held captive in, on or around New Year's Eve, was Welch's mobile home at 412 South College Street, in Picher, Oklahoma - around 25 miles away from the Freeman family trailer in Welch.
It is alleged these three suspects made several statements about their involvement in the murders and abduction. The affidavit claims that the bodies of the two girls were "dumped in a cellar that was later covered in concrete," but police believe that their remains might be found in a pit or mineshaft in the area of Northeastern Oklahoma called the Tar Creek Superfund.
Police are hoping to extract this information from Ronnie Dean Busick, but are also hoping that someone with information will be able to come forward.
A private $50,000 reward still stands for any information leading to the recovery of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible or their remains. If you have any information, please contact the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation tipline at 1-800-522-8017, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.