Operation Backtrack: The hunt for an Arkansas fugitive, Part I

Local News

ROYSE CITY, TEXAS. –  On this particular day, there’s not much going on in the small town of Royse City, Texas.  The streets are quiet and businesses are closed for the day.  What the locals don’t know is that inside the city’s police department a huge federal investigation is about to be unleashed in their backyard for a wanted fugitive who’s eluded authorities for nearly three years.

Brian Keith Freeman is 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 nearly 325 miles away from the crime scene.  Inside the truck, police found his wallet, his car keys and an empty box of ammunition.  Search teams did search the area back in June of 2017, but torrential rains made the search even more difficult and only a small section was actually covered.

U.S. Marshals Command Center

Since that day authorities have been following hundreds of tips and leads where witnesses claim they have seen Freeman at various locations alive.  US Marshals investigated every single one and each time it resulted in a dead-end… except for one.

Deputy Jeremy Hammons, Lead investigator

Deputy Jeremy Hammons with the US Marshals says the same day Freeman ditched his truck he called a female friend of his.  “He told her that he done a horrible thing and said he was somewhere in Texas.  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.”

Deputies found this boot thinking it might have belonged to Brain Keith Freeman.

As a result of that phone call and the countless dead ends, the US Marshals decided to return to ground zero and launch what they call ‘Operation Backtrack.’

Search Area

“We’ve been investigating this for over two-and-a-half years now and we got no sign of life that takes us out of these woods right now,” said Deputy Hammons.  “If he went on some final trek where he wanted to make peace with whatever and he ventured out into these woods, we need to make sure we leave no question marks here in Royse City, Texas.”

Inside the Royse City police department, nearly 75 experts from various agencies are on hand ready to briefed on the operation.  Those in attendance include, the United States Marshal Service Management Team, the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Rangers, the Royse City police department, the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, the University of Texas at Arlington’s Anthropology Unit, the University of North Texas Anthropology Unit, and 20 plus highly trained and certified K9 handlers from around the nation who will brought with them cadaver dogs that are trained to alert on human remains.

Deputy Hammons, Lead investigator

Deputy Hammons is the lead investigator and briefs everyone on the case as well as the terrain.  Five teams are then formed.  Each one consists of a team leader, a K9 and handler, two trained field officers, three police officers, and an anthropologist.  Mark Ingraham is a forensic anthropologist from the University of North Texas and told me, “Our job in this situation is primarily to identify skeletal remains as either human or non-human.  A lot of people expect bones to be kind of a pale cream-yellow color… but as bone begins to degrade in the environment it stains.  So if the soil is brown you get brown stained bone.  If it’s red clay, you end up with a reddish bone.  If it’s a wet sunny environment, it grows moss.”  In other words, you need a trained expert to be on hand to tell authorities exactly what they’re dealing with.

Abandoned Shack

Once Deputy Hammons is done with the ‘pre-operational” briefing,  the teams learn which section of the search area they are going to tackle to the following morning.  The search area is 5.7 square miles and broken up into roughly 25 primary sections and 60 secondary sections.  All of them surrounding the spot where Freeman ditched his truck.  The team leaders are told to bring their firearms with them due to the fact that there are feral pigs in the woods, snakes and other dangerous wildlife.  They are also informed that the terrain will difficult to navigate.  There will be mud, streams, thorny bushes and poison ivy.  But each team is eager and ready to go… especially Deputy Hammons.  “We’ve got the best of the best out here.  We’ve got 20 cadaver dogs from across the US that are the top of the line… so if he’s here, we’re going to find him.”

The teams will hit the ground running once the sun rises and they have every intention of finding Freeman’s remains… that is of course if this was the last place he visited.

If you have seen Freeman, heard from him or know where he might be, call the U.S. Marshals at 501-324-6256.

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