Two teenage girls are missing after bodies are found in a burned out trailer.
Vinita, Oklahoma, is a small rural town in Craig County. On December 29, 1999, local teenager Ashley Freeman turned 16. It was a night of celebration for her parents and for her best friend Lauria Bible. Lauria's father, Jay, recalled the last time he saw his daughter:
"Lauria, she said to me, 'Daddy, is it all right if I spend the night with Ashley in the Freemans' home?' I said, 'Well, just make sure you're home by noon tomorrow.' And, noon tomorrow didn't happen the way it should've."
Sometime during the night, the Freemans' home became an inferno. By the time Lauria's parents arrived the fire was out, but the home had been reduced to ashes. Lauria's car was still there, but there was no sign of their daughter. Lorene Bible talked to the coroner:
"The county coroner told me that there was only one body, is all they found. I said, 'Have they found anybody else?' And she said no. They've looked, but there's no other bodies there."
The body was Kathy Freeman's, the mother of Lauria's friend Ashley. But where were Ashley, her father Danny, and Lauria Bible? According to Captain Jim Herman of the Craig County Sheriff's Department, even the authorities were stumped:
"We only had one body accounted for. Could find no others. Yet we had all the cars there at the house. That was a little bit bizarre. No one could quite piece two and two together on that. It didn't make any sense."
Then the case became even more baffling when the coroner determined Kathy Freeman did not die in the fire, but from a shotgun wound to the head. The arson squad concluded that the blaze was deliberately set.
According to Lorene Bible, her daughter Lauria and Ashley had been best friends since kindergarten:
"Lauria and Ashley would call each other at least once a week. What one was thinking, the other was thinking. It's kind of like when two people, one can finish the sentence when the other one starts one."
The day after the fire, Lauria's parents returned to the crime scene. They hoped to find a clue the investigators had missed. After only 5 minutes, they made a shocking discovery: another body, almost burned beyond recognition. But it wasn't Lauria or Ashley. According to Lorene, it was an adult male, and he, too, had been shot:
"He did not have anything from the upper teeth; all the way to the top of his head, was totally gone, like he'd been shot in the face."
The body was identified as Danny Freeman, Kathy's husband. And like Kathy, he had also been shot at close range with a shotgun. Investigators re-examined the crime scene and found no other bodies. However, they did find one important clue: Lauria's purse. In it were her driver's license and nearly $200 in cash. Lorene wondered why her daughter would leave her purse, unless she had been abducted:
"I felt that somebody had gone in there, and for whatever reason, murdered Danny and Kathy and took the girls."
The Craig County Sheriff's Department tried to piece together what happened the night of Ashley's birthday. If it had been a robbery, the purse would have been taken. And if murder was the motive, who had reason to kill Danny and Kathy Freeman, Ashley's parents? Danny himself may have had the answer, which he revealed to his brother, Dwayne Vancil:
"He put his finger in my face and he said, 'If anything ever happens to me, look at the sheriff's department.' And he was serious. He was in my face to drive it home with me."
For months, it had been rumored that the Craig County Sheriff's Department was feuding with the Freemans. It all began when Danny's son, Shane, was shot and killed by a deputy after he had stolen a truck and a neighbor's gun. Shane's killing was ruled justifiable, but the Freemans threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff's department. According to Dwayne, his brother told him the deputies were trying to intimidate him and his family:
"He was basically told, according to Danny, that they could do anything they wanted to him and his family, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it."
When Danny and Kathy Freeman were found dead, the Craig County Sheriff's Department voluntarily turned the case over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. They also consented to polygraph tests. Special Agent Steve Nutter, of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said the polygraphs were conclusive:
"All cleared themselves as a result of those examinations. The overall conclusion of our efforts was that the sheriff's office had nothing to do with the murders of Danny and Kathy and did not know the whereabouts of the two missing girls."
There was another possibility. Some people said that Danny was a small-time drug trafficker and wondered if a drug deal gone bad had led to the double murder. Agent Nutter discounted that theory:
"If you wanted to consider that it was drug related, nothing fits correctly. The very last thing that the people who committed the murder would want to do would be to abduct the children."
There was yet another theory: Ashley Freeman murdered her own parents and then fled with Lauria. Captain Jim Herman of the Craig County Sheriff's Department said he had to consider the possibility:
"There was a great deal of friction in the Freeman household. Danny and his daughter did not get along well at all and hadn't for some time. That's something we can't overlook."
Agent Nutter doesn't think the girls were capable of murder:
"I find it difficult to believe that the girls, by themselves, could hide out that long and not be found."
Jay and Lorene Bible were left with only unanswered questions. Where were Lauria and Ashley and why had they left?
"We have come to the conclusion that Lauria was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I feel that she's still alive, but whether she's alive or dead, I want to know."
"We love her dearly and wish we could have her back, wish we could have both girls back, because at this point, I'd take and raise 'em both and never let 'em go."
In a bizarre twist no one saw coming, a death row inmate, Jeremy B. Jones, confessed to killing Danny and Kathy Freeman. He said he did it as a favor to a friend over a drug debt. Jones claimed that he took the two girls to Kansas, shot them, and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine. A search of the mine, however, turned up nothing. Jones then recanted his confession and denied he killed the girls. He said he lied to authorities to get better food and extra phone privileges in prison.Investigators are now back to square one.