VINITA — Bloody details and 2-decades-old hidden secrets are slowly emerging from the night two Craig County teens went missing.
Ronnie Busick, 68, pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge of accessory to murder and was sentenced to 10 years for his involvement with the killings of Danny and Kathy Freeman and the disappearance and presumed deaths of their 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, and her best friend, Lauria Bible.
Busick told authorities two of his now-deceased associates, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington, were the masterminds behind the bloodbath that left the Freeman mobile home in Welch in ashes on Dec. 30, 1999, and the kidnapping, torture, rape and eventually death of the teenagers.
Since his conviction, Gary Stansill, District 12 District Attorney’s Investigator, has visited Busick almost daily trying to jog his memory for a clue on the whereabouts of Lauria and Ashley.
During his interviews with Busick, the convicted felon attributes details to what “Pennington said” and uses words like “maybe, likely, could have” when giving information, he said.
Busick admitted to being at the Freeman home that night but said he had nothing to do with the shootings or kidnapping; he just stayed in the vehicle, he said. He also failed a polygraph test where he said he was not at the Freeman property that night, Stansill said.
Busick says the only reason he knows bits and pieces of what happened is because he overheard Welch and Pennington’s conversations when they were cooking methamphetamine, Stansill said.
Although Ashley and Lauria’s remains are still missing, what is emerging are details of what happened that night.
“They went to the Freeman home to collect on a drug debt,” Stansill said, of Welch, Pennington and Busick.
Freeman was well known to cultivate and sell a high-grade marijuana product, he said.
The men arrived at the rural Welch farm in Pennington’s truck around 10 or 11 p.m. Dec. 29, 1999. Welch was carrying a loaded shotgun under his trench coat, Stansill said, relaying his conversation with Busick.
“He (Freeman) was expecting them,” Stansill said. “He knew they were coming over.”
The next turn of events remains buried with Welch, Pennington and Danny Freeman. For reasons only known to those three men, a possible dispute ensued and as Danny went for his gun, Welch fatally shot him in the head. Then Welch went into the master bedroom and pushed Kathy Freeman down on the bed and shot her in the head, Busick told Stansill.
Busick said he learned Welch dragged Danny Freeman’s body to the master bedroom and left his body near the couple’s waterbed, he said.
Autopsy reports show Danny and Kathy Freeman were both fatally shot in the head and Kathy’s body was found lying face down on the couple’s waterbed.
When the shooting started, Lauria and Ashley ran out the back door, which was next to Ashley’s bedroom, and hid in a field, Stansill said.
Pennington remained in his truck during the shooting and after the shootings, Pennington and Welch ransacked the house, Stansill said. Pennington and Welch dumped gasoline around a wood-burning stove in the living room and set the mobile home on fire, he said.
“Phil was known to carry a gasoline can with him,” Stansill said.
When Pennington returned to his truck, he was carrying an unknown amount of money and an unknown amount of marijuana. He had gotten the marijuana from a trashcan in the Freeman master bedroom, he said.
After the home was set ablaze, the girls fled the open field and tried to escape before they were corralled, captured and kidnapped, he said.
“One went one way and the other one went the other way,” Stansill said, describing how the frantic and terrified girls ran trying to escape their abusers.
Welch and Pennington were overheard calling the victims “two little bitches” several years after the crime, according to an arrest affidavit filed in April 2018. Witnesses also said the men said that “if they wouldn’t have taken off running … they would still be alive.”
After the girls were captured, they were tied up with a rope Pennington and Welch had taken from Danny and Kathy’s bedroom and socks were stuffed into their mouths.
“Busick said they came back to the farm to check on the fire,” Stansill said. “I believe when they returned to the scene it was in the dark-colored sedan and this was when the insurance card fell out of the vehicle.”
Danny’s remains were found the next day beside the waterbed by Lauria Bible’s parents, Jay and Lorene Bible. The Bible family had been searching through debris and rubble, when they stumbled onto Danny’s body, guarded by his pet Rottweiler.
Court documents show the teens were taken to a mobile home in Picher, where they were bound, tortured, raped and killed, and their bodies were thrown in a mine pit. Stansill believes the girls were alive for two weeks.
Finding the girls has always been the top concern of Stansill and Tammy Ferrari of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, but there is more of a sense of urgency now after learning of Lorene Bible deteriorating health.
“He may not know exactly where the girls are,” Stansill said of Busick. “But I believe somewhere out there – there is someone who knows something – who overheard something. There is no reason to be scared to come forward.”
Decades of drug and alcohol abuse coupled with a brain injury due to a shooting has left Busick with very little memory concerning the events of that night, his attorney Gretchen Mosley said at his sentencing.
Stansill and Ferrari have organized teams of investigators and cadaver dogs, dropped cameras hundreds of feet into mineshafts, searched root cellars, and watched as divers plunged into mine ponds looking for watery graves.
A search of below-ground structures on the west side of Picher where Welch lived in 2000 is where investigators plan to search next, he said.
Prosecutor Isaac Shields offered to slash Busick’s sentence if he would tell authorities where the girls’ remains were located before sentencing. Shields said after the sentencing there is a possibility Busick’s sentence could be re-examined should he provide information leading to the recovery of the girls’ remains.
Busick remains in the Craig County jail waiting to be transported to a Department of Corrections facility.
Still Missing: Inside the Welch Girls Investigation
A timeline of the 1999 case of missing Welch girls, Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible