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Ashley resided in a trailer home outside of Welch, Oklahoma with her parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, in 1999. Her older brother, Shane, experienced behaviorial problems in 1998 and early 1999. Photos of Danny, Kathy and Shane are posted below this case summary. The family was ordered to participate in a counseling program through the Oklahoma Department Of Human Services in 1998 after Shane stole his uncle's pickup truck. Shane returned to his previous behavior after a short period of respite. Danny was charged with abusing his son in late August 1998 after a school counselor notified authorities that Shane's buttocks were bleeding and bruised. Danny maintained that the incident was overblown, while prosecutors contended that he used excessive force. Shane told the court that he was no longer fearful of his father during a pre-trial hearing. Several relatives stated that Shane's problems stemmed from attempting to please Danny.
Several of the Freemans' family members stated that Danny had a violent temper. He was charged with beating his father-in-law after the latter trimmed his bushes without consent in 1985. Kathy's parents told reporters that Danny's temper often hurt her and their children. He also reportedly grew marijuana for his own usage near the family's trailer home. There has been speculation that Danny was involved in a drug trafficking operation, but investigators have not uncovered evidence to support the theory. His family members have denied the allegations, but admitted that Danny may have grown the substance. Danny was occasionally unemployed as a result of a work-related injury and the family relied on Kathy's income from her job with Doctor's Optical Supply Company Inc.. Kathy was described as a dependable and caring person.
The Freemans believed that Shane was attempting to run away from Hayes at the time of his death. Several of their family members believed that the autopsy results proved that Shane was killed as his back was turned towards Hayes. His uncle said that Shane always ran from the authorities when confronted in the past.
Danny reportedly inquired about the location of Hayes's residence one month after his son was killed. Investigators apparently believed that Danny was planning to avenge Shane's death. The Freemans claimed that several officers' cars were parked near their trailer afterwards, leading them to believe that the sheriff's department was attempting to intimidate them. Additional witnesses supported the family's statements. Kathy and Ashley searched for a new residence in Louisiana shortly afterwards, but they returned to Oklahoma when Kathy elected to ignore the alleged harassment.
Danny's trial for the child abuse charges began in March 1999, two months after Shane's death. The jury deadlocked and asked the judge if they could order him to attend counseling. Danny was acquitted of all charges after the jurors' request was refused. The Freemans' relatives reported that tensions were extremely high between Danny and law enforcement at the time.
The Freemans' trailer did not have running water and was primarily heated by a wood-burning stove in the living room. The family was described as avid hunters and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoyed living in the remote location. The trailer was equipped with telephone service and electricity. There were numerous firearms stockpiled inside the home and Ashley assisted with hunting food. Danny enjoyed walking along Cabin Creek behind their mobile home to search for arrowheads. His relatives stated that he had an extensive collection of the items, which were rumored to be valuable.
Lauria spent the evening of December 30, 1999 at Ashley's home to celebrate the latter's birthday. Lorene Bible, Lauria's mother, said that Kathy took the girls to the Pizza Hut in Vinita, Oklahoma during the evening. Lorene's statement contradicts authorities' belief that Kathy and the girls visited Big Bill's Barbeque in the 350 block of North Wilson Street in Vinita, Oklahoma. The group traveled in Kathy's blue Toyota and picked up feed for the Freemans' livestock, as well as water from Kathy's mother's house.
Ashley's boyfriend, Jeremy Hurst, told investigators that he met the women at a local Wal-Mart after their dinner. He gave Ashley a silver chain with a heart-shaped pendant imbedded with her birthstone for her birthday present. Hurst said that he returned to the Freemans' home with the women shortly afterwards. He said that nothing appeared to be amiss and he departed at approximately 9:30 p.m. One of Danny's relatives visited their residence during the evening and claimed that Hurst actually left at 10:30 p.m. Authorities said that no outgoing telephone calls were made from the family's home during the night. Kathy planned to take Ashley to her driver's test the following morning. She also planned to stop by the county courthouse, as the Freemans were considering filing a civil lawsuit against the sheriff's department as a result of Shane's death. Lauria had a dental appointment scheduled for the following morning and planned to leave the trailer shortly beforehand.
A passing motorist reported a fire in the vicinity of the Freemans' residence at approximately 6:00 a.m. the following morning. Authorities discovered Kathy's remains inside the debris during the afternoon. Investigators initially stated that they were positive no other bodies were inside the home and did not secure the location during the overnight hours. Danny was considered the prime suspect in his wife's murder; authorities believed that he may have abducted Ashley and Lauria and traveled elsewhere, but all of the Freemans' vehicles were parked near their home. Lauria's car was also nearby and the keys were inside the ignition. Lorene discovered Lauria's purse propped inside the trailer, but there was no other evidence of the girls at the scene.
Jay Bible, Lauria's father, discovered Danny's body in the bedroom of the mobile home during the following morning. The Bibles returned to the trailer in an attempt to gather more evidence as to their daughter's whereabouts. Both Danny and Kathy had died as the result of gunshot wounds. Danny's body was partially covered by debris inside the bedroom, explaining why his remains were overlooked. The medical examiner determined that Danny's right collarbone had been fractured prior to the entrance of the fatal wound. The coroner determined that Kathy died at approximately 5:00 a.m. Investigators believe that the fire was intentionally set in an attempt to destroy evidence of the crimes. An extensive search for the girls produced no evidence as to their whereabouts.
Lorene told reporters that Ashley had been saving her money to purchase a used vehicle in December 1999. Lorene said that she believed Ashley had accumulated $1200 in her savings account. Hurst said that Ashley actually claimed to have saved between $3000 and $4000 for the car. She was employed part-time at Roscoe's, a convenience store in Welch. Hurst said that Ashley did not have a bank account; she kept her money sealed in a Tupperware container in the family's freezer. Authorities were unable to locate any evidence of the cash after the fire. Lorene stated that Ashley and Danny had been arguing earlier in the month regarding the vehicle. She claimed that Ashley wanted to purchase a different car than Danny had desired.
The Bible family believes that Danny's alleged drug dealing may have triggered the murders and disappearances. They claimed that he may have become involved in something out of his control, which led to the incidents in late December 1999. The Freemans' loved ones theorize that local law enforcement may have played a role in the cases. There is no evidence to suggest either theory is correct. Hayes, the officer who killed Shane, and his brother, who is also a law enforcement officer, said they both took polygraph exams after the girls' disappearances. Neither of them are considered suspects in the investigations. Hayes and his brother have not participated in the active cases.
Several of the girls' relatives participated in the pilot of the television program What Really Happened in October 2001. The show was not purchased by any of the networks and has never been broadcast. DeAnna Dorsey, a nurse who assisted the Freemans on the night of Shane's death, appeared on the show. A photo of DeAnna is posted below this case summary. Her daughter was a friend of Ashley in 1999. DeAnna was shot and killed at the hospital where was employed shortly after returning from the taping. Authorities said that paranoid schizophrenic Ricky Martin murdered her as a result of his anger about the hospital's decision to downsize. Martin was killed by police shortly after DeAnna's murder. Martin and DeAnna reportedly never met one another. Some people believe that DeAnna's death was connected to the Freemans' murders, but the theory has never been proven.
Convicted murderer Tommy Lynn Sells wrote a letter to The Joplin Globe in May 2002 and claimed that he was involved in the Freeman/Bible case. Sells stated that he traveled through Welch, Oklahoma during the night of the girls' disappearances. He said that he was returning from St. Louis, Missouri at the time. Sells stated that his memory was clouded by drug usage, but wrote that he "wanted" to remember a fire and the burial locations of the two girls. Authorities said that Sells was considered a possible suspect in the case, but that their investigation was proceeding cautiously. Sells was arrested after fatally stabbing a teenage girl in Del Rio, Texas in late December 1999. He was convicted of her murder, as well as the homicide of another young Texas girl in April 1999. Authorities believe that Sells may be connected to as many as 16 homicides. He has confessed to murdering Stefanie Stroh, who vanished from Nevada in 1987. Sells has not been charged in connection with any of the cases.
Jeremy Brian Jones is considered a possible suspect in Ashley and Lauria's disappearances. A photograph of Jones is posted below this case summary. He has been charged with the murders of a teenaged girl and a woman and is a suspect in disappearances and murders in at least six states, including the murder of Patrice Endres and the disappearance of Melinda McGhee. Endres had been missing for eighteen months before her body was found in December 2005. Jones lived in Ottawa County, Oklahoma at the time the girls vanished, and was released from jail at 10:30 p.m. on the night of their disappearances. He left the area in early 2000. Investigators say the murders of Danny and Kathy are similar to the crimes Jones has been charged with; the woman he allegedly killed had been shot to death before being set on fire.
Investigators questioned Jones about Ashley and Lauria's cases and reported that he confessed to murdering the Ashley's parents and then abducting and killing the girls after they fled the trailer. He suggested investigators look for the girls' remains in a mine shaft near Galena, Kansas. Jones did an interview with the media and denied confessing to anything related to the girls' cases. Police plan to try to verify his statements; they plan to begin looking for Ashley and Lauria's bodies again in July 2005.
Ashley and Lauria's disappearances remain unsolved.
Top Left: Danny Freeman; Top Right: Kathy Freeman;
Bottom Left: Shane Freeman; Bottom Right: DeAnna Dorsey
Federal Bureau Of Investigation
Oklahoma State Bureau Of Investigation