Man Charged With Murder, Kidnapping In Craig County Cold Case
CRAIG COUNTY, Oklahoma - Officials announced the arrest of a suspect in the 1999 deaths of a Welch couple and the kidnapping and deaths of two young girls during a news conference Monday, April 23, 2018.
Ronnie Dean Busick is charged in the deaths of Danny, Kathy, and Ashley Freeman and Ashley's friend Lauria Bible. He is also charged with kidnapping and first-degree arson.
The 66-year-old man currently sits in a Kansas jail. Two other men, Warren Philip "Phil" Welch II and David A. Pennington, are implicated in the deaths but have themselves died.
The girls' bodies have not been found.
After 18 years of questions, investigators finally have some answers for the families and friends of the Freemans and Lauria Bible.
Bible spent the night at Freeman's Welch home on December 29, 1999. The next day, Freeman's parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were found shot to death inside their burned home, but there were no signs of the girls.
District 12 District Attorney Matt Ballard said the three men held the girls captive for days after their kidnapping. Photos were taken of the girls in the last days of their lives - photos seen by a number of people, he said.
"They've learned these young ladies' final days were certainly horrific, and today's announcement no doubt comes as little solace to their grief," Ballard said of the victims' family members.
Investigators will continue to make the crimes a top priority, as is bringing the bodies of the girls home to their families, he said.
The Craig County Sheriff's office said in December 2017, a box of case notes about the disappearance of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible was discovered in a closet. The notes were from the previous administration.
Investigators said the box contained new information that helped convince them they were on the right path. There were also names of other people that might have important information.
"The main investigators in this most recent phase of the case have found witnesses that prove the three co-defendants talked a lot," said Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey.
"There was physical evidence in the form of photos, and we can be certain several people out there could come forward right now and tell us where to find Ashley and Lauria."
The affidavit of probable cause states that an OSBI agent interviewed an informant in 2001 who said they had seen photos of the two girls who were bound and gagged. The informant, identified as TW, said she lived with Phil Welch in 2000 and overheard conversations among the three men about the people who were killed in Welch.
TW told the OSBI agent Welch was a meth "cooker" and the men had gone to the Freeman trailer to collect money owed to them. TW also said the men took the girls to Phil Welch's trailer house and eventually killed them. In the photographs the girls were lying on a bed she recognized was in Welch's Picher home.
In February, 2017, Craig County Undersheriff Tony Chenoweth notified Rogers County District Attorney Investigator Gary Stansill that a crate containing reports and files related to the Freeman murders and missing Welch girls had been discovered. The information in the crate - some mentioning Welch, Pennington and Busick - was not in OSBI's case file.
Stansill and Agent Tammy Ferrari began interviewing the people mentioned in the documents and were able to build a case against the three men in the deaths. Several of the informants said Welch had threatened their lives should they ever tell authorities what they knew. He told three different people they would be killed and their bodies thrown in the same pit in Picher where he had left the girls' bodies.
Lauria's mother, Lorene, spoke at the news conference about her determination over the years to find answers.
"When your child goes missing, you leave it to the authorities, that they're the experts," she said. "We found out at first that sometimes they're not."
Lorene Bible said she understood there are people who have information about the girls but haven't come forward because they are afraid for their lives or the life of a loved one. She said every bit of information is a piece of the puzzle that could bring the girls home.
"I need a place where I can go and say, 'that's where my daughter is,'" she said.
Authorities ask anyone with information about the girls to come forward so they can find the bodies of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible.