As the book began to hit stores, Jax Miller saw almost five years of work come to fruition.
Miller, an author based in New York City, has spent much of the past few years traveling to Northeast Oklahoma with one goal in mind — to research and write about the disappearance and presumed slayings of 16-year-old Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, and the slayings of Ashley’s parents, Kathy and Danny Freeman.
The fruits of her labor — "Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth and the Case of Two Missing Girls" — was released last week. It is available through booksellers locally and online within the U.S. as well as the U.K., Ireland, and France.
The book includes information about the girls’ case since the night of Dec. 30, 1999, when they disappeared, Ashley Freeman's parents were killed, and the Freeman home in Welch was destroyed by fire. Miller includes interviews with law enforcement members, suspects and others with knowledge of the case, many of whom had never spoken publicly about it before.
It also includes a letter written by Kathy Freeman before her death, information about the death of DeAnna Dorsey, a friend of the Freemans who was slain in the early 2000s, as well as interviews with past suspects.
The book also recounts aspects of the case through the years until 2018, when Ronald James Busick was arrested in connection with the crime. The two principal suspects, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington, died in 2007 and 2015, respectively.
Earlier this month, Busick entered a guilty plea in an agreement that makes his sentence dependent upon if he can lead authorities to the bodies of the girls. Busick, 68, pleaded to a reduced charge of accessory to murder. The charges of murder, arson and kidnapping were dropped per the agreement.
Awaiting formal sentencing on Aug. 31, Busick’s deal includes a split 15-year sentence, with 10 years in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody and five years under supervised release.
If Busick provides information leading to the recovery of the girls’ remains, he will serve five years with the remainder of his sentence in supervised release. Time served would be applied to the length of his sentence.
How it began
Miller’s involvement with Freeman-Bible case began after she completed her first two novels, "Freedom’s Child" and "Candyland." Looking for a way to switch from fiction to nonfiction, Miller said she recalled hearing about the Freeman-Bible case, most likely during a newscast or episode of "Unsolved Mysteries."
By then, 15 years had passed since the girls disappeared. Miller became impressed with how family members, including Bible’s mother, Lorene, remained focused on getting information out about the girls and never giving up on solving the case.
Miller became immersed in the multiple layers of the case, ranging from the setting to the story’s various characters.
“I became very obsessed with it, if you will,” Miller said, recalling her first visit to Oklahoma. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Miller said members of the Freeman and Bible families kept her focused on telling the story to the best of her ability.
“I’m a very passionate person. I would fixate on all that they were doing day in and day out,” Miller said. “It was not just a 9-to-5 thing. I’m very single-minded. I would eat, breathe and sleep it.”
At least once, Miller contemplated putting the book down. In Oklahoma for a research trip, Miller once walked away from the project. Sitting in the airport, ticket in hand, Miller came to a realization.
“The family didn’t have the luxury of leaving, so why should I?” Miller said. “I thought as long as they were going through it, I would see it through with them.”
Some of the book’s research was featured in the CNN Headline News four-part original series "Hell in the Heartland: What Happened to Ashley and Lauria?" Miller said the book differs from the television series because it takes a deeper look into the story and all of the people involved. The interviews also set the book apart.
Through it all, Miller said, the book is not a sensationalized version of the story. She said both families gave approval for what she wrote.
“A lot of true-crime genre doesn’t focus on the victims,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to glorify the crimes. I wanted to bring the girls to life, and not as victims. I learned who they were through the people who knew them best.”
Miller said she expected to find Lorene Bible to be a “grieving, weeping mother.” Instead, she said, she found a “very straightforward” woman who was determined to get information out about her missing daughter.
“I love the way the family handled this and was struck how they handled it over the years,” Miller said. “It changed me, and helped me grow in the process. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to see the case evolve through the family’s eyes.”
More about Miller
Miller began writing fiction at the age of 23. She was surprised at how much the Freeman-Bible case eventually became part of her life.
“I’m always surprised to see things that I know about unfold publicly and see it as it happens on TV or in the newspapers,” Miller said, adding she often gets mail from a variety of sources depending upon what is taking place in the news.
As of now, Miller does not plan to revise the book beyond Busick’s arrest. Plans may change, she said, depending upon the wishes of the Freeman and Bible families.
For now, she’s simply sitting back like a new mother, enjoying the birth of her first nonfiction work. Her plans may include diving into another heartland-based mystery, but those are for another day.
“I really think there are people with information out there,” Miller said. “I’m hoping this book will jog some memories. If people are afraid, I hope they can overcome it. I hope they will help these guys get closure.”
Family members began using the hashtag #FindLauriaandAshley as a way to talk about the 20th anniversary of their disappearance and to continue to spread the girls' story. They are asking anyone with information concerning the case to contact investigators via a tip line at 1-800-522-8017 or at email@example.com.