Search for Oklahoma girls remains circling back to early tip

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/11/2019 04:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Ashley Renae Freeman (left) and Lauria Jaylene Bible, both 16 at the time, have been missing since Dec. 30, 1999. COURTESY
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) – Investigators are re-examining a tip from 19 years ago in the case of two abducted Oklahoma teenagers who are presumed dead.

New questions were raised after Ed Keheley, a Picher Mining Field expert assisting authorities, recently found an old article in the Joplin Globe about an anonymous caller, the newspaper reported.

The late George Hicks, the anonymous caller and former Vinita, Oklahoma police chief, told investigators on Jan. 4, 2000, that 16-year-olds Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, a Cherokee Nation citizen, were killed and their bodies were dumped in a mine shaft near Picher in northeast Oklahoma, along the Missouri border. One of the three initial suspects lived in Picher.

The tip about the alleged location of the bodies in the mine shaft came in less than a week after the slayings of Danny and Kathy Freeman, the burning of their mobile home near Welch, Oklahoma, and the abduction of their daughter Ashley and her friend Lauria.

FBI agents investigated a single shaft using an underwater camera, but no evidence turned up at the time. Gary Stansill, a cold case investigator with Oklahoma’s district attorney’s office, and Tammy Ferrari, a special agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, are now questioning whether details from the initial report were correctly interpreted.

Stansill found an FBI lead sheet that records the event. “It just says they looked down a mine shaft, but the camera broke,” Stansill said. “We don’t know if the (shaft) they searched back then is the one (the caller) referred to in the tip.”

Stansill and Ferrari said information they have turned up in recent years have helped them identify three prime suspects, including one man who is jailed awaiting a murder trial in a separate case.

Keheley said there is more than one open mine shaft on the land north of the church. There were several shafts and two old mine leases there. Determining which shaft was investigated and to what extent seems vital to investigators today.

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