Missing Welch Girls: No findings in Tuesday’s search in Picher

VIDEO: No remains found on day 3 of search for missing Welch girls

OTTAWA COUNTY, Okla. — Crews wrapped up their search Tuesday in Picher for the bodies of two Welch girls missing since 1999.

Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman disappeared 20 years ago.

Investigators say they searched two locations on Tuesday but didn’t find evidence of the girls’ remains.

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Update on search for missing Welch girls in Picher

MISSING WELCH GIRLS: We're getting an update on the search for the remains of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman in Picher. UPDATES >>> https://bit.ly/3iSL6bS

Posted by FOX23 News on Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Ronnie Busick, the only living suspect in the investigation, pleaded guilty to accessory to murder on July 15, 2020.

Busick made a deal with the state in July saying if he helps find the girls’ remains, his prison sentence will get cut in half.

The deal is only valid until Aug. 31.

The team says Busick told them that he was 80 percent sure the remains were there. Busick said he had been out to the site in the past with the two other suspects on several occasions.

Authorities have searched mine shafts, rural fields and other areas in the past with no results.

Investigators say they are hopeful Busick will give them more information. The team also says they have more areas to search.

The family says it’s disappointing, but they believe Busick knows exactly where the remains are, and they too hope he comes forward with more information.

MISSING WELCH GIRLS: Here's where crews are digging this morning for the remains of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. We're in Picher getting updates as they happen >>> https://bit.ly/3iSL6bS

Posted by FOX23 News on Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Background

Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman have been missing since December 1999. FOX23 has been covering the investigation for years and reported in 2018 when an arrest was finally made in the case.

Bible was staying the night with Freeman to celebrate her 16th birthday that night.

Investigators say Philip Welch, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick killed Danny and Kathy Freeman then abducted Lauria and Ashley.

(family photo)
(family photo)

Authorities say Welch, Busick and Pennington kidnapped Lauria and Ashley and held them for days torturing them before murdering them and dumping their bodies

Authorities have yet to find the bodies of the two missing girls.

Searching for the remains

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation narrowed down a handful of possible sites where the remains of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman could be located, but have not yet found them.

Investigators focused on several sites in Picher, Oklahoma in July 2019. One of those sites is the property where Philip Welch lived in a mobile home he rented. The property on College Street is the last place the girls were seen alive. FOX23 found several ponds have been recently drained across the street from the College Street property and trees in that area also cleared.

Multiple agencies including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Craig County District Attorney's Office, the Quapaw Tribe, and others assisted in the dig Tuesday, July 30.

The search July 30 and 31 marked the first large-scale dig for Laura and Ashley's remains since 2005.

Crews came up empty after two days of digging.

In June 2005, investigators from ten agencies spent days searching in Galena, Kansas. It came after a serial killer, Jeremy Jones, had confessed to the killings and directed authorities to that area. The search came up empty. Jones later recanted his confession. FOX23's Tiffany Alaniz was at that search for several days

In 2016, FOX23 followed investigators to Chetopa, Kansas where they thought they might find evidence of the girls’ bodies. Crews were unable to locate any remains.

The men suspected in the case

In April 2018, prosecutors filed charges against Ronnie Busick for killing Danny and Kathy Freeman and kidnapping and murdering Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.

Busick remains in custody in Vinita in the Craig County Jail. His court case has been stalled out as the judge in the case awaits mental competency exams from the defense and prosecution.

Busick in December was found competent for trial.

In 2019, Busick's attorneys said he doesn't remember because he was grazed by a bullet in a shooting that happened in 1978. FOX23 has learned Busick has talked in the Craig County Jail telling fellow inmates details about the crimes, but his attorneys have said they cannot release any of that information.

Warren Phllip Welch (deceased), Ronnie Busick and David Pennington (deceased), are suspected in the 1999 disappearance of two Oklahoma girls. (Kansas Department of Corrections)
Warren Phllip Welch (deceased), Ronnie Busick and David Pennington (deceased), are suspected in the 1999 disappearance of two Oklahoma girls. (Kansas Department of Corrections)

Busick pleaded guilty to accessory to murder on July 15, 2020.

Philip Welch and David Pennington, the other two suspects have both died. Welch died in 2007 and Pennington died in 2015.