ROYSE CITY, TEXAS — There is a chill in the air as the search teams gather behind the city’s police department. On hand, US Marshals, police officers, sheriffs deputies, Texas Rangers, anthropologists, and K9 handlers. This is the day Deputy Jeremy Hammons has been waiting for. “We’ve got the best of the best out here. We’ve got 20 cadaver dogs from across the US that are top of the line. So if he’s here, we’re going to find him.”
The man he wants to find is Brian Keith Freeman… an Arkansas fugitive wanted for capital murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution out of the Eastern District of Arkansas. In March of 2017, authorities say he killed his ex-fiance, Lori Hannah inside her Ward, AR home.
Four days after the murder, his truck was found abandoned in a wooded area not far from downtown Royse City. Inside the truck, police found his wallet, his car keys and an empty box of ammunition. After countless leads and tips resulted in dead ends, authorities have returned to ground zero to search for Freeman’s remains. They believe he killed himself shortly after ditching his truck in the woods. That theory is based on a phone call Freeman made to a female friend of his just days after the murder. “He told her that he did a horrible thing and said he was somewhere in Texas,’ said Deputy Hammons. “He said he had abandoned his truck and walked away from it and walked into a wooded area and that he intended to kill himself. He then asked this person to say a prayer with him which they did and he made the comment I hope God forgives me.”
Besides human remains, Deputy Hammons reminds the teams of other evidence to be on the lookout for… specifically the cell phone Hammons used and a rifle he may have taken into the woods with him.
The search area covers about 5.7 square miles and is broken up into grids. 25 are considered primary, roughly 60 others are considered secondary. The teams are assigned specifics sections and are told to hit the ground running. We begin in primary three — a densely wooded area that is about a mile or two away from the spot where Freeman’s truck was located. Our cadaver dog, Skylar is ready to go and so is the rest of the team. We head into the thick, nasty brush. The terrain is difficult to navigate. There is mud… lots of mud and thorny bushes that cling to anything they come in contact with. Our eyes are fixated on the ground below and in the distance we hear one of our members yell, “I found a bone.” Our anthropologist, Mark Ingraham from the University of North Texas springs into action and quickly determines that the bone is not human, but that of a coyote. So we move on.
After about two hours, we move to another grid and deputy Hammons is cautiously optimistic. “Based on what he said he did, I’m thinking it’s going to be in that portion of the woods there,” he says while pointing to a different wooded area. I ask him, “You think that’s where he went?” He says, “If I had to bet… yes.” Our search team spreads out and once again we head into the nasty brush. An hour later, Skylar comes across a small stream and runs into the water and alerts her handler that she may have found something. Fifteen yards away from the stream we find a boot. Deputy Hammons immediately calls Freeman’s ex-wife to ask her what size boot he wore.
He then says, “It is the style he would’ve worn and it is the size he would’ve worn.” We move in to take a closer look at the boot. Our anthropologist suggests we carefully take a look inside to see if there is a human bone inside. Using latex gloves, Deputy Hammons picks the boot up and dumps it out…. but finds no human remains. The boot, however, is strikingly similar to one Freeman was seen wearing in a photo from years past. As for the stream — the area is marked with an evidence flag so another team can come in, drain the area and take a closer look.
We decide to move on, deeper into the unknown scanning the ground for the anything that looks suspicious. A few hours later, another team discovers an old shirt found in a creek bed. We have no way of knowing if it belonged to Freeman…. so we move on. But time is working against us. The sun is starting to set and day one comes to an end with no confirmed evidence that Freeman ended his life in this wooded area. But there is still a lot of ground to cover and tomorrow is another day.
If you have seen Freeman, heard from him or know where he might be, call the U.S. Marshals at 501-324-6256.