Crime & Courts

He's accused of killing 4 people in 1999, and he's been living in Wichita

Busick Courtesy photo

A cold case that plagued Oklahoma investigators for more than 18 years ended near Wichita on Sunday.

Of the three men suspected in the 1999 deaths of two teenage girls, only one is alive. Ronnie Dean Busick, 66, was already in the Harvey County Jail when Oklahoma investigators officially connected him to the killings.

Busick has been living in the 3800 block of East Pawnee with a friend, according to a 29-page probable cause affidavit for his arrest and a neighbor.

She didn't know Busick well, but recognized him as living in the home. She said different people come and go from the house often, but she doesn't believe they're connected to drugs.

Recently, the homeowner removed a chain link fence from the backyard and someone had been living in a trailer and tent in the backyard with electricity running from the house. A knock on the door Thursday afternoon was only answered by the barks of two dogs.

Busick returned to Craig County, Oklahoma, on Wednesday to face four counts of first-degree murder.

Investigators identified the two other suspects as Warren “Phil” Welch and David Pennington, both of whom are dead.

Busick is accused of kidnapping and killing Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, both 16, who disappeared on Dec. 30, 1999, from Welch, Oklahoma. They had been at Ashley’s home for a sleepover.

That night, the mobile home they slept in caught fire. The remains of Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were found inside, according to KFOR-TV. They had been shot in the head.

The girls’ bodies have never been found.

Though he denied involvement or knowledge of the crime, Busick told the Tulsa World that he would “only talk to the families” about the location of the girls’ bodies, the newspaper reported.

In addition to the murders, he is also charged with two counts of kidnapping and a count each of arson and accessory to first-degree arson.

Busick has been jailed in Harvey County since Feb. 21 on a drug probation violation, the Tulsa World reported.

He has an extensive criminal history in Kansas, dating back to a 1986 conviction in Labette County for possession of drugs. He was convicted several more times of various drug crimes in 1996, and 2001, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

From 1997 to 1999, Busick was in and out of the Labette County jail. He had also been held at the Wichita-Work Release Center and in the Sedgwick County Jail for parole violations and on various warrants, records show.

Court documents say more than a dozen people knew details of the girls’ deaths, but didn’t say anything to police.

The three men apparently kept Polaroid photos as trophies, witnesses told investigators. The girls were shown tied to a bed and gagged, the affidavit says.

The case gained steam in 2017 shortly after Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey took office and found a crate of files and evidence related to the case, according to KFOR-TV.

Court documents say the crate contained information pointing to the three men, including names of other people who had information about the killings.

That led deputies to more than a dozen interviews, which ultimately led to Busick’s arrest. Many of the people interviewed said the man bragged about the murders and threatened those they told.

Busick had told someone “about how the girls were tied up in a trailer house in Picher where they were raped and tortured," the affidavit says.

He was interviewed by Oklahoma authorities multiple times in 2017 about the murders. The last interview happened on Nov. 2 and lasted several hours. At least one interview, in August, took place in Newton.

During one interview, Busick pointed the finger at Pennington and Welch.

But he later described the murders and kidnappings as being "cold blooded" and said he heard the bodies "may be in a mine shaft in Picher," the affidavit says.

Picher is about 30 minutes northwest of Welch. It's in northeast Oklahoma, just over the state line from Kansas.

No one who told the investigators they saw the Polaroids were able to say where the photos are now.

Wichita police Detective Wendy Hummell talks about a cold case where a teenager from out of town was shot and killed. She spoke at the Wichita Police Department's daily media briefing on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.

Nichole Manna, 316-269-6752, @NicholeManna