PICHER — The search for the remains of two teenage girls who disappeared from the scene of a double homicide in December 1999 was renewed here Tuesday.

Ground-penetrating radar and the Tulsa Police Department’s dive team were brought in to assist in an in-depth examination of the last location that authorities believe 16-year-olds Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible were seen alive.

“This is the first time that we’ve had this,” said Bible’s mother, Lorene Bible. “That’s technology we didn’t have before.”

Since Dec. 31, 1999, when Freeman’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were shot dead and their mobile home outside of Welch burned to the ground, the whereabouts of the two teen girls, who were best friends having a birthday sleepover, have remained a mystery.

A break in the case came in the spring of 2018, when prosecutors charged Ronnie Dean Busick in the deaths of the Freemans and the two girls and implicated two other men who are now deceased, Warren Phillip Welch II and David A. Pennington.

Cold-case investigators from the Craig County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation revealed at that time that they believed the girls were held captive for a number of days after their kidnapping at a trailer house at 412 S. College St. in Picher.

During that time they were reported to have been tortured and raped before eventually being strangled.

The cold case investigators were joined Tuesday by the Tulsa Police Department’s dive team and investigators from the Quapaw Tribe in searching the vacant site where the trailer once stood, as well as nearby ponds.

Lorene Bible, who has never stopped investigating what happened to her daughter, was the first to arrive about 8 a.m.

She said she didn’t necessarily have her hopes up but will never give up the search.

“You never know. It’s like a checklist you can check off and say, ‘You know, the girls aren’t there,’ and you go to the next place,” Bible said.

She said she even pushed to get the throng of reporters and photojournalists at the site up-close access to see the searchers at work because she believes it could help persuade people who have information to come forward.

“Let’s say this turns out to be absolutely nothing. We still want people to know,” Bible said. “There’s somebody out there that knows something, or there could be four or five people (who) know something that could bring closure.”

The search wrapped up about 4 p.m. Tuesday after a backhoe was brought in to explore anomalies identified by radar in the soil 3 to 6 feet deep.

The search is expected to resume Wednesday morning a few blocks away at a large pond created by a mine collapse across the street from Picher High School in 1967.

Law enforcement officials plan to share their observations from the search on Wednesday afternoon.

Bible noted that the 20-year anniversary of the girls’ disappearance is approaching and that it would be nice for their remains to be found.

“Five years was the worst. Then there was the 10-year (anniversary), then 15 years. That’s no place for a mother and father to be,” she said. “Everybody gets to go to the cemetery, and you get to honor your loved ones. I don’t have no place.”

Busick is being held in jail as he awaits trial. The victims’ families and investigators have pleaded with him to reveal what he knows of the whereabouts of the girls’ remains.

As for the other two suspects, Welch died in 2007 at the age of 61. He was described by witnesses in newly filed court documents as the “mastermind” in the killings of Lauria Bible and the three Freemans.

Pennington died at age 56 in 2015.

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Andrea Eger 



Twitter: @AndreaEger

Staff Writer

Andrea is a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, she has been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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