Multiple witnesses have told authorities that the men threw the girls into a pit or mineshaft or dumped them in a cellar that was later covered in concrete.

PICHER — At least 20 mineshafts and two ponds are within a quarter-of-a-mile of the trailer where a suspected quadruple killer lived and reportedly held two teenage Welch girls captive during their final days alive.

Warren Phillip Welch, who lived at 412 S. College St. in Picher, is believed to be one of three men who killed Danny and Kathy Freeman and raped, tortured and killed their daughter, Ashley Freeman, and her best friend, Lauria Bible, in his mobile home in 1999.

Welch died in 2007 of ALS, and a second suspect, David A. Pennington, 56, died in 2015.

The lone surviving suspect, Ronnie Dean Busick, 66, of Wichita, Kansas, is charged in Craig County District Court with two counts of first-degree murder with malice aforethought or accessory to first-degree murder, two additional counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of first-degree arson or accessory to first-degree arson. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail and is expected to be back in court on Friday, May 11, when a preliminary hearing date will be set.

Multiple witnesses have told authorities that the men threw the girls into a pit or mineshaft or dumped them in a cellar that was later covered in concrete.

“The word ‘pit’ is misleading,” said Ed Keheley, a retired nuclear engineer and former participant in many Tar Creek studies on the Oklahoma side of the Picher Mining Field. “Somebody might say a ‘pit’ rather than ‘pond.’”

For decades, mine workings and shafts have collapsed and filled with water, creating ponds that can measure up to 100 feet wide and 25 feet deep.

And making the search for the girls’ bodies even more difficult, Keheley said, is the fact that “there are 1,203 mine shafts in the Picher area.”

Michelle Lowry, spokeswoman for the Craig County District Attorney’s Office, would not comment on whether there are plans to search the Picher area for the girls’ bodies, saying the case in an ongoing investigation.

The Tar Creek area encompasses 40 square miles of lead- and zinc-contaminated land. For years, the area — which mining companies left in the 1960s and ’70s, leaving behind countless environmental, hazardous waste and medical problems — was at the top of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list.

Keheley has walked every inch of the site and a bit more, cataloging every mineshaft.

“By 2006, 450 of those mineshafts remained open, and of those numbers, 186 mineshafts are located within Picher’s city limits,” Keheley said. “Some of those mineshafts close to the Welch home were closed in 1986. Others were open in 1999 and have since closed.”

He said he can’t suggest that a particular mine shaft or mine pond is where the girls’ bodies can be found. But “some of these sites of opportunity could have allowed a quick getaway, and several sites were easily accessible from Welch’s residence.”

Today, the only thing remaining at the site of Welch’s former home is a piece of broken concrete pad. Several irises that once outlined the front yard are mixed with weeds, brush, rocks and fallen trees. Several mountains of mining chat provide a backdrop.

Across the street is a mine pond. The land caved in during the 1920s and filled with mine water that is around 15 feet deep.

A second mine pond is 200 feet southwest of the mobile home site. During the time the girls allegedly were held hostage, a person could have driven right up to the water, Keheley said.

“That pond is 15 feet deep,” he said.

Also in the area is the site of the 1967 Netta-White collapse, which took four houses with it. That site is filled with water that is around 25 feet deep, Keheley said.

“In 1999 there was an old back road from Welch’s house to the Netta-White collapse,” he said.

A nearby site where a large collapse occurred in 1971 is about 300 feet long and 150 feet wide and was used by the community as a landfill, holding household trash, refrigerators, lumber and all sorts of debris, Keheley said.

In addition, two mineshafts are located in the chat mountains behind Welch’s former home. The mineshafts were braced with 2-by-6 boards, which have since deteriorated, and the shafts have filled with debris, he said.

“They were open in 1999 but have since been filled with chat, and they may be difficult to search,” Keheley said. “That cribbing has fallen, and it would be unsafe to send someone down those old mine shafts.”

Instead, perhaps cameras could be dropped down the shafts, he said.

Also in the mining field are hundreds of old cellars, many of which have collapsed, Keheley said. Those cellars were 5-by-7-foot structures with wooden roofs, roughly the size of an open mine shaft.

“A cellar could resemble a mine shaft,” Keheley said.