The investigative team searching for the Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible has actively entered a new phase of a two-decade-old investigation that got a break in the Harvey County Detention Center in 2018.
An intensive review of the case history, including recently developed information, is ongoing to identify new clues regarding the whereabouts of the bodies of the two girls. The search is being aided through tips from members of the community.
Monday there was a vigil in Vinita, Okla.’s South Park, which is directly behind the Craig County Courthouse. Teenagers and best friends, Freeman and Bible were taken on Dec. 30, 1999.
In April of 2018, Ronnie Dean Busick, of Hesston, was arrested for murder and other charges shortly after being interviewed by investigators from Oklahoma.
According to an affidavit, an unnamed witness said Busick “started running his mouth” about his involvement in the slayings and kidnappings, and that the girls “were kept alive for several days” while tied up, raped and tortured in a mobile home in northeastern Oklahoma. The affidavit said Busick and the other suspects were linked to the case last year after authorities recovered a crate containing reports and files about the original investigator from the office of a former sheriff.
Some documents were recovered from a private investigator who worked on the case, but investigative materials produced by a different private investigator were destroyed, the affidavit said.
Busick, 66, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of first-degree arson in the killing of Danny and Kathy Freeman, of Craig County, and the disappearance of Freeman and Bible.
In the past two years, an investigator for a prosecutor's office and an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent established an expanded search team. District 12 District Attorney Matt Ballard’s special victims unit investigator, Gary Stansill, and OSBI agent Tammy Ferrari serve as lead investigators.
Investigators have been examining mine shafts in search of the girls' remains.
To date, more than 400 mine shafts have been analyzed. Recently developed evaluation criteria has narrowed the number of shafts having a higher probability of containing the girls’ remains to four.
The use of a series of high-resolution historical aerial photographs of the mining field taken before and after the girls’ disappearance has been valuable to the team’s understanding of the location where the girls were kept in Picher, Okla. A series of aerial photographs taken in May 1999 provide a clear view of the mobile home and surrounding area. Additional aerial photographs, including a 2004 series, provided visual identification of some of the mine shafts in the Picher Mining Field before and after the girls’ disappearance.
One hundred forty mine shafts within a mile of the mobile home were plotted on the photographs to better determine their relationship to the mobile home. Other historical information, including descriptions of the mine shafts at different points in time, was reviewed to identify mine shafts that remained open at the time of the girls’ disappearance.
Underwater cameras have been placed down the high-probability mine shafts to determine the shaft integrity for more in-depth searches. Some of the 100-year-old shafts contain debris, blocking access to the mine workings. Others have debris at the bottom of the shafts in the mine workings. Under both scenarios, the debris will have to be removed to conduct thorough searches. The use of robotic underwater cameras is planned for future searches to assess the feasibility of removing debris.
Freeman and Bible were 16 when they celebrated Freeman’s birthday with a sleepover at the Freeman home in Welch, Okla., on Dec. 29, 1999.
In the middle of the night on Dec. 29 or the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 1999, someone drove down the dirt driveway to the Freeman residence. An accelerant was placed near the wood-burning stove. Investigators aren’t sure how long it took, but the mobile home became engulfed in flames.
The body of Kathy Freeman, Ashley’s mother, was discovered in the charred remains. A bullet, according to her autopsy report, had shattered her skull. The skull of Danny Freeman, found later at the scene, also was shattered, an autopsy showed. His extensive arrowhead collection couldn't be located in the rubble.
No evidence of the girls was found at the scene, but Bible's car was in the Freeman driveway with the keys in the ignition.