No credible evidence was found in a daylong search of a rural area in northern Ottawa County on Wednesday, Sept. 19, for the remains of two missing and presumed dead teenagers, Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible.
A tip from a person, who reported possibly seeing a clandestine grave in the area, led local and state agents along with cadaver dogs from K9 Search Oklahoma to two undisclosed locations on Dec. 28, 2017, in the far northeast corner of Oklahoma and southeast corner of Kansas.
A drone was used to survey the rocky, hilly and snowy terrain while the dogs hit on a couple of sites.
Weather-related issues forced the search into a months-long hiatus.
Lorene Bible was at the December initial search but said Thursday she was frustrated that she could not be at the recent search. She said investigators told her that after the arrest of Ronnie Busick, they did not want any possibility of a compromised crime scene if anything were found.
Wednesday’s search was the latest disappointment in an 18-year-old mystery. Investigators have searched locations in Ottawa County where bones were discovered in a field. Divers have searched Grand Lake and a water-filled quarry in Chelsea. Cameras have been dropped into abandoned wells in Chetopa, Kansas, and abandoned mines and mining areas in Picher and Galena, Kansas.
“We still need people to come forward with the information of where the girls actually are,” said Michelle Lowry, spokeswoman for the Craig County District Attorney's Office.
An arrest affidavit issued for quadruple murder suspect Ronnie Busick suggests the girls were kept at a mobile home in Picher where they were killed, and their bodies dumped into an abandoned mine shaft. Busick has denied any involvement and says he doesn't know the location of the girls' remains.
Lowry released a statement saying, “there is no schedule or list of specific locations to search next.”
“We can confirm this remains an open, cooperative, very active investigation,” she said. ” At this time, every lead will be followed.”
Sometimes the lead seems insignificant, but nothing is insignificant, she said.
The girls were 16 years old when they disappeared from the Freeman residence on Dec. 30, 1999. Kathy and Danny Freeman were fatally shot and their mobile home set on fire. Authorities believe the girls were kidnapped, tied up, raped and held in a mobile home in Picher for a “matter of days” before being strangled, according to an arrest affidavit filed in Busick’s case.
“There is someone out there that knows something,” Lorene Bible said after the hearing.
Frustrated at the lack of answers, Bible is reaching out publicly for anyone with information to come forward.
“It’s time to bring the girls home,” Bible said.
Busick to return to court in December
Facing four counts of murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count for arson, Ronnie Dean Busick made another appearance in Craig County District Court in Vinita on Friday, Sept. 14.
Busick’s case was continued once again to 9 a.m. on Dec. 21 on the Craig County District Court Preliminary Sounding Docket, by Special Judge Rebecca Gore.
The legal process is well underway in Busick’s case but has been stalled by this and previous continuations.
Busick, 66, of Wichita, Kansas, was charged on April 23 for the crimes and is facing the subsequent charges from the 1999 disappearance and murders of Lauria Bible, Ashley Freeman, both 16 at the time, and the murders of Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman in Welch at the Freemans’ home.
At the time of his arrest, Busick was serving time in a Kansas jail and was extradited to the Craig County Jail where he remains incarcerated.
“Today we go to court again. Today we look at one of the three men accused of Lauria’s disappearance and murder. He will look at us time and time again just to see if we are still looking at him. I’ll pray for him once again just like I do day after day and I'll pray that we make steps forward but as all the times before I expect we will leave broken hearted once again,” Lauria’s cousin Lisa Brodrick posted prior to the hearing.
Brodrick said after the hearing, “It was tabled so fast I hardly even heard the words uttered by the judge… Now, we wait until December 21st, just 4 days until Christmas, 8 days until the 19th Anniversary of the girls' disappearance.”
Busick is the lone surviving suspect in the long-running Freeman/Bible case. Two other men Warren Philip Welch II, 61, and David A. Pennington, 56, also allegedly involved in the case are now deceased. Welch died in 2007 and Pennington in 2015.
The night of the Freeman’s murder the family’s trailer house in rural Welch was set on fire and burned to the ground where the couple’s bodies were later found. Both were determined to have died from gunshots. Lauria Bible was spending that night, Dec. 29, 1999, at the Freeman home with her friend Ashley to celebrate her birthday.
Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, by several witnesses’ accounts and information told to investigators by the suspects, were allegedly kidnapped and taken to a Picher residence and later murdered in crimes involving Busick, Welch, and Pennington. The probable cause statement in Busick’s arrest indicates Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman were both possibly held for days, then murdered and their bodies hidden in an abandoned Picher mine shaft and that Busick was involved or knew of the crimes.
To this day the teenagers have not been recovered. After his arrest, Busick met with family members and maintains that he does not know the location of the girls’ bodies, and did not disclose any further information about the crimes.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Craig County Sheriff’s Office investigators continue to follow any new leads and ask anyone with any further information of the crimes to come forward. A $50,000 reward is offered for information that may help solve the crimes.