Updated: Nov 15
"I'll meet with the Devil himself." - Lorene Bible
Lauria Jaylene Bible and Ashley Renae Freeman
Date of Birth: (Lauria) April 18, 1983, (Ashley) December 30, 1983
Height: (Lauria) 5’5” (Ashley) 5'7"
Weight: (Lauria) 130 lbs. (Ashley) 145 lbs.
Marital Status: (Lauria) Single (Ashley) In a relationship with Jeremy Hurst
Characteristics: Both are Caucasian females. Lauria has brown hair, hazel eyes, a mole under her nose, a scar on her head, and pierced ears, Ashley has dark blonde hair, blue eyes, a scar on the upper left side of her forehead, and an athletic build.
Ashley was a tom boy if there ever was one. She really enjoyed hunting and fishing and raising farm animals, as well as being outdoors. Lauria, on the other hand, was a cheerleader who "always in the middle of everything" as described by a family member. She also loved her farm animals. When the girls were little, the only lived 2 miles away from each other and had regular playdates. They quickly became inseparable. Later, in high school, Lauria's family moved to Vinita, sending Lauria to Vinita High school, but that didn't stop the girls from being best friends. Every school break they got and a lot of weekends they spent together.
On the night of December 29, 1999, Ashley Freeman celebrated her sixteenth birthday with her best friend, Lauria Bible, her parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, and her boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst. They celebrated at the Freemans' mobile home in Vinita, Oklahoma. Jeremy left at around 9:30pm. The girls had spent the day prepping for a livestock showing for the county and state fairs as part of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and the 4-H club they both belonged to. Ashley had 2 goats, Jack and Jill. Lauria had two pigs and a lamb.
Sometime during the night or early morning hours of December 30, 1999, a fire erupted inside the Freemans' mobile home. A concerned neighbor who was on their way to work called 911 at around 5:50am on the morning of December 30, 1999 and the Welch Volunteer fire department responded at 6:10am, 20 minutes later. The firefighters fought the flames from 1-3 hours and the trailer collapsed under the pressure of the water coming from the hoses.
The CCSO was at the scene soon after the FD with Sheriff George Vaughn in charge, and along with him came Undersheriff Mark Hayes, LT. Jim Herman, Investigator Charles Cozart, and Deputy Troy Messick.
Dewayne Vancil, Danny Freeman's stepbrother and Ashley's uncle, was 25 minutes away from the home at the doctor's office when he was informed. When he got to the scene, the undersheriff walked him up to the house and informed him that they had found a body. They actually lead him to it, and let him see it. He assumed at this time that it was Kathy Freeman, Ashley's mother.
CCSO depuites noted that the body was found near 7:30am. 3 minutes later, the deputies were back in the front yard, vacating the crime scene. *"The single body found by the fire dept and only briefly observed by deputies was located in one of the bedrooms, lying face down in the wrong direction on the bed. The fire had destroyed much of the body. The upper back and buttocks were burned to the muscle, and the feet and lower legs had been burned off. The skull was shattered. Around the bodies head, bricks were scattered about."* It was initially assumed that the bricks struck her and that was the cause of death.
The deputies out front refused to reenter the home until OSBI showed up.
An autopsy determined that Kathy had been shot to death. Arson investigators determined that the fire had been deliberately set and excellorant had been used.
Police theorized that Danny killed Kathy and abducted Ashley and Lauria because at the time, no other bodies had been found. But how could he have taken the girls when all three cars were still out front? (Danny's, a white 1990 GMC flatbed truck / Kathy's, a silver 1998 Toyota Corolla / and Lauria's, a blue 1989 Chevy Cavalier with the keys still in the ignition.)
No BOLO or alert was put out, and the girls were not entered into the missing person's data base at this time. No one was looking for them.
Laura was suppose to be back home by 9am the next morning for a dentist apt, but by 8:40am, Lauria's brother, Brad, was calling Lorene Bible to tell her that the freeman home was on fire, which he had heard from his girlfriend who lived in Welch at the time.
After CCSO noted Lauria's car at the scene, deputy Troy Messick made the drive from Welch to downtown Vinita to find Lorene Bible. He meet Lorene at her work and said they need to speak. He asked if she knew Ashely Freeman. She said, "Yes, she's my daughters best friend. In fact, Lauria stayed again last night with the Freemans, but their house caught on fire and my son's on his way there to help." He then informed her that the house was totally gone, burned to the ground. Lorene then called her husband, Jay, who came and picked her up and they headed to the Freeman's.
They arrived at 9:15am. By this time, the deputies have the house blocked off and Jay and Lorene only get as far as the end of the driveway. This is where they stayed for the next 10 hours.
Around 10-11am OSBI showed up lead by Steve Nutter. Steve had come from the Ottowa Co Sheriff's Office the next county over where he was working another case. The OSBI finally called the county coroner.
Assistant District Attorney Clint Ward made an appearance on the scene at one point and was heard telling several bystanders that Danny owed a lot of money in drug debt. How he knew this is not clear. He also said that Danny was the prime suspect.
At 3:30pm, The coroner - Medical Examiner Donna Warren, whom Lorene knew personally (she had been Lorene's Mother's Primary Physician), arrived, and she told Lorene that, while she couldn't outright ID the body as Kathy at that point, she did notice that the woman was wearing a wedding band on her left hand and had "bore children." Lorene knew this was Kathy.
Shortly after 4pm, Kathy's body was driven away from the scene.
At 5PM, OSBI was sure there was nothing left the investigate on scene, so they released the crime scene to Dewayne Vancil. Steve Nutter handed him the search warrant they had used to investigate the property. He noticed it was obtained at 2:06pm. At this point, the cars had been briefly inspected for evidence, no furniture had been overturned, no searches of the large property done, and still no BOLO for Danny and the girls.
After the cops left, a civilian search party returned with their horses and four wheelers and did a sweep of the property, but they found nothing. (LB: Tip)
Check episode to hear Lorene tell us about finding Danny. Available early for Patrons on Patreon.
Kathy Freeman was a stay at home mom and Danny went off to work everyday. When Danny was younger, he had accidentally shot himself in the forehead while cleaning a rifle when the breech plug in the rear of the muzzleloader barrel blew back into his head and through his skull. With the plug actually lodged in his brain, Danny drove himself to a local hospital, waited in the ER for 2 hours, got sick of waiting, left and drove another 2 hours to a different hospital where doctors immediately rushed him into the OR for brain surgery replacing part of his skull with bone from his hip.
The next day, Lauria's parents, Lorene and Jay, went back to the home hoping to find a clue. After just five minutes, they were shocked to discover something that investigators had missed: another body, burned almost beyond recognition. It was identified as Danny's; he had also been shot to death at close range with a shotgun.
Ashley and Lauria's bodies weren't among Danny's, nor were they anywhere in the vicinity. However, another search of the property turned up an important clue: Lauria's purse, which was left behind with her driver's license and $200 inside. This suggested that the girls might have been abducted. It also led police to rule out robbery as a motive since the money was left behind.
SHANE FREEMAN - Jan 8, 1999
Three months before his death, Danny had told Dwayne Vancil, that should anything happen to him, to look into the Craig County Sheriff's Department. The alleged feud between the department and the Freemans began when Danny's son, Shane, was shot and killed by a deputy after he stole a truck and a neighbor's gun. Although the shooting was ruled justifiable, Danny was planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the department just before the tragic fire. The sheriff's deputies volunteered to remove themselves from the investigation and turn the matter over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. They cooperated and passed polygraph tests. The Sheriff's Office was later ruled out as being involved in this case.
Dewayne Vancil and his family were out of town in Branson, MO. When they returned home, Dewayne found his truck covered in mud and the tank nearly empty. He knew it had been his nephew, Shane, who he had given permission to access his shop while he was gone. Shane had broken the locks of the house and taken the keys to the truck.
Dewayne immediately went over to Shane's friends home, where he knew Shane was staying, and drug him down the the sheriff's office. He said he wanted to scare a little bit of sense into him. Waiting at the sheriff's office was Shane's parents. They filed a report and told the sheriff's office of all the trouble they've been having with Shane: burglaries, lifting cars, sneaking out, and so on. They arranged to give Shane a tour of the jail - a real "Scared Straight" situation. He straightened up only for a couple of months.
August 20th, 1998
Shane had been stripped of his telephone privileges, and he had begun stealing telephone cord over several days. Danny found out. According the Shane, Danny "hit him more than 30 times with the telephone cord, along with slapping him in the face, and punching him with his fist three time. Shane went to the Sheriff's office and reported it. He did not return home after that. Troy Messick met with Danny at a convenient store where Danny reported Shane as a runaway.
Sept 2nd, 1998
An arrest warrant is issued for Danny charging him with Injury of a Minor Child (felony).
Oct 20, 1998
Shane testifies in court in the preliminary hearing.
Nov 6th, 1998
Shane turns 17.
January 4, 1999
Shane has been staying with friends. He takes his friend's truck without permission along with a large gun (friend claims not to know where the gun came from). He showed up at his gma's house and begged her for her car keys claiming someone was going to kill him. He wouldn't tell her who. He eventually said "they're going to kill me if I don't get somewhere." Gma handed him the keys and he took off.
What followed was a 4 day long crime spree earning the name "The Red Light Bandit."
One theory speculated that Danny was a small-time drug trafficker. According to an informant, he had met with two unidentified men two weeks before the murders. One was apparently not welcome there. However, that theory did not fit well with the girls' disappearance. It would seem unlikely that the killers would abduct them and not just kill them at the scene.
Others believed Ashley killed Danny and Kathy because of friction between her and Danny, but authorities believed that the girls couldn't have hidden out for long if that theory was to be believed. Lauria's family also does not believe that either girl would be capable of murder.
No trace of Lauria or Ashley has ever been found. There is a $50,000 reward offered in this case.
Over the years, investigators focused their attention on two people who'd later be convicted of unrelated killings: Tommy Lee Sells and Jeremy Jones. Both confessed to killing the girls, but they were eventually ruled out as suspects.
There were rumors and witnesses that claimed they saw the girls at a new years eve party.
There are also witnesses who claim they say photos of the girls tied up and in a bad way, although these photos have never surfaced. It's assumed that the girls were held hostage and violated for about a week after they went missing. This comes from witnesses. They claim this took place in a home in Picher, OK. A home that was owned by Phil Welch.
A break in the case finally came when investigators uncovered a box of documents which led them to an overlooked clue — an insurance verification card — found by a private investigator.
That clue helped turn everything around.
Tom Pryor, the private investigator, found the card in the Freemans' driveway within days of the murders and traced it to a woman who was living with a local drug dealer named Phil Welch. Pryor says he found the car at a salvage lot with girls' clothing and rental receipts for a mobile home where Welch lived.
He told investigators about the card but they didn't take it as evidence, he says. Instead, he kept the card for almost two decades, hoping someone would come knocking on his door.
Then, one day, Gary Stansill , an investigator with the District 12. D.A.'s office, and Tammy Ferrari, an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, did just that.
"I call it a miracle," says Stansill.
Investigators later alleged that Welch and two associates, David Pennington and Ronnie Busick, murdered Ashley's parents over a drug debt and then kidnapped the teens, killing them days later.
Of the three men, only Busick is still alive.
Stansil Said: Phil Welch’s name popped up on the FBI side. We [saw] a sheet in the FBI’s reports about the insurance card. They had sent an agent out to talk to [one of] Welch’s girlfriends, and she said: ‘I don’t know why my insurance card was there, but Phil Welch is my boyfriend and he knows the Freemans.’ And that’s where it stopped.
It’s pretty incredible that something like that wasn’t followed up on. The card…should have been put into evidence, but it wasn’t. The Craig County Sheriff’s office didn’t have it. The FBI didn’t have it. When we actually found it, when we got it from [P.I.] Tom Pryor, I [thought] ‘Wow! That’s physical evidence we can bring to trial.’ Our affidavit seeking Ronnie’s arrest was about 26 pages long. My affidavits are usually two paragraphs. We did that deliberately. We wanted the story out there, so that people would understand how we got to these guys. We did it to generate more leads.
In 2020, Ronnie Dean Busick (pictured above) pleaded guilty to being an accessory to first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of the two adults and presumed slayings of the girls. Busick also told investigators about the participation of two others in the crime, Warren “Phil” Welch and David Pennington (both, by then, deceased). Investigators believe the trio killed the Freemans over a drug debt.
Two milestone discoveries led authorities to Busick: One was an insurance verification card found at the scene by a private investigator and reported to the FBI, but then lost for years. The second was corroboration from multiple sources about the existence of Polaroids showing the girls bound and gagged.
Arrest pg* 257, chpt 28
"I feel like if someone starts shootin' at me, I must be getting close." - Lorene Bible
Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller *Quote from her book.
Lorene Bible, Lisa Brodrick, Jax Miller - Interviewed by Raven Rollins & Mandy McNeely
Hell in the Heartland - An HLN Special Documentary (available now on Discovery Plus)