We can’t start this post without mentioning a recent breakthrough in the infamous, unsolved case of the East Area rapist. If you don’t already know, the East Area Rapist (commonly referred to as “The original night stalker, “EAR/ONS” and “the Golden gate serial killer”) has finally been identified and taken into custody this week.
The East Area rapist is responsible for the murder of at least 12 women and at least 50 rapes in the state of California between 1971 – 1986. EAR/ONS evaded the law and went undetected for over 30 years before recently being identified as 72 year old ex-cop Joseph James DeAngelo. Aaron and Justin have recorded an episode on the recent developments in the case, which you can check out here <<
Warning: The following post contains mentions of rape and abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
Today we’re going to take a look into an unsolved case that has had some recent developments of its own- the 1999 case of the two missing teenagers named Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.
On the 30th of December 1999, in Vinita, Oklahoma, a fire broke out in the mobile home of married couple, Kathy and Danny Freeman. Earlier that night their 16 year old daughter, Ashley, had celebrated her birthday party at the trailer home on 7856 S 4390 road, Welch, Oklahoma, Craig County with her boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst, and best friend, Lauria Bible. Bible stayed over that night after they waved goodbye to Hurst who left the residence at around 9.30pm on the 29th.
Several hours later a fire engulfed the mobile unit. A neighbor reported the blaze to the emergency services around 5.30AM the following morning.
When local authorities showed up they quickly found the body of Kathy Freeman with a bullet lodged in her skull. Her husband, daughter and her daughter’s best friend were all unaccounted for.
Police believed that whoever shot and killed Kathy set the home ablaze before fleeing the scene. Danny’s body was found a day later in the trailer, charred and burned beyond all recognition. He was determined to have been executed by the same method as his wife, with bullet to the head.
The teenage girl’s bodies were not recovered from the scene of the crime, nor did they turn up following a search of the surrounding area. It didn’t appear that the girls were responsible for the murders and act of arson and it was also thought unlikely that they had left voluntarily as personal items belonging to Bible, such as $200 in cash and her driver’s license, were recovered from the Freemans mobile unit. For this reason, police began to suspect that the teens had been kidnapped by whoever had executed Ashley’s parents and burned down their home. This was a sound theory considering the recent developments in the case which state the police now know that the girls were kidnapped and murdered by three local men. It is believed that Kathy and Danny Freeman were murdered over unpaid drug debts and that Ashley and Lauria were taken from the mobile home when they came out of another room to investigate the sound of the gunshots.
A 29 page affidavit named the three suspects in the crime:
-Warren Phillip Welch II, known locally as Phil Welch, who is now deceased (2007)
-David A. Pennington, also deceased. (2011)
- Ronnie Dean Busick, currently 66 years old and recently arrested for the crime. He is currently being held at the Craig County Jail on Delaware Ave, Vinita.
Busick claimed that he knew Pennington and Welch because they were “dope buddies”.
There were plenty of tips over the years pertaining to the girls’ whereabouts. Age progression pictures show artistic renderings of what Bible and Freeman would look like in their mid-twenties to early-thirties. The girls are thought to have only lived for a week or so after their kidnapping and never got to grow up and carve out lives of their own. A 29 page affidavit which was recently made available online paints a grim picture of what those torturous several days may have been like for the teenagers. Welch’s girlfriend at the time (referred to in the document as “E.B”) stated that the three men repeatedly raped and abused the girls and took Polaroid photographs of them laying tied up on a bed and duct-taped to chairs.
According to a later girlfriend of Welch, referred to in the document as “TW”, the photographs (of which there is thought to be 12 or so, one which included Welch next to the girls) were stashed away in a leather briefcase. A missing poster seeking information pertaining to the whereabouts of the teenage girls was also said to be nailed to one of the walls in the house. The photographs of the girls bound and gagged on a bed in Welch’s trailer home are thought to be trophies of the crime and may even have been used to threaten others who neglected to pay their debts. The affidavit details numerous accounts from acquaintances of the men claiming that they were heard bragging about their crimes. Girlfriends of the men told investigators that they had been threatened into silence and told that they’d be thrown “in the pit” with the girls if they even thought about informing the authorities.
A later girlfriend of Welch, named TW in the document, was addicted to Methamphetamine and claimed that Welch cooked it in his home. She and her son lived with Welch until he assaulted them one day and landed in prison for it. It was during his incarceration that TW stumbled upon the instant photographs of the kidnapped girls lying next to each other on the bed, face to face. The evidence was possibly destroyed as TW claimed she may have thrown the briefcase and its contents into E.B’s car which was eventually taken away when Welch was behind bars.
A childhood friend of TW said in an interview that she was obsessively harassed by Welch who threatened to murder her and her family in a barrage of phone calls to her home. She stated that he divulged details of the murder and abuse of the teen girls in an attempt to threaten her.
“L.E” was the girlfriend of Pennington at the time. She lived with him during the time of the murders and was aware that her boyfriend was involved. He threatened her with the same fate should she tell anyone and regularly abused her, she said. L.E told investigators she eventually had to hide from Pennington for her own safety. She confirmed to police that she also knew about the kidnapping of the girls. She claimed the men told her they took the teenage girls to “have fun with them. You know what I mean?” She also confirmed that she believed all three men were involved with the rape and abuse of the captive girls and had overheard pictures of Bible and Freeman tied up had been taken. Her son was also interviewed and claimed he had known all about the girls being abducted and murdered and he too received phone calls from “evil” Phil Welch threatening him and his mother. He claimed he told the authorities time and time again but was told that he was lying.
Although Ronnie Busick has so far denied any role in the quadruple murder, arson, kidnapping and abuse, it is thought that after strangling the girls to death that he and the other two men disposed of the bodies either in an unused well, pit or shaft. When questioned about the whereabouts of the bodies by the uncle of one of the victims as he was taken into police custody Busick said “I wish I knew” denying his part in the 1999 crime. A friend of Busick told police that he had heard Busick bragging about his part in the crime that night in 1999. He added that Busick said he was aware that Bible and Freeman were being held against their will on Welch’s property and that they were being tortured and raped.
The three men apparently used E.B’s vehicle to drive to 7856 S 4390 road that night in late December and we can presume they also transported the girls back to Welch’s home in the same car. Somehow E.B’s health verification card, which was usually kept in the glove box, fell out onto the ground and was collected as evidence. When questioned she claimed that she did not know how the card got anywhere near Danny Freeman’s home and claimed that she knew he was an acquaintance of her boyfriend but had never met the man. The insurance card, which was a key piece of evidence, was somehow lost and unlisted by investigators. This error hindered the investigation and the case remained unsolved for over 18 years until a box containing the card was recently discovered.
It seems everyone associated with Welch, Pennington or Busick may have heard about or known of the crimes that happened that night in 1999, but the case went unsolved for almost 2 decades.
A recent post on the Web sleuths thread for Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman has a post from a user who claims to be from the area:
“I have followed this case closely ever since it happened. I live in that area, and knew Dave pretty well. Didn't know much about Phil but heard of Busick and he was friends with several here. Word got out that these 3 were responsible within just a few days of the fire, soon enough that if someone would have paid attention and followed up, the girls might have still been alive. (This was relayed by someone who knew what was going on for the most part) But the then sheriff in that county just sat the evidence away and even refused to accept more evidence later on that private investigators had. It wasn't until this new sheriff came in that he found this box of evidence stored away and that's when the ball got to rolling. It was a bad situation ll the way around, and much started when Freeman's son Shane was shot (murdered) by deputies on a dirt road the previous year. Freeman told everyone that if anything happened to him to look at the sheriff. The current story is the deaths were a bad drug deal but others who still aren't saying much tend to think it's much more than that. Pennington was pretty much always heavy into drugs and had served time before for shooting a family member, but when he got out he went back on drugs. Was told he narcked a lot and was worth more to law enforcement on the streets than in the pen. He'd been busted a number of times but turned loose. Phil was a Viet Nam vet and was the psycho of the bunch. After all of this went down, Phil and Dave suddenly found God, became ministers and hid behind their religion until they died. Busick, I am told did the same thing. Hopefully Busick will tell where they put the girls after they killed them. Word is they were thrown in a mine shaft there in Picher, another witness said they were put in one and covered in concrete. No telling if they will ever find them. The town is deserted, a toxic place full of lead, but still able to travel through the town and the highway is still usable, so hopefully they can find the remains and bring the girls home and give the families some peace after nearly 20 years. Reports say at least 12 people knew what happened yet everyone was afraid to step forward. But then again in this podunk area, secrets are rarely kept with some of the previous law enforcement and these people were all threatened if they told. Another thing to keep in mind was the fact most all of them were heavy meth heads/tweakers and for the most part people weren't going to pay much attention..which they should have in this case. I personally was shocked when I heard who did this.”
Both Pennington and Welch have already died and Busick, now a blading, grey haired pensioner who walks with a stick and has lived knowing what he and his “dope buddies” did all those years ago will have to face the consequences of his deeds.