Two parents are found murdered in their burned trailer and their daughter and her friend are missing.
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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Agent Nutter doesn’t think the girls were capable of murder:
Jay and Lorene Bible were left with only unanswered questions. Where were Lauria and Ashley and why had they left?
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.
UPDATE: Ronnie Dean Busick, 66, was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of arson. Two other suspects have been named, but both are deceased: Warren Phillip Welch II and David A. On July 15, 2020, Busick pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of accessory to murder in an agreement with prosecutors. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years probation. Investigators are still requesting any tips that may lead to the remains of Ashley and Lauria.