Missing Welch Girls: New searches for abducted girls planned in January

VIDEO: Federal agencies resume search for missing Welch girls

Latest Developments:

WELCH, Okla. — Twenty years have passed since the abduction and presumed murder of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman of Welch.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is joining the meetings and searches Tuesday and Wednesday.

Content Continues Below
  • Representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) are in Picher for the search.
  • The OSBI, US Attorney's Office, DA's office, multiple sheriff's office, Tulsa Police dive team, and volunteers are also taking part.
  • For the first time, investigators are using a Borehole color camera with a robotic arm to search the mineshafts for remains and to see if the mineshafts need further searching.
  • They’re also using an underwater ROV device, basically an underwater drone, to search as well.
  • Some of the mineshafts have been searched before, but not with this new technology.

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.

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.

New technology used to search for missing Welch girls

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′s Cailey Dougherty followed investigators to Chetopa, Kansas where they thought they might find evidence of the girls’ bodies. Crews were unable to locate any remains.

Welch cold case sends investigators to Kansas

Another pair of meetings and searches are planned for Jan. 7 and 8.

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.

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

Talking to the families of the victims

The families of the two girls held a remembrance ceremony on December 30, 2019 -- 20 years after the night the girls were taken and Ashley’s parents were murdered.

FOX23 News at 9:00 p.m.

FOX23 has stayed close to the families of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman throughout their search for answers.

VIDEO: Lauria Bible's mom talks about missing, rejected evidence
FOX23 Investigates: The continued search for two missing Welch girls