A DSC_6408 Welch Girls Search

Gary Stansill (left), investigator with the Craig County District Attorney’s Office, said a mine shaft will be examined in the Tar Creek area of northern Ottawa County where a witness reported seeing two deceased murder suspects. With Stansill is OSBI Special Agent Tammy Ferrari. Gary Crow/For the Tulsa World

PICHER — A mine shaft in the Tar Creek area of northern Ottawa County where a witness reported to authorities he saw two deceased murder suspects leave will be looked at by authorities to determine whether a camera can be lowered into the shaft.

“This is not a search for the Welch girls,” said Gary Stansill, District 12 District Attorney’s Office investigator, referring to Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, the two missing 16-year-old Craig County best friends who disappeared almost two decades ago.

The camera drop is scheduled for Tuesday.

Stansill is quick to point out Tuesday’s camera drop is to judge if a camera can successfully be dropped into the shaft and receive images.

“We are not searching for the girls,” Stansill said. “The witness came forward after seeing photographs of Phil Welch and David Pennington in the media. He saw these two men coming from the mine shaft area. This mine shaft is what authorities are checking out.”

Warren Philip Welch II and David Pennington, both now dead, are implicated in the Dec. 30, 1999, deaths of Ashley’s parents, Kathy and Danny Freeman, and the kidnapping and presumed deaths of the teens.

Ronnie Busick, a third man, is charged in Craig County District Court on charges of arson, murder and kidnapping, and remains in the Craig County jail held on a $1 million bail. He has denied any involvement or knowledge of the whereabouts of the girls’ remains.

Stansill said the location of the mine shaft will not be disclosed in order to protect the integrity of the investigation and safety issues.

An affidavit filed when Busick was arrested and charged in Craig County District Court in April 2018 says the girls’ bodies were believed to be “in a pit in Picher.”

Welch died from ALS at age 61 in 2007, and Pennington died at age 56 in 2015 after a long decline in health related to drug use, authorities said.


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