Ashely Freeman and Lauria Bible

Ashley Renae Freeman (left) and Lauria Jaylene Bible, both 16 at the time, have been missing since Dec. 30, 1999. Courtesy

Every six months Lorene Bible reminds people of a 17-year-old mystery she’ll never forget. She calls it “stirring the pot,” and if she didn’t do it, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself.

Bible lost her daughter, Lauria Jaylene Bible, then 16, after a fire destroyed the home of Lauria’s best friend Ashley Renae Freeman on Dec. 30, 1999. Lauria was spending the night for Ashley’s 16th birthday.

Although Freeman’s parents’ bodies were located in the Welch home’s charred remains, Ashley and Lauria were nowhere to be found.

“For me, I decided early on that I was going to find my child — or I was going to do everything I physically can to do that,” Bible said.

So Lorene Bible keeps stirring, hoping one day someone will talk and she’ll find her daughter.

As special agent Tammy Ferrari and investigator Gary Stansill know, the more people are talking either in the media or in their personal lives, the more tips come in to law enforcement, and the more likely the missing person will be found.

A cold case

This biggest factor determining whether a case becomes “cold” is the frequency of tips or leads coming in for investigators to follow, said Ferrari, who for four years has been working the case of the missing Welch girls with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The National Institute of Justice defines cold cases as those whose leads have been exhausted.

Ashley and Lauria — now women, if they’re still alive — are among 85 listed missing from Oklahoma on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children list.

In 2015, there were 460,699 entries for missing children in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. However, that number may not be the best indicator of how many children are actually missing, as it counts every report of a missing child, including if the same child runs away multiple times. Many missing children also are never reported to authorities, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

After 17 years, Ashley and Lauria’s case is considered cold, though that status doesn’t necessarily change how law enforcement investigates a case, Ferrari said. After receiving the designation, the biggest difference is investigators may not work on the case daily.

For instance, she said, if she’s assigned a recent homicide case, she’ll work to solve that case and follow up on tips or leads from her cold cases as time allows.

“It’s not something we try to let sit around. The cold cases are the ones we definitely want to solve,” Ferrari said.

She’s noticed that, for whatever reason, when a cold case is rehashed in the media, she begins to receive new tips.

The Freeman/Bible case

About a year after Lorene Bible began pot-stirring on her Facebook page, both Ferarri and Stansill — an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office for Craig, Mayes and Rogers counties — said Ashley and Lauria’s case is more active than it’s been in years.

“I would say that I’m probably more encouraged now than I was at the very beginning of this case,” said Stansill, who’s been working the case since 2011.

Over the past year, investigators have done a few interviews, at least one inside a prison. Another interview is planned in the coming months. They’ve also hypnotized a possible witness to get information the person couldn’t consciously recall, Ferarri said.

In early 2016, the two investigators searched an abandoned well at a property in Kansas formerly owned by convicted murderer Charlie Kirder.

All they found was an old bucket.

“When the well thing didn’t pan out, we said, ‘OK. That’s one less thing we have to do. That’s one less thing we have to look for,’ ” Stansill said.

Both investigators think there are people who know about the case but are too afraid to come forward, perhaps because they fear retribution.

And although the anniversary normally provides investigators with new leads to follow, Bible admitted she doesn’t like the winter. It brings up questions about her daughter’s December disappearance she’d rather not dwell on.

“Was she cold? Was she hungry? Did she have enough clothes? Then you even get to the part, you know, what would they have done with her?” Bible said.

She wonders the type of person Lauria would have grown up to become. Would she have been married? Would she have kids? What would she be doing right now?

As far as Bible sees it, every bit of information — no matter how marginal it may seem — is one piece of a puzzle investigators didn’t have before, and it might be the link that finally brings her and her family closure.

“Eventually you can put a puzzle together, and it’s solved,” she said.

Both investigators ask anyone with any information about the case to contact them, even if they’ve previously provided a statement. In the past, some people have thought investigators had the information they’d provided but found out the information wasn’t in the right hands, Stansill said.

Bible put it this way: “I just ask if there’s somebody out there, that they pick up the phone and they call.”

Paighten Harkins


Twitter: @PaightenHarkins