In 1999, a devastating murder case took place in Oklahoma, USA. Several people lost their lives, and a house went up in flames, burned to the ground by the killers. It took decades for the police to get a break in the case – but did they get their man? The case is generally known as the “Murders of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman”.
Jax Miller is the author of Hell in the Heartland, a book on this terrifying case. She was kind enough to take time from her schedule and talk to ForenSeek just a few weeks before her book will be published.
Thank you, Jax, for your time!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Jax Miller and I’m an author. I’d seen success in writing fiction when I was living in Ireland after my first book “Freedom’s Child” was translated into 16+ languages. But, in time, I wanted to move my sights towards the true crime genre, which I’ve always personally loved reading. The case out of Welch, Oklahoma with the disappearance of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman was my entrance in the genre, and several years later, I’m still in it, unable to walk away. It went from wanting to write this genre to wanting to write their story and help them in any small way I could.
Since making the choice to switch gears into nonfiction, I created, produced, and hosted a series on CNN’s HLN network called ‘Hell in The Heartland,” about the girls’ story. That aired June of last year, and now, our book of the same name comes out this Summer.
Where did your interest in true crime and mysteries start?
I was twelve years old, and I idolized my grandfather. I’d spend summers at my grandparents’ home, and every summer I’d try and read through his shelves of books. He was a well-read man who’d collected a lot of books about war, politics, and true crime. On the same token, to support me, he’d read my books in return, which usually consisted of children’s horror, like RL Stine.
One Summer, and it took me more than the summer, I read Vincent Bugliosi’s ‘Helter Skelter,’ and it changed my life. Granted, I was too young, but I loved it. Then it was Bugliosi’s ‘And The Sea Will Tell.’ Then it was Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood.’ The rest is history.
Your new book deals with the murders of Lauria Bible and Ashley
Freeman. Who were these young ladies?
This is the very heart of the story, who they were as average 16-year-old girls, and not as victims. These were two best friends whose friendship weathered Ashley moving some 20 miles away. Lauria was this happy little girl, just full of spunk and life, whereas Ashley was a bit of a tomboy, who was trying to navigate through a rough period of her life as a result of her older brother just dying. Lauria and Ashley’s differences complimented one another, however, and there was balance. All in all, these were two best friends with their whole lives in front of them.
Can you give us a brief description of the circumstances surrounding
On the early morning of December 30th, 1999, tucked deep in the prairie of rural Oklahoma, a trailer home was found in flames. Just after daybreak, authorities found only one body: that of 38-year-old Kathy Freeman, the mother of Ashley. She was burnt, but it was later determined that she’d been shot at close range with a shotgun.
It was initially assumed that Danny Freeman, Kathy’s husband, had killed his wife before abducting his daughter and her best friend, who was sleeping over the night before. It was well known that there’d been a lot of friction between Danny and the local sheriff’s office when a deputy shot and killed Kathy and Danny’s 17-year-old son, Shane Freeman, less than a year earlier. The family had plans to file a wrongful death suit against the Craig County Sheriff’s Office, but of course, that never happened. For this reason, the sheriff’s office requested the OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) to come in and handle the case.
Less than 24 hours after police discovered Kathy Freeman, Lauria Bible’s parents returned to the crime scene, hoping to find something that might tell them where Danny took the girls. The cops were gone, there was no yellow tape, and the scene was wide open. Within moments, Mr. & Mrs. Bible found what authorities missed the day before: the burnt body of Danny Freeman. Like Kathy, he’d also been shot to death.
So many theories have emerged in the years following. People have said that Danny had this sordid drug business, which led to debts being owed. Others firmly believed the police were behind the murders in an attempt to stop the family from filing a wrongful death suit against the county (the family alleged that the shooting death of their son was not justified). Today, you’ll hear rumors that Lauria and Ashley killed Ashley’s parents and are still out there. And, over the years, a few killers confessed to the murders.
But the fact remains, that Lauria and Ashley, after 20 years, are still missing.
The police made some mistakes in the investigation, correct?
Yes, this is a frustrating aspect, and the question remains: was this corruption or just incompetence? When authorities, between the local sheriff’s office and the state bureau, failed to find the body of Danny Freeman, all hell broke loose. The relatives, including Mr. & Mrs. Bible, took over the investigation for years to come. The girls weren’t entered into the databases, and it was the families organizing the searches, not law enforcement. It was a total shit show and I get into a lot more detail in the book.
This all said, a lot has changed since then. I came to meet the families at around the same time authorities reopened the case, and it’s now handled by a new set of agents, which I think is good. They seem to really care about the investigation and work hard to try and find the girls. For the first time in many years, they’re conducting searches and investigating aspects of the case that weren’t followed up on two decades ago, and the families are satisfied with how current agents are working.
In 2018, there was a break in the case. What kind of a break was it?
Why did it take so long to for the police to create the break?
This was a couple of years after I came to the story, and I’d known that police had made an arrest 7 months before they announced it. It was such an anxious time, to sit on this information, but authorities had to build a case against a man who still sits in jail today.
Authorities announced there were alleged photographs that proved what happened to the girls. I don’t want to give too much away, but theories are still divided, and the fact remains that the girls still have not been located.
What was the process of researching and writing the book like? How long did it take to put this book together?
I started looking into this case in 2015, and began travelling from my home in Ireland to Oklahoma in 2016. I really wanted to make it a point to bring readers into the story and not the other way around, so I did my best to become one of them and take on this “When in Rome” approach. So I spent months and months in Oklahoma, being with the families, interviewing people. It took a lot of persistence, but I was able to sit with convicted murderers and meth cooks, suspects, law enforcement who’d never spoke out before. It was arduous, and overwhelming at times, but I became obsessed and wanted to learn as much as I could. Of course, my work is so pale, when compared to what families have done the past 20 years. But I was happy to work from in the trenches, and I’ve been very fortunate to make such amazing bonds and friendships with many of the people involved.
Was it difficult to get people “surrounding” the case to talk?
That was something that became evident very quickly: that a lot of the culture didn’t care for outsiders (especially authors) and wanted to be left alone. But persistence largely paid off, and even if it took years (and it did), I got to speak with people who’d never spoken before.
The Bibles, however, were the first people I reached out to, and they were so forthcoming and open. I wished that was the case for everyone I had to chase down.
Were you able to uncover anything new in your personal investigation?
New to the public, yes, but maybe not new to families. I’m reluctant to say too much. I did get people on the record who’d never spoken before, so I think there’s a lot to be discovered for people who’ve followed the case over the years.
In the end, everyone told me to stop my research. Unbeknownst to me, I was nosing around the very area authorities would focus their efforts, so they didn’t want me to mess it up. So I backed off, and soon after, they announced their first arrest.
Are you satisfied that the case is solved, or do you think there are aspects still left uncovered?
I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this, no. I know if you ask Mrs. Bible, she’ll tell you that there’s no satisfaction until she can bring her daughter home. Even with the 2018 arrest, she still needs closure.
I think there are people with information still out there. I hope this book helps them come forward.
What’s next for you? Do you have any plans for new books?
I do. I just pitched my second true crime book proposal yesterday, but I’d rather keep it to myself for now. I don’t want to jinx it, and I want my audience to keep focusing on Lauria and Ashley.
Where can people keep up with your work?
I’m all over social media, but I’m most active on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/realjaxmiller
To add, the Bible family runs their own page, which they regularly update, and that’s the “Find Lauria Bible” page on Facebook.
Anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask about?
‘Hell in The Heartland: Murder, Meth, and The Case of Two Missing Girls” is available for preorder now, anywhere books are sold. It will be released in the USA with Penguin Random House (Berkley) on July 28th, 2020, and in the UK with Harper Collins on August 6th.
And finally, my regular questions.
Your top 3 books?
In Cold Blood
The Kite Runner
Your top 3 films?
The Shawshank Redemption
The Place Between The Pines
Your top 3 albums?
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Pink Floyd – The Wall
Alice in Chains – Dirt