More than two decades and investigators have not given up hope; OSBI cold case search for missing Welch girls continues with dig site in Picher

Joplin News First

PICHER, Okla. — Investigators Tuesday continue following leads in searching for Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible who went missing in December 30, 1999 from Freeman’s burned out home in Welch, Oklahoma, more than two decades ago. Ashley Freeman’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman were found shot to death inside the burned out trailer. But the two teenagers were gone.

Their bodies have never been found.

“We are out here today to continue some excavations. (Motioning behind himself). This is where deceased suspect David Pennington moved shortly after the murders. In mid-to-late January of 2000. Of course our murders and kidnapping happened December 30, 1999,” Gary Stansill says to the media gathered at the dig site on Tuesday. Stansill is an investigator for the Craig County District Attorney.

629 South Ottawa Street, Picher, Oklahoma, and an adjacent property that was thought to be vacant at the time. “We’ve interviewed a lot of former neighbors here in Picher and they have been very cooperative.”

He then holds up a photo of a trailer, “this is it, this where he moved to in October 1999. And as you can see in October of 1999, that lot is still vacant. So we surmise people are not going to put bodies in someone’s back yard when someone’s living there, but they might put them in a cellar on a vacant lot.”

Stansill also goes on to describe information obtained from the only living person involved, Gary Busick, about a root cellar. Busick told investigators he got that information from Pennington.

L-R: Warren Phllip Welch (deceased), Ronnie Dean Busick, pleaded guilty to accessory to murder in July 2020, and David Pennington (deceased), are suspected in the 1999 disappearance and murders of two Oklahoma girls, and killing of the parents of one. (Nexstar File Photo)

Stansill said new information has developed in talking to Pennington’s ex-wife and ex-step daughter that there was some sort of root cellar there. Neighbors from around that time confirmed this in interviews.


LIVE! PICHER DIG SITE: MORE THAN TWO DECADES SEARCH FOR MISSING WELCH GIRLS CONTINUES >> • OSBI cold case agents & investigators are digging at a Picher, Oklahoma, residence with new information. • Dig site is location of deceased suspect residence, David Pennington, where he lived in early 2000. 629 S Ottawa, Picher. • Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman went missing December 30, 1999, from the Freeman burned out home in Welch, Oklahoma. Ashley’s parents were found in the ashes, they had been murdered. The girls were kidnapped and have never been located.

Posted by Joplin News First on Tuesday, April 27, 2021

“Bottom line is we are looking for some type of underground structure. The suspect David Pennington told his wife at the time and his step daughter not to go around it. Didn’t want them around it, which is suspicious.”

Additionally Stansill says Pennington told Busick he filled in the root cellar. That’s why they are digging. And no one knows exactly where it was out here.

Busick pleaded guilty last year as an accessory to murder. He is currently in prison.

Assisting today in the dig, as they have graciously have in the past, are the Quapaw Nation. Also on site OSBI cold case agent Tammy Ferrari, members and friends of the Bible family, Ottawa County victims advocate and other investigators. Look for a follow up article later today.

This is a developing story and more information will be updated from authorities here on our news tab at FSHP. Click here to set our news tab as a bookmark on your phone or digital device for quick access.


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