Left and Center: Lauria circa, 1999
Right: Age Progressed to age 36
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: December 30, 1999
Missing From: Welch, Craig County, Oklahoma
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: April 18, 1983
Age: 16 years old
Height and Weight: 5’5″ and 130 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Biracial Female; Lauria is Caucasian and Native American, Brown hair, Hazel eyes, Lauria has a mole under her nose and a scar on the top of her forehead, she has pierced ears and she was known to be right handed at the time of her 1999 abduction, her nickname is “Pooh”
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue shirt, a pair of jeans, white sneakers or black boots, Lauria was last known to be wearing silver heart shaped earrings with imbedded diamonds in them when she disappeared
NCMEC Number: 877676
Details of Disappearance
Lauria and her friend, Ashley Freeman, were both abducted by strangers from Freeman’s trailer home in Welch, Oklahoma on December 30th 1999. It was Ashley’s birthday so Lauria spent the day with her. They went to Pizza Hut in Vinita, Oklahoma with Ashley’s mother, Kathy Freeman, during the evening. The three women traveled in Kathy’s blue colored Toyota.
They also traveled to get food for the Freeman’s livestock and water from Kathy’s mothers home. Their trailer did not have running water and was primarily heated by a wood burning stove in the living room area. The Freeman family were described as avid hunters and great outdoorsmen. The trailer did have electricity and a telephone service in 1999.
The Freeman’s also had numerous firearms piled inside of their home and Ashley was known to assist the family in hunting for food. Lauria’s mother, Lorene, is the one who made the statement regarding the Pizza Hut visit and it contradicted the belief that the girls and Kathy visited Big Bills Barbeque in the 350 block of North Wilson Street in the Vinita area.
After Ashley, Kathy, and Lauria finished their dinner they went to a local Walmart where they met Ashley’s boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst. He gave Ashley a heart shaped pendant with her birth stone embedded in it on a silver chain for her birthday present. He returned to the Freeman trailer with the three women and he said nothing appeared unusual while he was there.
It’s unknown when exactly Hurst left the trailer. He said he left at 9:30 pm but relatives who were also at the trailer said Hurst actually left the trailer at 10:30 pm. Investigators have stated that there were no phone calls made from the trailer home during the night of December 30th.
At 6:00 am, a passing motorist noticed a fire in the vicinity of the Freeman trailer and called authorities. When authorities searched the debris of the trailer that afternoon, they discovered the body of Kathy. She was shot to death execution style. Initially, investigators believed no other bodies were inside the burned trailer.
As a result, investigators named Danny as a primary suspect in his wife’s murder and believed he abducted both Lauria and Ashley. However, all vehicles belonging to the Freeman’s were in the driveway of the home. Lauria’s car was also nearby with the keys still inside the ignition. There was no evidence of the girls in the trailer.
The next morning, Lauria’s father, Jay Bible, discovered the remains of Danny inside the bedroom of the trailer. His remains were partially covered by the debris of the trailer explaining why his remains were overlooked. Like Kathy, Danny was killed by gun shot wounds. The Bible’s returned to the trailer that morning to search for evidence leading to Lauria and Ashley.
Lorene did find Lauria’s purse propped inside of the trailer but no other trace of the girls were ever found. The medical examiner discovered that Danny’s right collarbone was fractured prior to him being shot and the coroner was able to pinpoint that Kathy was killed around 5:00 am.
Investigators believe the fire was deliberately caused so that the murderers could destroy evidence of the crimes. They searched extensively for the two girls but never found them. Investigators at one point considered the possibility that the girls were involved in the murders since no evidence of their whereabouts was uncovered through searching.
This has since been disputed as there’s nothing in Lauria or Ashley’s backgrounds to suggest they could’ve committed such a brutal crime. They were both considered good students in 1999. They also found the girls wouldn’t have runaway since Ashley was scheduled to take her drivers test the day after the kidnappings and Lauria had a dentist appointment and planned to leave the trailer shortly before that.
Lorene Bible told news reporters that Ashley was saving up money to purchase a used vehicle at the time of her abduction. Lorene said she thought Ashley had managed to save $1,200 in her savings account. Hurst, however, said that Ashley claimed to have saved between $3,000 and $4,000 for the car. She worked part time at a convenience store known as “Roscoe’s” in the Welch area.
Hurst additionally states that Ashley did not have a bank account and kept her money inside of a Tupperware container that’s why stored inside the freezer in her home. Despite this, authorities found no evidence of the cash in the rubble of the Freeman trailer.
Lorene also stated that Ashley and Danny were arguing regarding the vehicle earlier in December of 1999. Ashley apparently wanted to purchase a different vehicle than Danny wanted her to get. The Freeman family was ordered to participate in a counseling program through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services in 1998 after Shane stole his uncle’s pickup truck. Shane returned to his previous behavior after a short period of time.
Danny was charged with abusing Shane in late August of 1998 after a school counselor notified the authorities that Shane’s buttocks were bleeding and bruised. Danny maintained that the incident was overblown, while prosecutors contended that he used excessive force. Shane told the court that he was no feared his father during a pre-trial hearing.
Several relatives stated that Shane’s problems were the result of him trying please Danny. He was previously charged with beating his father in law after the latter trimmed his bushes without consent in 1985. Kathy’s parents told reporters that Danny’s temper often hurt her and their children. He also reportedly grew marijuana for his own usage near the family’s trailer home.
Danny was occasionally unemployed as a result of a work related injury and the family relied on Kathy’s income from her job with Doctor’s Optical Supply Company Inc. Kathy was described as a dependable and caring person. Shane broke into the Bible family home in early January 1999. The family filed a complaint with police and stated that Shane took some of Lauria’s belongings and money. Shane also stole several of the Bible family’s firearms.
In 1999, Shane Freeman was shot and killed by police officer, David Hayes. Hayes was on duty at the time of Shane’s death. Shane allegedly stole a vehicle and was on a country road when Hayes encountered him at the time. The car Shane stole had broken down and Shane allegedly reached behind his back and grabbed a gun which prompted Hayes to shoot him.
Shane’s death was investigated thoroughly and Hayes actions were found to be justified with no malicious intent whatsoever. Hayes and his brother who is also a police officer were both given polygraph exams after the girls went missing in 1999 and are not considered suspects in their cases. They have not participated in any searches for the girls.
Several of Danny’s family members originally believed that local law enforcement might’ve been involved in the killings and the kidnappings but there’s no evidence to support this possibility. They also believe that Shane was simply trying to flee the scene from Hayes and didn’t actually pull out a gun. They also claim his autopsy report contradicts the official verdict on the incident.
Lauria’s family believes that the case might be drug related and that Danny’s possible marijuana dealing had some role in the murders and disappearance. They believe he became involved in a situation that he couldn’t control which would ultimately seal the fates of him, Kathy, and the two girls.
In October of 2001, several relatives of each girl participated in the pilot of the television show “What Really Happened”. The show was not purchased by any TV networks and was never broadcast anywhere. A woman named DeAnna Dorsey also appeared on the show at the time. She was a nurse who assisted the Freeman family on the night that Shane was killed. Her daughter at the time was also a good friend of Ashley.
Shortly after returning from the taping, DeAnna was shot and killed at the hospital she worked at. It was concluded that paranoid schizophrenic Ricky Martin murdered her after he became angry about the hospitals decision to downsize. He was killed by police shortly after DeAnna was murdered; he never even met his victim before her death. There was immense speculation that DeAnna’s murder was related to the 1999 cases but no proof has been found to support this theory.
Several people have confessed to the murders of Kathy and Danny and to abducting and murdering both girls. In May of 2002, convicted murderer Tommy Lynn Sells wrote a letter to The Joplin Globe and claimed he was involved din the cases. Tommy claimed he traveled through Welch, Oklahoma during the night of the girls disappearance and said he was returning from St. Louis, Missouri.
He said his memory was disrupted and clouded by drug usage but he did state he wanted to remember the fire and the burial locations of the two girls. He was considered a possible suspect in the case. He was arrested after stabbing a teenaged girl in Del Rio, Texas in late December of 1999. He was convicted of all charges against him and he was also convicted of killing a young girl in Texas in April of 1999.
Authorities suspect Tommy was involved in multiple other homicides. It’s been considered he was involved in the 1993 disappearance of Juanita Bardin from Texas and he purportedly confessed to the murder of Stephanie Stroh who went missing from Nevada in 1997. Bardin was not murdered in 1993, she lived for 19 years after that and was discovered to have passed away in October of 2012.
Tommy was never criminally held accountable for the Bible/Freeman case. Another man named Jeremy Brian Jones was considered a possible suspect in the case. He was charged with the murders of a teenaged girl and a woman and is suspected in disappearances and murders in various other states. He is also a suspect in the disappearance of Melinda McGhee from Alabama and the murder of Patricia Endres.
Jeremy lived in Ottawa County, Oklahoma in 1999 and was released from prison at 10:30 pm during the night of Lauria and Ashley’s disappearance. He also left the area in early 2000. Investigators have noted similarities between the murders of Kathy and Danny and one of his victims who was shot.
Jeremy was questioned by investigators regarding Ashley and Lauria’s disappearance and he reportedly confessed to killing Kathy and Danny before abducting and killing the girls after fleeing the trailer. He told investigators to look in a mine shaft near Galena, Kansas. He has denied the confession ever occurred and searches turned up no signs of the girls.
The case remained a mystery until April 2018. That month, investigators announced they had made a huge break in the case. Based off evidence gathered, investigators suspect that three men went to the Freeman trailer that night and killed both Kathy and Danny before taking the two girls.
The three suspects were identified as Warren Phillip “Phil” Welch II, David A. Pennington, and Ronnie Busick. Pennington and Welch were deceased by the time they were named as suspects but Busick was arrested and charged with four counts of first degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of arson.
Witnesses and informants described Welch as being the one who was the “mastermind” of the kidnappings and killings and called him evil. Welch died in 2007 and Pennington died in 2015. Welch was known to be violent and even the police were fearful of him. He has a criminal history which included violence against women.
Pennington had a similar record to Welch’s. Busick mainly got into trouble due to drug usage. In February of 2017, investigators found old previously unknown documents that were described as being extremely viable in solving the cases. Apparently, these notes were left over from a previous sheriff administration and had been misplaced. Included in these documents were the notes of a private investigator on the case.
The private investigator had an old insurance verification card in his possession. The card was found near the burnt down trailer by searchers just days after the crimes took place. The card belonged to the ex-girlfriend of Welch in 1999. The girlfriend stated she did not know the Freeman family at the time of their murders and had never been to the residence at any point prior to the crimes.
She did admit that Welch knew Danny. She also did not know how the card would’ve ended up there. Welch previously lived as a neighbor of the Freeman family until about a few months before the slayings. Initially, the insurance card was given little to no credence by investigators. In fact, they refused to take it into evidence so the private investigator kept it instead.
The private investigator was able to determine that the insurance card was linked to a blue Mercury Topaz which had been salvage yard. He told the police of the vehicle but the refused to take it into evidence. They even attempted to have the private investigators state licensee revoked for “interfering in their investigation.” The insurance card would later be used as proof in the case.
Investigators acted on information provided in the notes and were able to find witnesses who would help link the three men to the crimes. One of these witnesses was a woman who previously dated Pennington and recalled how he was physically abusive towards her and threatened het life. He previously bragged to her about killing the Freeman’s during a “bad drug deal.”
Danny Freeman was known to cultivate and sell a high grade marijuana product at the time of his murder. The three suspects allegedly went to the Freeman trailer that night to collect on a drug debt at approximately 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Welch was carrying a loaded shotgun under his trench coat at the time.
Danny was expecting the three men and was well aware that they were coming over that night. It’s unknown what exactly occurred next, it’s believed a dispute between the men occurred and Danny went for his gun. Welch fatally shot Danny in the head. He then went into the master bedroom and shoved Kathy onto the waterbed before shorting her in the head as well.
Busick told investigators he later learned that Welch dragged Danny’s body into the master bedroom and left him next to the waterbed. Autopsy reports confirm this bit of information since Danny and Kathy were both found in the master bedroom. Kathy was found facedown on the waterbed with her head shot.
When the shorting started, Ashley and Lauria ran away the trailer through the back door which was next to Ashley’s bedroom. They both reportedly hid in a field. Pennington allegedly remained in his truck during the shootings. After the shootings, Pennington and Welch ransacked the house. They then poured gasoline around a wood burning stove in the living room and set the mobile home ablaze.
Welch was known to carry gasoline with him at the time. When Pennington returned to his truck, he had an unknown amount of money and unknown amount of marijuana. He had gotten the drugs from a trash can in the master bedroom of the home.
After the trailer home was set ablaze, Ashley and Lauria fled the open field and attempted to escape. They were frantic and fearful as they ran in different directions trying to escape the men. They were eventually cornered and kidnapped. The men even once said “if they wouldn’t have taken off running … they would still be alive.” Pennington and Welch even referred to the girls as “two little bitches” after the crimes.
After both girls were captured, they were tied up with rope that Welch and Pennington had gotten from the bedroom of Danny and Kathy. Socks were also stuffed into their mouths. The men did return eventually to check on the fore after the crimes, its believed this is when the insurance card fell out of the vehicle.
The girls were allegedly taken to Welch’s trailer in Pitcher where they were held against their will. Busick told a witness that the girls were kept alive for approximately two weeks after their abductions. While held captive, Lauria and Ashley were tortured and raped before being strangled to death. Investigators believe the girls remains were thrown down some type of pit like structure, possibly a mine.
Multiple other witnesses stated the three men had boasted of their involvement in the case and they even brandished Polaroid photographs of the two girls they had taken. In some of the photos, Ashley and Lauria were shown bound and gagged and lying on a bed. In others, they were shown to be duct taped to chairs. There were approximately 10 to 15 photographs of the girls.
The witnesses who saw the photographs were able to identify the bed that the girls were lying on and a blanket on that bed. The blanket belonged to Welch, some of the photos even showed Welch lying next to the girls. In the spring of 2000, Welch began dating another woman who recalled that he had a missing poster of Ashley and Lauria nailed to the wall of his residence.
Welch’s girlfriend found the Polaroid photographs after he was taken to prison and she recognized the girls from the missing posters. She took the photos to a friends home and when Welch got out of jail, he told her to never show the photos to anyone. He said “Don’t you ever tell anybody or you will end up in a pit . . . like those two girls,”. Welch and Pennington appeared to be proud of what they did and even forcibly showed someone the Polaroid photos years after the crimes.
Witnesses were also threatened and the men said they would end up in the same pit as Lauria and Ashley. As a result of the threats, these witnesses stayed silent for almost 20 years after the girls went missing. The photos were kept in a brief case. By the time investigators learned of the photos, they had disappeared. It’s possible they were out in the trunk of a vehicle that was hauled off for salvage.
After Busick was arrested, he claimed he couldn’t recall many of the details from the night of the murders and kidnappings. He also couldn’t recall exactly where they dumped the bodies of the two girls. He has a low average IQ and sustained brain damage from excessive and extensive drug usage. He also suffered a gunshot to the head in 1978. A neuropsychologist found he had a hard time processing information.
Despite this, Busick was found mentally competent to stand trial. In July of 2020, Busick guilty as an accessory to second degree murder. Busick took a plea deal and said he would lead investigators to the location of Lauria and Ashley’s remains. He told investigators that the girls were left in a root cellar of a residence near 6th and Ethel in Picher but nothing was found. He had until August 31st to help locate the girls but he failed to do so. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years probation.
At the time of her disappearance, Lauria was described as a well behaving teenager who wanted to become a cosmetologist after she graduated high school. She was cheerleader in 1999. Lauria and Ashley remain missing and foul play is suspected in the case.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation 800-522-8017
Federal Bureau of Investigation 405-290-7770
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children