CRAIG COUNTY, OK — More than a dozen people had information about the three men who killed a couple, kidnapped their teen daughter and her friend, and then brutally murdered them almost 20 years ago, according to court documents.
Police arrested Ronnie Dean Busick, 66, on Sunday in connection with the killings of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, both 16, and Ashley’s parents Danny and Kathy Freeman in the now-abandoned town of Picher, Oklahoma.
Busick was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of arson. He has a criminal history of drug-related convictions dating back to the mid 1980s. He also served time for one count of mail fraud.
Authorities said that Warren Phillip “Phil” Welch II and David A. Pennington, both of whom died during the investigation, also participated in the murders. Welch, a Vietnam veteran and an ordained minister, was reportedly the “mastermind” in this case, and served time in prison for burglary, assault, and terroristic threat.
Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible disappeared on December 30, 1999, during a birthday sleepover at Freeman’s house. That night, the Freeman house caught on fire. The burnt bodies of both Danny and Kathy Freeman were later found inside. Both had been fatally shot in the head.
Shortly after Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey took office in 2017, he discovered a crate of files and evidence in the office of the previous sheriff, Jimmie Sooter. The crate contained “some information pertaining to Phil Welch, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick, as being involved in the murders and missing girls” as well as “names of individuals that may possess information,” according to the arrest affidavit.
Here are the most recent DOC pictures of Ronnie Busick, he’s in custody now in Newton, Kansas.
Investigators say Busick, Welch, & Pennington killed Danny & Kathy, burned down their home and kidnapped Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman. They still need tips to find bodies. @FOX23 pic.twitter.com/93MVLE450s
— Tiffany Alaniz (@TiffanyAlaniz) April 23, 2018
Police conducted more than a dozen interviews with witnesses who had key information about Welch, Pennington, and Busick. Many of them had dated or lived with the men, and said that the men threatened to kill anyone who shared the information.
Welch and Pennington were allegedly known to cook methamphetamine together. Some of the witnesses stated that the killers’ motive was drug money that was allegedly owed.
A woman identified only as “TW” lived with Phil Welch and revealed that she had found a briefcase full of Polaroids of the teen girls bound and gagged with duct tape, lying on a bed she recognized to be his, and “in some of the Polaroids she observed Welch lying next to the girls.” A male witness, identified as “RH,” said that Busick told him that he had tied the girls up in a trailer house and tortured them.
When TW confronted Welch about the photos, he told her, “Don’t you ever tell anybody or you will end up in a pit in Picher (OK) like those two girls.”
Multiple interviews contained similar accounts — police talked to friends, lovers, and family members. The location of the Polaroids is not known, investigators say.
A private investigative team, Joe Dugan and Tom Pryor, also looked into the case. After Dugan died in 2009, his family said that they tried to give files on the Freeman case to the Craig County Sheriff’s Office, but that the sheriff’s office refused to take them. Dugan’s family destroyed the files on the case. Pryor claims he was actually instructed, by local law enforcement, to halt his investigation into the case.
The search is now on for the location of the girls’ remains. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation at 1 (800) 522-8017 or email email@example.com.
Officials said a private reward for $50,000 still stands for information related to the location of the girls.
For more on the case of Ashley Freeman & Lauria Bible, watch the “Out of the Ashes” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared on ID GO now!
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