How an Overlooked Clue Cracked Open 1999 Murder Case More than a Decade After Teen Girls Were Killed

Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, both 16, disappeared after a house fire in 1999, and Ashley's parents were found murdered inside the home

lauria bible and ashley freeman
Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman. Photo: Courtesy Lorene Bible

The 1999 killings of Kathy and Danny Freeman, and the disappearance of their 16-year-old daughter Ashley and her friend, Lauria Bible, shocked the rural Oklahoma community.

On Dec. 30 that year, firefighters were called to the Freemans' mobile home and came upon a horrific scene. A fire had gutted the home, and the bodies of Danny and Kathy were found inside. Both had been fatally shot in the head before the fire was deliberately set.

But Ashley and Lauria, 16, weren't there. And decades later, they still haven't been found.

The tragic mystery is explored in tonight's episode of People Magazine Investigates: Bible Belt Massacre, airing at 10 ET/9 CT on Investigation Discovery and streaming on discovery+. (An exclusive clip is shown below.)

Over the years, investigators focused their attention on two people who'd later be convicted of unrelated killings: Tommy Lee Sells and Jeremy Jones. Both confessed to killing the girls, but they were eventually ruled out as suspects.

A break in the case finally came when investigators uncovered a box of documents which led them to an overlooked clue — an insurance verification card — found by a private investigator.

That clue helped turn everything around.

bibl and freeman murder suspects
David Pennington; Phil Welch; Ronnie Busick.

For more on the murders of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

Tom Pryor, the private investigator, found the card in the Freemans' driveway within days of the murders and traced it to a woman who was living with a local drug dealer named Phil Welch.

Pryor says he found the car at a salvage lot with girls' clothing and rental receipts for a mobile home where Welch lived.

He told investigators about the card but they didn't take it as evidence, he says. Instead, he kept the card for almost two decades, hoping someone would come knocking on his door.

Then, one day, Gary Stansill , an investigator with the District 12. D.A.'s office, and Tammy Ferrari, an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, did just that.

"I call it a miracle," says Stansill.

Investigators later alleged that Welch and two associates, David Pennington and Ronnie Busick, murdered Ashley's parents over a drug debt and then kidnapped the teens, killing them days later.

Of the three men, only Busick is still alive, and he has denied any involvement in the girls' murders and kidnappings. In the summer of 2020, Busick, 69, pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murders of Kathy and Danny.

But the teens remain missing, despite dozens of attempts to find their remains in mine shafts and root cellars.

"It bothers me really bad," says Pryor. "I've been to probably 10 or 12 of their searches. I hope and pray they find the girls."

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Stansill is still holding out hope the girls remains will be found, and their families can find closure.

"I just don't believe God would have directed me this far to come up empty-handed now," he says.

People Magazine Investigates: Bible Belt Massacre, airs tonight at 10 ET/9 CT on Investigation Discovery and streams on discovery+.

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