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Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls

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The stranger-than-fiction cold case from rural Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for two decades, concerning the disappearance of two teenage girls and the much larger mystery of murder, police cover-up, and an unimaginable truth... On December 30, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The ne The stranger-than-fiction cold case from rural Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for two decades, concerning the disappearance of two teenage girls and the much larger mystery of murder, police cover-up, and an unimaginable truth... On December 30, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing. While rumors of drug debts, revenge, and police collusion abounded in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found. In 2015, crime writer Jax Miller--who had been haunted by the case--decided to travel to Oklahoma to find out what really happened on that winter night in 1999, and why the story was still simmering more than fifteen years later. What she found was more than she could have ever bargained for: jaw-dropping levels of police negligence and corruption, entire communities ravaged by methamphetamine addiction, and a series of interconnected murders with an ominously familiar pattern. These forgotten towns were wild, lawless, and home to some very dark secrets.


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The stranger-than-fiction cold case from rural Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for two decades, concerning the disappearance of two teenage girls and the much larger mystery of murder, police cover-up, and an unimaginable truth... On December 30, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The ne The stranger-than-fiction cold case from rural Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for two decades, concerning the disappearance of two teenage girls and the much larger mystery of murder, police cover-up, and an unimaginable truth... On December 30, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing. While rumors of drug debts, revenge, and police collusion abounded in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found. In 2015, crime writer Jax Miller--who had been haunted by the case--decided to travel to Oklahoma to find out what really happened on that winter night in 1999, and why the story was still simmering more than fifteen years later. What she found was more than she could have ever bargained for: jaw-dropping levels of police negligence and corruption, entire communities ravaged by methamphetamine addiction, and a series of interconnected murders with an ominously familiar pattern. These forgotten towns were wild, lawless, and home to some very dark secrets.

30 review for Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Hell in the Heartland is a deep dive into the disappearance of two teen girls from the scene of a double homicide in the small town of Welch in Craig Country and was once one of Oklahoma’s most haunting and enduring mysteries. But while a recent break in the cold case provided some answers, there's still much more to this story than most people know. Lauria spent the night of December 29, 1999, at best friend Ashley’s home to celebrate Ashley’s sixteenth birthday. Early on the morning of Decembe Hell in the Heartland is a deep dive into the disappearance of two teen girls from the scene of a double homicide in the small town of Welch in Craig Country and was once one of Oklahoma’s most haunting and enduring mysteries. But while a recent break in the cold case provided some answers, there's still much more to this story than most people know. Lauria spent the night of December 29, 1999, at best friend Ashley’s home to celebrate Ashley’s sixteenth birthday. Early on the morning of December 30, a neighbour called emergency services to report that the trailer where Ashley lived with her parents, Kathy and Danny Freeman, was on fire. Police pretty swiftly ruled that it was arson and after the fire was extinguished they discovered the charred remains of Kathy Freeman who had been executed by gunshot to the head before the fire was set. Danny’s body was not found until the following day (Dec. 31) when Lauria’s parents descended on the rubble of the trailer to look for clues pertaining to their daughter's disappearance when they discovered Danny’s remains; he too died as the result of a gunshot wound. The two girls’ bodies have never been recovered. There has been much speculation over the years as to what may have happened to the family, and what the fate of Lauria and Ashley could have been. This book brings into focus some of the complex and often intermingling issues at play. Apparently, sometime in December 2017, the sheriff’s department handed over a box of “previously unknown” notes to the OSBI, which eventually led to the discovery of the three suspects. The notes identified Warren Phillip Welch II, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick as having murdered Danny and Kathy and abducted and later killed Lauria and Ashley. They also contained witnesses who had heard confessions and details of the crime from these three men and seen Polaroid pictures kept by these men of the girls bound and gagged. Per Oklahoma News 4, a private investigator had discovered an insurance card belonging to Welch’s girlfriend at or near the Freeman’s trailer shortly after the murders, and Welch was known to regularly drive his girlfriend’s car. This same private investigator was later warned off the case by the sheriff’s department. As a self-proclaimed true crime connoisseur who watches countless hours of true crime cases on YouTube and has read many such books, I am rattled by what I've read and uncovered about this case. I can't help but ask a number of questions that came immediately to mind: how is it possible that the police and emergency services at the scene of the fire completely missed Danny’s body? Why was it that the killers felt so cocksure that they openly bragged about the incident and showed polaroids of the girls to several people? As the girls were kept alive for a day or two after they were abducted this places a crucial importance on the fact that the insurance card found by the PI hired by the family was dismissed when brought to the attention of the police. If this had been taken seriously at the time they may have been recovered alive. This is a heartbreaking, compelling and endlessly frustrating case and this book covers it in a compulsive and gripping manner. The author is to be lauded for her sheer tenacity and ceaseless quest for truth. Undoubtedly one of the finest true crime reads that exist. Perhaps all that really matters now is to locate the girls’ bodies. Did incompetence/ineptitude, small-town police budgets, police threats, corruption, negligence, drug activity and a local vow of silence combine to devastating effect?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    I felt something familiar as I read this book, following along as the tension was building. It seemed like I’d heard of some of the main victims before, but I needn’t have worried, the story was totally new to me. It was a horrific story indeed, and one that kept me involved, reading as various agencies and the author investigated over the years, trying to find out for certain who had committed the awful crimes. The mother of the young lady who was staying over on the night the crimes happened, I felt something familiar as I read this book, following along as the tension was building. It seemed like I’d heard of some of the main victims before, but I needn’t have worried, the story was totally new to me. It was a horrific story indeed, and one that kept me involved, reading as various agencies and the author investigated over the years, trying to find out for certain who had committed the awful crimes. The mother of the young lady who was staying over on the night the crimes happened, Mrs. Lorene Bible, kept the momentum moving forward on the case whenever law enforcement would lose interest or lack in leads. There was plenty of push back too, as several in the case received threats of all kinds if they didn’t quit looking into the case and go away, including the author plenty of times. This is one nasty true crime case with bizarre elements to it making it very cruel and taking a long time tormenting the families. Advanced electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Jax Miller, and the publisher.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Gail

    2.5 stars. Really tough to sort out my feelings on this one. This is a case I've been aware of for years - it's tragic and horrible and the day the news broke that they made arrests in the case I literally cried. I expected to feel the same cathartic emotion when reading Hell in the Heartland. That's what the power of true crime is - to highlight the worst of humanity and (even in unsolved cases) show the hope inherent. For me, it's not about the graphic details or tragedy rubber-necking. It's ta 2.5 stars. Really tough to sort out my feelings on this one. This is a case I've been aware of for years - it's tragic and horrible and the day the news broke that they made arrests in the case I literally cried. I expected to feel the same cathartic emotion when reading Hell in the Heartland. That's what the power of true crime is - to highlight the worst of humanity and (even in unsolved cases) show the hope inherent. For me, it's not about the graphic details or tragedy rubber-necking. It's taking one of the worst things that can happen, and surrounding it with love and passion. Look at I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara helped ensure that the case stayed visible in the media and in people's minds until the killer was finally caught. It elevates our humanity above the violence. So it's sad that this one fell flat for me. Ultimately, I think this comes down to writing style. I felt like every time I became interested in what was being told, the way it was told grated against it. Enjoyment of a writing style is quite an individual thing, so I wouldn't call this book bad. It's just okay. I sincerely hope that other readers click with the book and find the true enjoyment that I couldn't. Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for the drc

  4. 5 out of 5

    Louise Wilson

    On December 30th 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen year old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, we're having a sleepover. The next morning the Freeman family trailer was in flames and the two girls were missing. While rumours of drug debts revenge and police collusion abandoned in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found. Kathy and Danny Freeman died in the fire, Jax Miller interviewed everyone with even the slightest connection to the case a On December 30th 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen year old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, we're having a sleepover. The next morning the Freeman family trailer was in flames and the two girls were missing. While rumours of drug debts revenge and police collusion abandoned in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found. Kathy and Danny Freeman died in the fire, Jax Miller interviewed everyone with even the slightest connection to the case and goes through every piece of evidence with a fine tooth comb. Sometimes Jax felt her life was in danger it she carried on relentlessly. A lot of people concerned were into the drug and crime scenes. There were so many rumours surrounding the fire. Her investigation is written in great detail. This is a must read for fans of true crime. I would like to thank NetGalley, HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction and the author Jax Miller for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Come for the unsolved mystery, but stay for the police incompetence. The book ends on a promising lead, so imagine my surprise when I saw just yesterday that the only suspect who is still alive pleaded guilty to accessory to murder. It's December, 1999. Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible celebrate Ashley’s birthday by having a sleepover. The following morning, the two teenagers are missing and the Freeman trailer is found ablaze. As events unfold, both of Ashley’s parents are discovered shot dead be Come for the unsolved mystery, but stay for the police incompetence. The book ends on a promising lead, so imagine my surprise when I saw just yesterday that the only suspect who is still alive pleaded guilty to accessory to murder. It's December, 1999. Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible celebrate Ashley’s birthday by having a sleepover. The following morning, the two teenagers are missing and the Freeman trailer is found ablaze. As events unfold, both of Ashley’s parents are discovered shot dead beneath the rubble of their home, and to this day, the location of the girls is unknown. The story that follows is one of gross negligence on behalf of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Agent Steve Nutter in particular, and the Craig County police department. We learn that Ashley’s older brother, Shane, was shot dead by a police officer a year prior. The handling of his death has suspicious circumstances of its own and was enough for his father, Danny Freeman, to believe that the police were coming for him next. There are many twists and turns to this story, and some wild facts about life and death in this particular part of Oklahoma, as well as areas nearby that once showed economic promise but amounted to lead poisoning and poverty. I think this book comes at a unique time as many across the US are calling to defund the police; this story shows the extent of fear and frustration a community endures when the officials hired to protect you have become so corrupt that they actively work against you. As news continues to unfold, I hope that Lorene and Jay Bible are finally able to locate the remains of their daughter and find some sense of closure after so many years. Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC for review. See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    A cold case involving arson, murder, kidnapping in rural Oklahoma in Dec 1999. The Freeman family, Danny, Kathy, Shane and Ashley lived in a trailer in a remote area. Shane had trouble with the law. In 1998 he was shot and killed by a police officer. The family was going to sue the Police Dept. for wrongful death of their son. It was the night before the trial was to begin that the trailer was set on fire. Danny and Kathy were shot and killed before the fire. Daughter Ashley and her friend Lauria w A cold case involving arson, murder, kidnapping in rural Oklahoma in Dec 1999. The Freeman family, Danny, Kathy, Shane and Ashley lived in a trailer in a remote area. Shane had trouble with the law. In 1998 he was shot and killed by a police officer. The family was going to sue the Police Dept. for wrongful death of their son. It was the night before the trial was to begin that the trailer was set on fire. Danny and Kathy were shot and killed before the fire. Daughter Ashley and her friend Lauria were kidnapped and were later assumed to be also killed. The investigators from out of the county couldn't find Danny's body. A family member spotted him under debris from the fire the next day. A very important item the investigators failed to act upon, was an insurance card that perhaps fell from the getaway car leaving the murder scene. It could have led them to the killer or killers. After twenty years, no one was apprehended. When they did find a box of notes, two of the three suspects had already died. Rumors of drug deals gone bad, revenge, secrets and police collusion lasted for years. The girls were never found. I won this free book from Goodreads first reads. This book was worth the wait. Great writing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    My latest foray into the true crime genre came in the form of this book from Jax Miller, who, as comes across in this beautifully written narrative, spent a lot of time and emotional energy looking into the sad case of missing girls Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. I knew a little about the case from other sources but here was a writer who invested an awful lot of herself into trying to get to the truth and that comes across in every passing chapter – her relationship with Lauria’s mother is an a My latest foray into the true crime genre came in the form of this book from Jax Miller, who, as comes across in this beautifully written narrative, spent a lot of time and emotional energy looking into the sad case of missing girls Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. I knew a little about the case from other sources but here was a writer who invested an awful lot of herself into trying to get to the truth and that comes across in every passing chapter – her relationship with Lauria’s mother is an anchor throughout and both these women in different ways are absolute forces of nature. Hell In The Heartland offers a lot of insight, looking at every angle when it comes to the possibilities of what happened to the girls, but more importantly for this reader, tells us who they were, tells us of the huge impact on the loved ones left behind and, indeed, on the author herself. Some of what happened in the investigation will have you shaking your head, but the strength of this story comes in the way Jax Miller describes this setting, it’s people, its beliefs, the often wild community that sets the backdrop to this melancholy story of two young women who never got the chance to live their lives through and find out who they were. There has now been an arrest and, much like Jax Miller I imagine, I leave this story with the hope that the families of Ashley and Lauria, will finally find some closure and some peace. I hope this review leads more people to this extraordinary story told by a writer who with the power of words will put you right there. Don’t look away. Ashley and Lauria deserve our attention. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction for the arc of Hell In Heartland. December 30, 1999, in Oklahoma USA, Ashley Freeman who was 16 and her best friend, Lauria, were having a sleepover. next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing. the case unfortunately remain unsolved and the girls were never found.... In 2015, the Author of this book Jax Miller decided in which to travel to Oklahoma to find out what really happened on that night in 1 Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction for the arc of Hell In Heartland. December 30, 1999, in Oklahoma USA, Ashley Freeman who was 16 and her best friend, Lauria, were having a sleepover. next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing. the case unfortunately remain unsolved and the girls were never found.... In 2015, the Author of this book Jax Miller decided in which to travel to Oklahoma to find out what really happened on that night in 1999,.... What she found was more than she could have ever hoped for:high levels of police negligence and corruption, communities whom are addicted to methamphetamine, and a series/number of interconnected murders with an ominously familiar pattern!! This true crime case really had me gripped i had a little insight of this before i read this as i have heard a little about this before, and to read more about it was really gripping for me, i thoroughly enjoyed this book, i recommend to all whom like true crime! 5 stars⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Hell in the Heartland – Inept Policing Jax Miller has investigated and published a true crime book, that looks at an unsolved missing – murder case in Oklahoma from 1999. At first read I thought I was reading a thriller, because some of what happened in this case seems unbelievable. Miller takes a deep dive into how two teenage girls went missing, from a burnt-out mobile home. As the local police department and sheriff were not on good terms with the family, they called in the state police to run Hell in the Heartland – Inept Policing Jax Miller has investigated and published a true crime book, that looks at an unsolved missing – murder case in Oklahoma from 1999. At first read I thought I was reading a thriller, because some of what happened in this case seems unbelievable. Miller takes a deep dive into how two teenage girls went missing, from a burnt-out mobile home. As the local police department and sheriff were not on good terms with the family, they called in the state police to run the investigation. Previously, Cromer Country Police had shot dead the son the year before. Rumours abound. On December 30th, 1999 in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, we're having a sleepover. The next morning the Freeman family mobile home (trailer) was in flames and the two girls were missing. While rumours of drug debts revenge and police collusion abandoned in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found. There are too many stories and leads over the years that have led to dead ends, and the police do not seem to have a coherent plan of really solving the case. The only one actually interested in solving the case have been the Bible family and have actually had to run an investigation because quite frankly they had been let down by law enforcement. If there were medals for inept policing than the both local and state police departments would be gold medallists. I am sure like many people will be angered by the inaction and total cock-ups from the police. Read, and get angry.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Born and raised in northeast Oklahoma, I was just a few years younger than Lauria (pronounced Laura) Bible and Ashley Freeman when they were reported missing in the rural community of Welch, OK. This baffling crime has long haunted me, and many other Oklahomans, from the moment this story of a sleepover gone awry was broadcast on the local news in late 1999. Like most places, Oklahoma has two sides. Oklahomans in general are some of the friendliest, open people you will ever meet. We take pride Born and raised in northeast Oklahoma, I was just a few years younger than Lauria (pronounced Laura) Bible and Ashley Freeman when they were reported missing in the rural community of Welch, OK. This baffling crime has long haunted me, and many other Oklahomans, from the moment this story of a sleepover gone awry was broadcast on the local news in late 1999. Like most places, Oklahoma has two sides. Oklahomans in general are some of the friendliest, open people you will ever meet. We take pride in our weird state and occupy a space that was deemed "no man's land", "wasteland", and "flyover country" at various points in our history. We are an easy people and largely of the "live and let live" variety. We believe there is enough space for everyone under our enormous skies. But Oklahoma can also be a dark place, one with a complicated and haunted past. We live in the crosshairs of holding up the Bible Belt and folk beliefs in equal measure. Certified tempestarii of the plains born from the grit of people who came here and didn't - or couldn't - leave. In the larger cities, this collective memory can be easily covered up by modernity, but drive 20 minutes outside of town and you'll start to feel it. The decay, the sense of foreboding and caution, the peculiar quiet of the plains and prairie. It is in this other, tougher, Oklahoma that Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman lived and presumably died. On the evening of December 29, 1999, Lauria was spending the night at Ashley's house after celebrating Ashley's 16th birthday with her family. At around 5:30am the next morning a neighbor called 911 and reported that the Freeman home was engulfed in flames. Law enforcement quickly determined that the fire was arson caused by an accelerant. The Craig County Police Department found the charred remains of Kathy Freeman, Ashley's mom, in her bedroom. She had been shot in the back of the head, execution style, before burning. Initially no other remains were found and OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) was called in. It was believed that Danny Freeman, Ashley's father, had murdered his wife and kidnapped the teen girls. The police negligence that would come to define this case over the next two decades first reared its head on December 31st when Lauria's parents, Lorene and Jay Bible, found hidden beneath a pile of rubble not far from the Freeman home, the remains of Danny Freeman, who had also been shot execution style, and whose body had been missed by the police. Rumors immediately began to circulate. Perhaps Lauria and Ashley, inseparable friends that they were, had run away and were now living somewhere together. Except that both of their purses were recovered and no cars were missing from the scene. Almost immediately after the story broke, the case went cold. It was as if Lauria and Ashley had been swallowed up by the prairie. Over the years, small half-truths began to emerge about the case. Local men, known criminals and meth cooks commanding the tri-state area, bragged about kidnapping, raping, and later dumping the bodies of Lauria and Ashley in the abandoned, lead-poisoned, and now uninhabitable- Picher, Oklahoma. Sometimes it takes an outsider to tell a story that we otherwise don't know how to begin. I appreciate Jax Miller for getting the atmosphere of rural Oklahoma towns right, especially ones where meth is a dual-monarch with Jesus. I also supremely appreciate that the author let the people surrounding this case tell their stories and did not edit, deride, or make snide commentary after the fact at how her subjects perceived their spaces and history. I feel this is worth mentioning because this is something rare in works about Oklahoma, and I was worried that Hell in the Heartland would also fall victim to this trend. I was pleased to see that it did not. Miller tells the story of Lauria and Ashley in a loosely chronological fashion, jumping between the events of December 29th, 1999 and the small breaks in the case that followed, with her real-time investigation. Miller artfully sets this cold case against the backdrop of rural communities with illicit meth rings, grudges with law enforcement, police brutality, lawlessness, the known harboring of criminals, and the vastness of the prairie. It is in this light that the "live and let live" mentality I mentioned above takes on a sour note. Someone, somewhere knows what happened to these girls - and they either aren't talking or they are being protected by their families. Read this story with an iron stomach as it is riddled with trigger warnings. This tale is an ugly one beyond the nature of the initial murders. You will grieve and you will be angered. Miller talks extensively about her own anxiety with this case while investigating the murders and disappearances. The threats she received, the coded warnings, and the overall sense of dread she felt crossing over the Craig County line for interviews is palpable and reveals in grim detail those darker aspects of small town life. This is one of the most complex cold cases and an absolute must-read for followers of the true crime genre.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    I didn't realize it at first but as I started reading it I discovered I had listened to a podcast a few months back about this very story. This book gave me so much more insight than the podcast did. I had no idea there was so much corruption, ineptitude and potential cover-ups involved. This is definitely a case of real life being stranger than fiction. Crime writer, Jax Miller, has immersed herself fully into the case about the Freeman trailer fire that killed Kathy and Danny Freeman and the m I didn't realize it at first but as I started reading it I discovered I had listened to a podcast a few months back about this very story. This book gave me so much more insight than the podcast did. I had no idea there was so much corruption, ineptitude and potential cover-ups involved. This is definitely a case of real life being stranger than fiction. Crime writer, Jax Miller, has immersed herself fully into the case about the Freeman trailer fire that killed Kathy and Danny Freeman and the missing teenage girls, their daughter, Ashley Freeman and her best friend Lauria Bible. Much like Lauria's mother, Lorene Bible, Miller leaves no stone unturned. Interviewing everyone and anyone with even the slightest possible connection to the case and digging into every shred of information she finds. She pushes forth even when she feels her life is in danger. Many of those involved are deep into drugs (methamphetamine, most specifically) and crime and most not to keen on someone digging around about them and their pasts. Hell in the Heartland details so many of the countless rumours regarding the fire and disappearance of the two girls - everything from bad drug debts to revenge and even to possible police collusion. It's broken down in a way that's easy to follow along and incredibly intriguing. I find sometimes that as much as I enjoy true crime stories that a lot of them can read a little dry like a text book but the pace of this one had me feeling like I was reading a fiction novel. As a mother, I cannot imagine the pain and anguish this ongoing case must cause Lorene and Jay Bible. This is a great novel for those that are interested in true crime events. Trigger warnings as there is discussion about drugs, sexual assault/rape and violence. Thanks netgalley and publisher for this digital ARC in exchange for my honest review

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    The publisher’s blurb reads “S-Town meets I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” referencing two outstanding true crime hits of the past couple of years (the first a podcast and the second a nonfiction book about a woman’s obsessive search for the identity of the Golden State Killer). I loved both of those, so I was happy to receive a copy of Jax Miller’s true crime account of this case titled Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls (from Berkley Publishing and NetGalley in re The publisher’s blurb reads “S-Town meets I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” referencing two outstanding true crime hits of the past couple of years (the first a podcast and the second a nonfiction book about a woman’s obsessive search for the identity of the Golden State Killer). I loved both of those, so I was happy to receive a copy of Jax Miller’s true crime account of this case titled Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls (from Berkley Publishing and NetGalley in return for my honest review). I had heard about this crime on at least two of my regular true crime podcasts that I can remember: Generation Why and Crime Junkie. Both times I felt like there must have been more to the story, and I felt like Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, the two teenage girls who went missing after the trailer home of Ashley’s family was set on fire with her parents’ dead bodies inside. It seemed like they had led sad lives in a classic poor town in rural Oklahoma in the 1990s and were probably dead. The case of the missing girls has been a mystery that would have been long forgotten if it were not for the efforts of the two families involved, as they have worked for decades to keep pushing for information. Tragically, the police seemed uninterested when the crime first happened in 1999, finding the body of Kathy Freeman during a very cursory look at the after-fire rubble. They pretty much identified her husband Danny Freeman as a suspect in the abduction of their daughter and her friend Lauria, and there was somewhat of a manhunt for less than a day. They released the burned-out trailer back to the family, who promptly went in, stepped onto Danny’s dead body, and announced that the police hadn’t done any investigating, and they hired their own detectives. Author Jax Miller became obsessed with the mystery and made many trips to Oklahoma over the years, beginning in 2015, and has written a detailed account of her investigation, including covering the rumors of police collusion, drug debts, and revenge that covered the area. I really felt like I needed a shower as I read her stories of police negligence, and what looked like clear cases of corruption. The whole area has been ravaged by methamphetamine addiction, and there have been tons of crimes, up to and including murder, that may or may not be related to this case. I was a bit disappointed by this book (probably because I had expectations of something as good as either S-Town or I’ll Be Gone In The Dark) but it may just be a question of writing style. The author has made her telling of the story very personal, inserting a great amount of detail about her own struggles (addiction and anxiety in particular) into her narrative covering the girls’ stories. I would have preferred a more straightforward journalistic style, although I give her points for her honest and integrity as she shared her efforts and persisted long after many would have given up. It’s a sad story, and the level of despair that permeates the story is just about overwhelming (and wasn’t evident in the podcasts, but definitely rings true in the book). It contributed to my already rampant geographical bigotry, adding rural Oklahoma to the list of places I hope to NEVER visit. Three stars (and yes, I am a notoriously easy grader).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Crystal Zavala

    I'm predicting that Hell in the Heartland will be my favorite true crime book of 2020! I have heard of the missing girls - Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, but I hadn't heard any updates in quite some time. Jax Miller became fascinated with the Freeman/Bible case and started investigating. At some point during a sleepover at Ashley Freeman's house in 1999, the home catches fire, and when the police arrive it is discovered that Ashley's parents have been murdered and Ashley and Lauria are missing. I'm predicting that Hell in the Heartland will be my favorite true crime book of 2020! I have heard of the missing girls - Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, but I hadn't heard any updates in quite some time. Jax Miller became fascinated with the Freeman/Bible case and started investigating. At some point during a sleepover at Ashley Freeman's house in 1999, the home catches fire, and when the police arrive it is discovered that Ashley's parents have been murdered and Ashley and Lauria are missing. Jax finds herself caught up in rumors of drugs, police incompetence, and possibly even police involvement. What happened at this trailer? Where are the girls? There are so many threads to this story. One of the fascinating ones is about Ashley Freeman's brother who was shot and killed by a police officer a year before the fire at the age of 17. One of my favorite things in any book is when the location becomes a character. Jax does a fantastic job bringing Oklahoma to life. I can picture all of these places and I'm curious about visiting some of these places.

  14. 4 out of 5

    The Book Club

    Hell in the Heartland is a deep dive into a double homicide committed in the small town of Welch, in Craig County and the disappearance of the two teen girls Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman. The night of the 29th of December 1999 the girls were having a sleepover in the Freeman’s trailer to celebrate Ashley’s birthday. The following morning a neighbour calls the emergency services to report that the trailer was on fire. The police pretty soon declared that it was arson and then managed to recove Hell in the Heartland is a deep dive into a double homicide committed in the small town of Welch, in Craig County and the disappearance of the two teen girls Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman. The night of the 29th of December 1999 the girls were having a sleepover in the Freeman’s trailer to celebrate Ashley’s birthday. The following morning a neighbour calls the emergency services to report that the trailer was on fire. The police pretty soon declared that it was arson and then managed to recover Kathy Freeman’s body, which they discovered was killed by a gunshot. Danny Freeman’s body was only found the day after, thanks to Lorene Bible, who decided to investigate by herself. While lately there has been some new discoveries in the case, the bodies of the two girls are still missing. Many speculations has been de about whatever happened to the family (a drug deal gone bad, police corruption and so on), and what the faith of the girls could have been. And probably we would have had a different outcome today if the sheriff department at the time, followed the leads given them, probably they would have even been able to save the teenagers. I can’t even imagine what their families have been through and how frustrated at the law system they were, I was while reading this book. How is it possible that Danny Freeman’s body wasn’t found by the police while inspecting the crime scene? How is possible that the killers felt so safe to show around Polaroids of the raped and then killed girls? Why didn’t the police follow the lead given by the PIs hired by the family? And why did they found the box with all the clues only in 2017? I can understand why the author was so drowned to Oklahoma, and to this mystery and why she went to the extent she did to try and help the families of the victims. I pray that they will find the teens bodies and find some sort of closure if that’s even possible. Surely this is one of the finest true crime book I’ve read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    thereadingowlvina (Elvina Ulrich)

    What It's About: On a cold December 1999, in the small town Welch, Oklahoma, a trailer home goes up in flames and was completely destroyed by the fire. Two bodies with gunshot wound were recovered in the trailer. However, the police could not locate two sixteen year-old and best friends, Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, whose disappearances sparked an extensive search and baffled the police for 18 years. Although an arrest was made in 2018, the whereabouts of Lauria and Ashley still remain u What It's About: On a cold December 1999, in the small town Welch, Oklahoma, a trailer home goes up in flames and was completely destroyed by the fire. Two bodies with gunshot wound were recovered in the trailer. However, the police could not locate two sixteen year-old and best friends, Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, whose disappearances sparked an extensive search and baffled the police for 18 years. Although an arrest was made in 2018, the whereabouts of Lauria and Ashley still remain unknown. My thoughts: "Inhale for four seconds, hold for four, exhale for eight. Accept. Let the storm rage. Breathe." This was how I felt reading this book. It was so unbelievable, bat-crap crazy, you would think it is a crime fiction. Sadly, it is not. Miller had done a great amount of research for this book. The more she researched, the more she discovered the negligence, corruption, and incompetence of the police in this case. The cover-ups and corruption were shocking and disgusting. Dark secrets that center around drugs were unraveled and there were twists and turns in this case that revealed some unknown murders. There were also some shocking wild and crazy facts about this Welch town and its surrounding towns. This is one compelling and gripping read. Miller is a great storyteller and her writing grasped you from the beginning. I know unsolved cases may not be not for everyone, but read this book for it will open your eyes to the level of negligence in this case. If you've read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, you'd want to read this too. "Time is something that people don’t feel until it turns against them. When it's thought to heal all, for the parents of any missing child, it only tears the cut wider; sands of time become grains of salt to an open, bleeding wound." Pub. Date: Jul 28, 2020 ***Thank you Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for this gifted review copy in exchange for an honest review.***

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jill Meyer

    “Hell in the Heartland” is an apt title for Jax Miller’s book about brutal life and brutal loss in northeast Oklahoma. The case she examines began in 1999 with the murder of a couple, Kathy and Danny Freeman, in a trailer fire (after having been murdered by gunfire) and disappearance (and assumed death) of two 16 year old girls. The story has everything the reader might assume, from meth making and distribution, to local and state cops who are not diligent in their duties to make a thorough inve “Hell in the Heartland” is an apt title for Jax Miller’s book about brutal life and brutal loss in northeast Oklahoma. The case she examines began in 1999 with the murder of a couple, Kathy and Danny Freeman, in a trailer fire (after having been murdered by gunfire) and disappearance (and assumed death) of two 16 year old girls. The story has everything the reader might assume, from meth making and distribution, to local and state cops who are not diligent in their duties to make a thorough investigation of the murders and possible kidnapping of the teens. The crimes actually begin about a year before the murders of the Freemans with the death of their older child in a scrape with the local police. Shane Freeman, a wild child, was killed. The Freemans and their family felt the police didn’t investigate Shane’s death and were even involved in it. The bad blood simmered from there, still affecting lives 20 years later. More people died, some by murder, some by drugs, some by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story of the tiny area of northeast Oklahoma is fairly well told by Jax Miller. What isn’t so well written was Miller’s insertion of herself and her personal story into the larger tale. I’m not sure why authors do this, because it’s not easy to write. Miller’s intrusions breakaway from the telling of the main story and add very little. It reminds me of a recent book, Emma Eisenberg’s “The Third Rainbow Girl” - also a story of a kidnapping and murders of two young women in drug-addled West Virginia. I might be interested in Eisenberg and Miller’s stories if they were told in their own memoirs. As written now, they just become extraneous bits inserted in the lives of others. However, if you don’t care if an author inserts herself in her work of nonfiction, I can recommend “Hell in the Heartland”.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    What a mangled mess of a mystery. It's a convoluted tale, but less because of the structure of the book and more because there are so many stories, so many suspects, so many red herrings and dead ends. It's less a story about what happened than a story about trying to figure out what happened. What comes through, though, so strongly, is a story of law-enforcement incompetence, or worse. Even if only half of the law-enforcement errors described here are accurate, it's...a lot. It's enough that ar What a mangled mess of a mystery. It's a convoluted tale, but less because of the structure of the book and more because there are so many stories, so many suspects, so many red herrings and dead ends. It's less a story about what happened than a story about trying to figure out what happened. What comes through, though, so strongly, is a story of law-enforcement incompetence, or worse. Even if only half of the law-enforcement errors described here are accurate, it's...a lot. It's enough that arrests could have been made years and years earlier, and that a different response in early days could have meant a very different outcome. (view spoiler)[Eighteen years later, the insurance-verification card is a barefaced fact looking me straight in the face. There is the sudden realization that had it been followed up on, there is a strong possibility that Ashley and Lauria could still be alive today. (241) (hide spoiler)] The case is, to an extent, still ongoing; it's now August of 2020, more than two decades after the murders and fire and disappearances in the book, and there have actually been developments within the last few weeks. I resisted (barely) looking up the case before finishing the book, and if you're not already familiar with it I recommend doing the same. I'll also note that there are some hints at Miller's past and upbringing that seem meaningful in terms of her interest in the case but that aren't ever fully expounded upon, and I'm not quite sure what to make of those hints. But mostly: I'm glad that, even years later, there are some answers.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charlene Intriago

    First off, I have to say I didn't know anything about this case or this book until I was reading a list of the weekly top ten reads for a book store in Oklahoma. It sounding intriguing and I was able to get it from one of my online libraries. That being said, I really liked her writing style. It clicked with me on the first page. I also liked the way she chronicled the story. In the beginning I'm thinking the county sheriff's really bungled this one. Then it looked like it went higher up to the O First off, I have to say I didn't know anything about this case or this book until I was reading a list of the weekly top ten reads for a book store in Oklahoma. It sounding intriguing and I was able to get it from one of my online libraries. That being said, I really liked her writing style. It clicked with me on the first page. I also liked the way she chronicled the story. In the beginning I'm thinking the county sheriff's really bungled this one. Then it looked like it went higher up to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations. But then, Jax Miller investigated everything she possibly could to find out what really happened, went down every rabbit hole, thoroughly investigated the meth aspect - that sounded pretty plausible to me, interviewed every person she could find (even the really unsavory ones), she formed a bond with the families, and did everything she could to bring some closure to this case. I know there was a television documentary and it helped me to put a face to all the individuals involved. Sad, sad case. A very interesting true crime read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chaz

    This book is for sure NOT on the Oklahoma Tourism Board's recommended reading list. My takeaways after reading this: If you make it to age 45 in this part of Oklahoma, you are living on borrowed time. Everyone is either murdered, dies from drugs or drug related illness, or is killed in a terrible accident. Everyone. The EPA Superfund site at Picher might be the closest thing to a tourist attraction that part of the country has. Even without the crimes this book docume This book is for sure NOT on the Oklahoma Tourism Board's recommended reading list. My takeaways after reading this: If you make it to age 45 in this part of Oklahoma, you are living on borrowed time. Everyone is either murdered, dies from drugs or drug related illness, or is killed in a terrible accident. Everyone. The EPA Superfund site at Picher might be the closest thing to a tourist attraction that part of the country has. Even without the crimes this book documents, this place sounds like hell. A alternative title could have been "Par For The Course" perhaps. A fascinating story. I'm not enamored with her writing style, otherwise would have given it a fourth star.

  20. 5 out of 5

    E.C. Frey

    Haunting and maddening I struggled with this story. True crime is one thing, but the heartbreak for these beautiful young girls and what they probably endured is immeasurable. The author’s prose is beautiful and the book almost reads like a memoir so it pulls the reader in. I can only imagine the struggling hope in all the years of living this story. As a mother, who would not be in awe of Lorene Bible’s strength and incredible love. This is a gut wrenching story. The only issue I had was a sligh Haunting and maddening I struggled with this story. True crime is one thing, but the heartbreak for these beautiful young girls and what they probably endured is immeasurable. The author’s prose is beautiful and the book almost reads like a memoir so it pulls the reader in. I can only imagine the struggling hope in all the years of living this story. As a mother, who would not be in awe of Lorene Bible’s strength and incredible love. This is a gut wrenching story. The only issue I had was a slight overuse of metaphor. I love metaphor, but there were times it complicated the flow of the story.

  21. 5 out of 5

    ElphaReads

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book! This very well researched and ultimately very sad book examines a number of factors not just about this specific missing girl case, but about the sad realities of rural Oklahoma. Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible's disappearance, and in all likelihood murders, have been on Jax Miller's radar for years, and now she has pulled all her leads, evidence, and interviews together to try and bring attention to this cold case. The families o Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book! This very well researched and ultimately very sad book examines a number of factors not just about this specific missing girl case, but about the sad realities of rural Oklahoma. Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible's disappearance, and in all likelihood murders, have been on Jax Miller's radar for years, and now she has pulled all her leads, evidence, and interviews together to try and bring attention to this cold case. The families of the missing girls have different opinions about what happened, and Miller is very even handed in presenting the evidence for both theories, whether it was a corrupt sheriff's department, or a group of drug kingpins, that murdered Ashley's parents and took the girls. We also get a very interesting look into the social structures of these small towns, and how there can both be dangers from those in the meth business, and also those who are supposed to protect the communities. While there is kind of a solution to this case, there is still a lack of closure, as the bodies have never been found, and Miller does her very best to pull it all together, and to tell a story that hasn't really left Oklahoma. Hopefully someday we will know for certain what happened to Ashley and Lauria. Hopefully HELL IN THE HEARTLAND will reach someone who knows something.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Hell in the Heartland, Jax Miller, 4/5 🔥 A stranger than fiction true crime case from Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for 2 decades. On December 30 1999 Ashley Freeman was having a sleepover at home with her best friend Lauria Bible. The next morning, her trailer was in flames, the girls missing and 2 decades of rumours about revenge, drugs and police collusion followed. This book drops tomorrow and is worth the order! Wow. This was gripping, gritty read. I find True Crime has to toe a very Hell in the Heartland, Jax Miller, 4/5 🔥 A stranger than fiction true crime case from Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for 2 decades. On December 30 1999 Ashley Freeman was having a sleepover at home with her best friend Lauria Bible. The next morning, her trailer was in flames, the girls missing and 2 decades of rumours about revenge, drugs and police collusion followed. This book drops tomorrow and is worth the order! Wow. This was gripping, gritty read. I find True Crime has to toe a very delicate line, keeping itself respectful of the victims and not giving in to what can sometimes be “rubber necking” of natural curiosity of crime. Jax Miller however has done an incredible job here, building a clear and lasting bond with the families left behind, her desire to see the case solved for both the victims and their loved ones is obvious. You can see that this is more than just another story to her, she has poured her soul into this. The careful, thoughtful writing here is reminiscent of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The crime itself is mind blowing, the sheer ineptitude of those investigating, the level of failure and the strength displayed by Lorene Bible, Lauria’s mother is inspiring. This is a MUST for true crime fans and i’ll be watching the doc aswell. Thanks to #NetGalley and #HarperCollins for my ARC of this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Pennington

    3.5 ⭐️. Very interesting/sad subject, I love true crime this one just jumped around a lot but still a good read maybe just a hard subject to grasp.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jan Thorne

    I'm not sure of the reason, but I did not know anything about this case until reading this book. I learned a lot about the geographical area and the heartbreaking case itself. I enjoyed the author's style and related to a lot of her anxiety issues. I would read more true crime by Jax, if she continues along that genre.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    On a cold December night in Oklahoma, two teenage girls had a sleepover. The next morning, the trailer they spent the night in was burned to the ground, killing one girl’s parents, with no sign of the girls. This is a great true crime story and the author spent a lot of time speaking to people and investigating. The only drawback for me was that the author inserted herself into the narrative which at times seemed strange.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I’m a big true crime fan and I’d never heard of this particular case before but after reading this book I was shocked and I feel so sad for the families of those girls. This book has probably been the best true crime book I’ve read in a long time (And my favorite one so far) and if you love true crime this is a book you need to read to believe. Well done to Jax for all her hard work on this case and I hope she continues in the true crime genre. I received an advance copy of this book and receive I’m a big true crime fan and I’d never heard of this particular case before but after reading this book I was shocked and I feel so sad for the families of those girls. This book has probably been the best true crime book I’ve read in a long time (And my favorite one so far) and if you love true crime this is a book you need to read to believe. Well done to Jax for all her hard work on this case and I hope she continues in the true crime genre. I received an advance copy of this book and received no compensation for this review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    DJ

    A fascinating but very sad case involving many suspects and angles. Read an advanced copy and Miller really put so much into investigating this case. If you love true crime I’d highly recommend this book when it’s released.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Angie Bengston

    Heartbreaking If only.. so many times I said this reading this story. If only. As an Oklahoman I’ve watched this story for 21 years. I knew there had to be more to it. But wow. If only. One small change, and those 2 souls might still be with us.. if only.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Jax Miller presents a fascinating account of a devastating incident which took place in Welch, Oklahoma at the tail end of 1999. Her writing takes us right into the prairie heartland - the scenery, the climate, the residents. She is unflinchingly honest about the toll investigating and writing this book has taken on her. Jax Miller isn't fearless; she's incredibly courageous and tenacious. If more were like her, less families would have to endure a lifetime devoid of answers. Law enforcement off Jax Miller presents a fascinating account of a devastating incident which took place in Welch, Oklahoma at the tail end of 1999. Her writing takes us right into the prairie heartland - the scenery, the climate, the residents. She is unflinchingly honest about the toll investigating and writing this book has taken on her. Jax Miller isn't fearless; she's incredibly courageous and tenacious. If more were like her, less families would have to endure a lifetime devoid of answers. Law enforcement officials would benefit from an ounce of Miller's grit and determination. "Hell In The Heartland" is a shocking, and deeply disturbing, yet brilliant read. 

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Davis

    I was provided the ARC by the publisher by request of the author. First, I was vaguely familiar with the Freeman-Bible case as I work cold cases within the state of Oklahoma, but hadn’t really gone in depth. The scope of what Jax is as able to do for the case is absolutely astonishing. She’s a hell of a storyteller, and I sincerely doubt if the case had been in anyone else’s hands they wouldn’t have done it half the justice. The first couple chapters were a bit slow, but that’s any true crime book I was provided the ARC by the publisher by request of the author. First, I was vaguely familiar with the Freeman-Bible case as I work cold cases within the state of Oklahoma, but hadn’t really gone in depth. The scope of what Jax is as able to do for the case is absolutely astonishing. She’s a hell of a storyteller, and I sincerely doubt if the case had been in anyone else’s hands they wouldn’t have done it half the justice. The first couple chapters were a bit slow, but that’s any true crime book. Once you hit chapter 4- it hits you like a locomotive you just can’t look away from. Fabulous, fabulous book.

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