Craig County Sheriff discovers long-lost investigation notes in case of missing Welch girls.
VINITA — A long-lost set of investigation notes discovered recently is said to be pushing the case forward in the disappearance of two Craig County teenage girls who have been missing for 18 years.
Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible were 16 years old when they celebrated Ashley’s birthday with a sleepover at the Freeman home in Welch on Dec. 29, 1999.
“Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey has provided investigators previous(ly) unknown notes and documents he discovered referencing the Freeman/Bible case that was left from the previous sheriff administration,” said Gary Stansill, District 12 District Attorney’s Office investigator.
Stansill said the notes were discovered in an office crate.
“These notes and documents have proven to be extremely valuable,” he said. “This information has produced leads that have produced additional leads.”
Stansill declined to release specific information on leads, motives or suspects.
“Our family hopes and prays that these new leads bring Lauria home,” said Lorene Bible, Lauria’s mother.
Stansill said he and an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent have interviewed several people who have knowledge about the shooting deaths of Danny and Kathy Freeman and the disappearance of the girls.
“Other individuals have come forward with information, as well,” Stansill said.
There are individuals that have not been interviewed who have information about the slayings and the girls’ disappearance, he said.
“We are still asking the public if individuals have information about the case and have not recently talked to investigators to call the OSBI tip line,” Stansill said.
The recently discovered notes breathed new life into an investigation that has crisscrossed the country and into Canada and Mexico for nearly two decades.
Winfrey, who took office in January 2017, was moving into the Sheriff’s Office when the crate was discovered in a closet.
“It was just sitting on a shelf,” he said. “We weren’t digging for it — we just found it.”
After going through the documents, Winfrey quickly realized what he had, secured the documents into evidence and contacted Stansill.
“You don’t think finding something like that in a crate would push the case forward this much,” Winfrey said. “You just don’t think in a million years it would turn out leads like it did.”
In the middle of the night on Dec. 29 or the early-morning hours of Dec. 30, 1999, someone drove down the dirt driveway to the Freeman residence. An accelerant was placed near the wood-burning stove. Investigators aren’t sure how long it took, but the mobile home became engulfed in flames.
The body of Kathy Freeman, Ashley’s mother, was discovered in the charred remains of the mobile home. A bullet, according to her autopsy report, had shattered her skull. The skull of Danny Freeman, found later at the scene, also was shattered, an autopsy showed. His extensive arrowhead collection could not be located in the rubble.
No evidence of Lauria and Ashley was found at that scene, but Lauria’s car was in the Freeman driveway with the keys in the ignition.
For years, investigators worked on the premise that an intruder or intruders killed the Freemans and the girls were collateral damage.
Jeremy Jones, 43, a convicted killer and rapist who once lived in Miami, Oklahoma, was a person of interest in the Freemans’ deaths. He has never been charged in the case and is on Alabama’s death row for the murder and rape of a Turnerville, Alabama, woman.
In a confession he later recanted to the media, Jones said the girls’ bodies were in a mineshaft in Galena, Kansas. A search of the area in 2005 turned up no remains.
The Freeman family had Ashley declared legally dead in 2010, according to court records.
The OSBI is offering up to $10,000 for credible information. A private reward of $50,000 also stands.
Anyone with information is asked to call the OSBI hotline at 800-522-8017 or email email@example.com.