I made the mistake of first reading about this case while staying in an Airbnb. Sleeping in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar city I'd never been to, was not the best environment to read about a horrific crime that occurred in the middle of a forest! This case is one of the more frightening cases I've read about...
Camping has always been seen as a generally safe activity - other than the possibility of encountering wildlife, no one goes camping with the idea that something horrible is going to happen in the middle of the woods, and in 1977, the parents and girls of the Girl Scouts of Oklahoma thought that year's camping trip would be no different.
When you listen to this podcast, think about the terrain that the investigators had to work with - scouring a tree-filled forest and sifting for evidence through dirt and leaves could not have been an easy task. Not to mention that the during the night of the murders, it had rained, which also could've damaged or washed away critical evidence.
Transcribed Episode / S2 EP19: Camp Scott Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
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[Intro Music Begins/Ends]
Ahh camping...we’ve all done it right? Now maybe you’ve never camped a day in your life and the notion of sleeping in a tent surrounded by the elements, getting dirty, possibly not having access to a shower...is not your idea of a good time. I personally love to camp, and love nature and have many fond memories of summer camp as a child - I think many of us can say that we’ve done something similar in our lifetimes. One thing I did not get involved in as a child was being a Girl Scout. I know many of you listening have experienced being a part of that organization or of the Boy Scouts, and can attest to the many outings that they would take to impart different skillsets and outdoor experiences to its members.
But this episode of The Crime Shack isn’t about the virtues and skills that the Scouts can install in you. No, this episode that I’m going to be sharing involves a Girl Scout camping trip that went horribly wrong. This case is a chilling tale that will touch on our innate fears of being secluded in a wooded forest at night and hearing eerie sounds around you - not knowing if it’s an animal scurrying about, or something much, much worse. So turn off your lights and grab your flashlights, because we’ll be heading deep into the Ozark mountains of Oklahoma...
It was a beautiful sunny, warm day that Sunday June 12, 1977. Camp Scott in Locust Grove Oklahoma - a small community with a population of about 1000 people - was preparing for the arrival of more than 130 campers that afternoon. It was the opening day of Camp Scott, and campers, their parents and counselors were arriving at the Girl Scout Headquarters in Tulsa Oklahoma to meet the buses that would transport them to Camp Scott.
Camp Scott first opened on August 11, 1928 as “Camp Ma-Del-Co” and was owned by the Tulsa Scout Council. The camp sits on a total of 410 acres of land and lies in an unincorporated area of Mayes County within the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma. The camp is located just west of main highway 82 and is situated about .9 miles off of a private dirt road on a secluded, heavily wooded property.
A few years after the camp opened, the name was changed to “Camp Scott” and by 1977 it was being run by the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts - one of 331 councils chartered by the Girl Scouts of USA. Activities such as swimming, archery and leadership skills were included at the camp.
A main thoroughfare, Cookie Trail Road, which was a dirt road, ran through the campground and was surrounded by small creeks on the east, west and south. The nearest incorporated town of Locust Grove was just a little over 3 miles away. The camp was set up with 11 sub-camps, each with Native American tribal names, and there were seven main buildings within the camp: the Directors office, the Great Hall, a health center, a rangers house, staff house, a cook's cabin, a red barn and a swimming pool. Each sub-camp had about 7-8 large canvas tents set up on wooden platforms that could house about 4 individuals per tent, and the tents were set around stone-encircled campfires. The canvases that covered each tent had a slit down the front for the entrance with the back closed in and a wood plank floor. The counselors had their own separate tents at each sub-camp and the remaining staff members stayed in the Staff House.
The platform tents were not evenly spaced within each sub-camp and the sub-camps were not placed equally along the Cookie trail. Some were further apart than the next. The Kiowa sub-camp sat furthest west and was more isolated from the Cookie Trail than the other sub-camps.
Back at Girl Scout Headquarters in Tulsa, 9 year old Michele Guse was excited about this year’s trip to Camp Scott. Michele had been to the camp the year prior, and now a veteran camper, was looking forward to the upcoming 2 weeks. Michele was an athletic girl who enjoyed playing sports and was a member of a local soccer team. She had a younger brother named Michael and had an intense fascination for gardening. With her short brunette hair tucked under a white sun hat, she instructed her parents before boarding the bus that day to “please water the African violets.” Her parents, Dick and GeorgeAnn Guse, assured her that they would.
Lori Lee Farmer would be the youngest girl at Camp Scott that year. Lori was the oldest of five children in the Farmer family. A pretty girl with long blonde hair, she was mature for her age and at 8 years old she had just completed the fourth grade and was doing so well in school that she’d been able to advance a grade. Lori had been torn between attending Camp Scott that year or going to a camp sponsored by the Tulsa Area YMCA. It was a tough decision to make, so Lori asked her mother Sherri to decide for her. Sherri chose Camp Scott, a decision that she would come to regret for the rest of her life. Lori would be celebrating her 9th birthday just 5 days into her first week at Camp Scott, and her parents Sherri and Charles Farmer and her sister had promised to come up to camp to celebrate it with her.
10 year old Doris Denise Milner, who was called by her middle name “Denise”, was a straight-A award winning student who had just been accepted into the prestigious Carver middle school, a magnet, blue ribbon school in Tulsa. As she awaited the arrival of the buses, Denise was experiencing the “first camp” jitters. Denise struggled with the thought of having to leave her mother and her 5 year old sister. This would be Denise’s first Girl Scout Camping trip and she was a bit nervous about going. She told her mother Betty that she wasn’t sure she wanted to go, but Bettye convinced her she should try it, that it would make her more independent and if she didn’t like it, she could always call her and she’d come to pick her up.
The buses had finally arrived and everyone gathered around them to begin to board. 15 year old Michelle Hoffman was another veteran camper, having attended Camp Scott during the last six years.
Michelle would recall her first experience attending Camp Scott: “My first year at Camp Scott I remember going ‘Whoa!’ — because it is so dark, dark, dark in those woods at night. If you’ve never been camping in a platform tent in the deep woods, it’s a little intimidating. After your first time there, you get it. You’re just prepared. It’s going to be dark.”
Her seventh year at the camp, however, would be much different as Michelle was now too old to be a camper and she was selected to be an aide to the camp director. As the parking lot swarmed with campers, Michelle spotted shy Denise Milner, and made her way over to the girl. Michelle recognized that Denise was one of the only African American girls in the group and wanted to make sure she felt encouraged about the trip.
Michelle approached Denise and her mother and introduced herself. Bettye explained to Michelle that Denise was feeling nervous and home-sick, and Michelle reassured them both that everything was going to be great and that Denise could ride up in the front of the bus with her. As they got on the bus and took their seats towards the front, Bettye hopped on quickly to say goodbye and to ask Michelle if she could call her if Denise was still homesick the next day.
The buses quickly piled up with excited campers and staff and they departed for Camp Scott. Camp songs filled the 45 minute drive, but Denise remained fairly quiet for the trip, preferring to stare out the bus window as the scenery changed from busy city streets to rugged thick forests.
The buses made a final turn up a private road and onto Cookie Trail Road. When they arrived to Camp Scott, the campers and staff rushed out of the buses and were provided instructions to their assigned tents.
Those campers who’d attended Camp Scott before and were familiar with the camp setup, quickly ran to their designated tents. Michelle Hoffman, who had stayed with Denise, personally brought Denise to her assigned campground, Kiowa. She was told that she was assigned to Tent No. 8 along with two other girls. A registration mix-up had left an extra bunk in the tent empty so it would just be the three girls. The tents in Kiowa sub-camp were oriented in a semi-circle and Tent No. 8 was the furthest tent from the others, as well as the furthest from the counselors tent, but it was the closest to the bathrooms. The view from the counselors tent to Tent No. 8 was also partially obstructed by the camp’s shower building.
Counselors Carla Wilhite and Susan Emery, both 18 years old, and 20 year old Dee Elder, were assigned to Kiowa camp and had the task of looking after 27 campers.
Lori Farmer and Michele Guse would also be joining Denise Milner in Tent #8. Denise’s nervousness faded when she met Lori and Michele and they quickly became friends. Counselor Carla Wilhite would later recall that the girls in Tent No. 8 were “three of the quietest kids” but that the tent was “just as loud and lively” as the others.
Carla had also recalled some strange incidents that happened about two months prior to the beginning of Camp Scott, in April. The camp held an on-site orientation training session where camp counselors were required to attend. Counselor Michelle Hoffman discovered that her and her roommates' tent had been ransacked by someone, and doughnuts that she’d left on the table next to her bed were missing. Inside of the empty doughnut box were a few pieces of tiny steno notebook paper. On the paper was hand-written in all capital letters "We are on a mission to kill three girls in tent one." It was signed by “The Killer,” and had an effigy of a man hanging from a tree by his neck. Frightened by the letter, Michelle showed the director the note, but the director dismissed it as a prank and threw the note away.
In another incident during orientation, Carla had hurt her back lifting sailboats and slept for a bit after being given Tylenol and Codeine. When she woke, she headed down to Cedar Lodge, a tent near the Red Barn, on the east side of Cookie Trail Rd where a campout was being held. Carla had intended to go sleep in the staff house after she ate, because she couldn’t sleep on the floor in one of the tents and she didn’t want to be at the infirmary by herself.
That night when she was asleep in the staff house, Carla heard a strange scratching noise behind the staff house on the screen of the enclosed patio. It sounded as if someone’s body had rubbed up against the screen. Carla assumed it was a camper playing a prank and she yelled out “Who’s there?” but got no response, and heard footsteps walking away. She lay back down and listened for a while when she heard more footsteps. She then got up and looked out the front window thinking it was maybe the camp’s dog, Sally. When she looked out the window she could see Sally running from across the way from the Rangers House - Sally was barking and growling. Carla looked around but didn’t see what Sally had been barking at - but it scared her enough that she grabbed her blanket and ran across to another building where she knew another counselor was and had them come and sit with her until she fell back asleep.
Also during the orientation, one of the tent canvases sustained a six inch tear in it. A counselor thought it may have been caused by the weather but wasn’t sure.
It was around 6pm on the first night of camp and the campers were finishing up dinner and heading back to their tents when a thunderstorm rolled into the campground and it began to pour. The girls quickly ran to their assigned tents and spent the rest of the evening chatting, laughing, and writing letters to their parents before heading off to sleep.
Lori Farmer wrote a letter to her family:
“Dear Mom and Dad and Misti and Jo and Chad and Kathy. We’re just getting ready to go to bed. It’s 7:45. We’re at the beginning of a storm and having a lot of fun. I’ve met two new friends, MIchele Guse and Denise Milner. I’m sharing a tent with them. It started raining on the way back from dinner. We’re sleeping on cots. I couldn't wait to write. We’re all riding letters now ‘cause there’s hardly anything else to do. With Love, Lori.”
Denise, who was still suffering from a bout of homesickness, also took out some stationary and wrote:
[Documentary: Someone Cry for the Children / Denise's Mom Bettye Reading Denise's Letter]
“Dear Mom, I don’t like camp. It’s awful. The first day it rained. I have three new friends named Glenda, Lori, Michelle. Michelle and Lori are my roommates. Mom, I don’t want to stay at camp for two weeks. I want to come home and see Kassie and everybody.” She signed it: “Your loving child, Denise Milner.”
It was between the hours of 8 and 10pm, when a counselor, who was staying in the Comanche sub-camp - the camp next to and just south of Kiowa camp - saw a dim, amber light moving through the woods heading towards Kiowa camp. She didn’t think too much of it and ignored it, as campers would often get up to go to the bathrooms in the middle of the night.
At 10pm counselor Dee Elder of Kiowa camp walked around to do her tent-check for the night. Everyone was in their respective tents and everything seemed to be in order.
At around midnight, counselor Carla Wilhite heard the girls from the tents giggling and making noise around the bathrooms. She got up, went to talk to the girls and to escort them back to their beds, then headed back to her own tent.
At 1:30am Carl is again woken up by giggling coming from Tent #6. She points her flashlight at the tent and yells over at the girls to quiet down. Carla tells Dee Elder they should get up and go check on them. On their way over to the tent, both of them hear a low gutteral sound coming from the woods behind the tents. Carla shone a light on the woods and the sound stopped. She assumed it was an animal and the two headed back to their tent to try to get some sleep.
During the documentary “Someone Cry for the Children” which aired in 1994, Carla relayed what she had heard that night:
"I woke up and I heard a noise coming from an area kind of off the road by our tent. It was kind of intermittent, it wasn't continuous. Something like a cross between a frog and a bullhorn or something - it was low and kind of guttural. It wasn't language, it didn't really seem human. It didn't sound like any animal I'd ever heard."
It was around the same time that Carla and Dee heard the guttural sounds that other people in the campground had reported hearing moaning sounds coming from the direction of Tent No. 8.
About 30 minutes later, a camper in tent #7 in Kiowa camp was woken up when a figure with a flashlight opened the entrance flap to their tent and shined a light in the tent. The person quickly closed the flap and left.
At around 3am, a camper heard a single scream coming from the area of tent #8. Around the same time, another camper heard someone crying out, "Momma, Momma."
After that strange first night, Carla Wilhite’s alarm went off just before dawn around 6am the next morning. She scuffled out of her tent and headed to the staff house to shower so she could take advantage of the warm water before all the girls woke up. She headed towards Cookie Trail and up towards the direction of the Quapaw sub-camp which was next to the Staff house.
As Carla walked up Cookie Trail, she spotted something up ahead at the fork of the trail, just south of Quapaw sub-camp and off to the side of the road. As she got closer she saw what looked like some sort of bags. She figured that someone must have dropped off some stray luggage that hadn’t made it to the campsites. She continued walking closer to the bags when she suddenly stopped and realized in horror that what she thought was luggage was actually a sleeping bag, and on top of the sleeping bag lay the body of a young girl. The girl was lying face up and she was naked from the waist down….and she wasn’t moving.
Carla thought an accident had happened and ran back to the counselor tent to wake up counselors Dee and Susan and to notify the staff of the discovery. The counselors then quickly checked in the other tents. When Dee checked tent #8 she realized that all three girls were missing from the tent.
Carla ran to get the camp nurse and to locate the camp director Barbara Day. When Carla brought both women back to the scene, the nurse immediately checked the girl for vitals, but it was clear that the girl, who was later identified as 10 year old Denise Milner, was dead. There were injuries to Denise’s head and her hands were tied behind her back.
Barbara’s husband Richard Day was the next to arrive on the scene. Richard would soon discover that what lay before them was much worse than they thought. He noticed that there were two other sleeping bags lying near Denise’s body. When he went to pick up the bags, they were heavy, it was obvious there was something inside of them and they all knew that three girls from Kiowa camp were missing. He knelt down and felt on top of the bags and could feel that there was a body in each bag. Richard didn’t open the bags but told Barbara to contact police.
Barbara Day called an emergency number she had programmed in her phone and told them she needed three ambulances as there were three dead children.
Officer Harold Berry was the first officer to the scene, at around 7:30am. By 8am, Sheriff Glen “Pete” Weaver was on the scene and requested the help from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation or OSBI.
Michael Wilkerson, the lead agent for OSBI had recalled they found when they arrived at the crime scene:
"We walked over and there were two bags, and I know the first thing I was struck by, is how tiny, tiny, tiny the figures were in the sleeping bags. They took up only one small portion of the sleeping bag. And laying near the sleeping bag was a little black girl, about probably 10 years old and somebody had covered her with one of the sleeping bags.
We opened the first sleeping bag and there was a tiny little blonde headed girl laying in the sleeping bag. I remember Cary as he snapped the pictures, we opened the sleeping bag, and all he could say is 'my God, my God.'
Then we checked the third bag which contained another small girl, darker headed, who was bound, with her hands behind her back. Of course, she was dead too."
The two other girls found inside of the sleeping bags were identified as 8 year old Lori Farmer and 9 year old Michele Guse. Both girls had been bludgeoned to death and Michele’s hands had been bound behind her back.
In investigating the scene, OSBI noticed one set of boot prints leading from Kiowa camp to the spot where the bodies were found. From the evidence, it appeared that the perpetrator had approached the rear of Tent #8 and unhooked the back flaps to get inside. Judging by the blood that was spattered on the insides of the canvas walls and on the wood floor, authorities believed that Lori and Michele were both bludgeoned inside of the tent. Someone had tried to wipe up the blood with mattress covers and towels which were found in the sleeping bags with the girls. A size 10 Boot Print, and a Size 7 either shoe or tennis shoe print were found both inside and outside the tent. A 9.5 size shoe print was found stamped in the blood on the inside of the tent.
Denise had also been bound with her hands behind her back, and her mouth had been stuffed with a gag before authorities believe she was either dragged or carried to the area where the other two girls’ bodies were found.
There was evidence at the scene that the attacks had been planned - the gag on Denise was pre-sewn and the killer had brought nylon rope and duct tape to bind the girls. A large red flashlight was found next to the bodies.
The bodies were found about 150 feet from tent #8 of Kiowa camp.
Before even contacting the parents of the three girls to tell them that their daughters had been murdered, the Executive Director with Magic Empire Council contacted their insurance company, then they contacted their attorney. Once they had those two phone calls out of the way, they then called the parents. In the phone calls to the parents of Lori, Michelle and Denise, the Executive Director did not however tell them that the girls had been murdered, only that there had been an accident, and that they had died. The parents eventually learned what had actually happened to their daughters by seeing the coverage on the news stations.
Dick and GeorgeAnn Guse talk about the moment that authorities called them to tell them about the death of their daughter Michele:
"They knocked on the door and they said that they had something to tell me about Michele. And I said 'Is there a problem?' And they said 'We need to come in.' And they introduced themselves you know.
And I said 'Is she hurt?' And they said 'Well, come in and sit down.' And it was at that point that they said there had been an accident at camp, and they never did tell me that she had been murdered."
"We finally turned the TV on, that's how we learned how she died."
And here’s Charles and Sheri Farmer talking about when they were first notified of Lori’s death:
"I received a call from the Executive Director of the Girl Scout organization. She told me that Lori and two other girls were found dead out some distance behind their tent. No explanation, nothing else. Not that there was any violence involved."
Imagine being the parents of these three children when they found out that they hadn’t even been the first ones to be contacted about what had happened - that the Girl Scouts were more concerned with covering themselves both legally and financially than notifying the parents that their daughters had been murdered.
As additional investigators began to arrive at the scene that day, security was increased at all the other sub-camps at Camp Scott. The campground was evacuated of all campers and staff at around 10am, with buses transporting confused campers back to their families in Tulsa. The campers weren’t told what had happened to cause their sudden departure from the campground after having only stayed one night at camp.
In the weeks following the murders, a private security company was hired to guard the camp which was now vacant. According to the guards, there was evidence that someone was still stalking the camp - they’d find footprints in fresh sand and doors were opened that they had previously shut them.
They also talked about seeing silhouettes in the dense woods on multiple occasions. One time, a tracking dog returned to its handler and seemed to have been struck by something or someone. To see if there was anyone out there, the guards started to leave threads tied to trees between certain pathways to see if there was anyone out there. They would find the threads broken upon later inspection.
During another day, the guards went to the Great hall which they would use as an office. At the door of the hall they discovered a bag that contained pink socks and a pair of tennis shoes with the name Denise Milner written inside. Both the socks and shoes were wet.
OSBI examined the socks and shoes but said that two pairs of shoes were already in evidence and they believed that the ones found by the guards were separate evidence entirely, but the shoes were never linked to anything.
It didn’t take long before reports of what happened at Camp Scott quickly hit the news stations and by 8am there were already stories about a freak accident or foul play.
When Sid Wise, the Mayes County District Attorney who was assigned to the case, was asked by a news reporter What kind of person could have done something like that, this is what he had to say:
"We obviously know that it's a person who doesn't belong to what we accept as the normal human race."
On June 14th, the wooden floor of tent #8 was removed and airlifted to a crime lab. Against the investigators’ wishes and to the frustration of Sid Wise, the media published that a tennis shoe print was found outside the tent and a different print was found inside the tent.
The next day, on June 15th, about 7 miles from the camp, a man who was living out of his car was briefly arrested, questioned and released.
The large red flashlight that was found next to the sleeping bags was tested and a partial fingerprint was found on the lens but it could not be identified.
When police questioned the camp counselors and staff about what had happened that night, many recalled the noises that they had heard, the amber light seen from Quapaw camp, and the scream they heard in the middle of the night. Witnesses that lived around the area of Camp Scott were questioned and one landowner claimed that between 2:00 and 3:00am on the early morning of June 13th, they heard “quite a bit” of traffic on a remote road near the campground.
Investigators headed to a ranch about a mile west of the camp that was owned by farmer Jack Shroff. Jack claimed to have sash cord, a roll of duct tape, 3 bottles of beer and 3 identical crow bars stolen from his cabin which may have been used during the execution of the crime. The empty beer bottles were later found on the camp grounds. A shoe print was also found outside of Jack’s door - it was a jungle boot style print that matched other boot prints found near the crime scene.
After being questioned, Jack had a solid alibi. He voluntarily took a lie detector test - and passed.
Jack Shroff was quickly eliminated as a suspect as well as Camp Director Richard Day and Camp Ranger Ben Woodward.
On June 16th, tracking dogs arrived from Pennsylvania and began to scour the crime scene and the campground. The press would start to refer to the dogs as “Wonder Dogs.” The dogs did not have an easy task ahead of them: the woods were so dense that the dogs often went to an open area or field, sniffed around and followed a scent, but then would look straight up, as if the perpetrator vanished into thin air. What could be determined based on the dogs scent trails, was that the perpetrator must have had to pass by the counselors tent in order to get to tent 8. The dogs were able to locate eyeglasses and a case belonging to one of the counselors.
Officials decided to finally inform the press that they had additional evidence: in addition to the shoe prints and the flashlight - that had been covered with a piece of plastic - pieces of cord, a roll of black duct tape, and a pair of women’s glasses with an eyeglass case were obtained as evidence.
The eyeglasses and case were discovered to belong to a camper in the Kiowa unit and to one of the counselors.
Autopsies were conducted on the three girls by Medical Examiner Neil A. Hoffman. When Denise was found, she was nude from the waist down and her pajama top had been pulled up underneath her arms. Her arms were tied with duct tape behind her back. The other two girls were found tucked inside the zipped sleeping bags, each in a fetal-like position.
All three girls were struck with a blunt instrument to the head. Lori and Michele - who it was believed were attacked while inside of the tent - were struck on the back of their heads while they slept. The weapon or weapons that were used were held in both the right and left hands of the perpetrator. It was also evident that more than one weapon was used to bludgeon the three girls. Denise Milner’s face had been struck so viciously and with such force that the weapon used had left behind its shape. A cord and an elastic bandage were around her neck, and a round cylinder shaped object about four inches long made of terrycloth was attached to the cord. The elastic bandage had been used to blindfold her and the terrycloth had been used to gag her. Denise had also been sexually assaulted, strangled and was believed to have died on the trail. Her cause of death was strangulation. Two different types of knots had been used to tie up the girls.
It was discovered that two of the girls had been raped and the third sodomized. It wasn’t made clear which girl suffered which injury. It is important to note, however, that there are conflicting reports as to whether or not the girls were sexually assaulted. Excessive force had been used on all the girls - the murders were certainly overkill.
It was believed that the girls were killed sometime between 2am and 4am. No fingerprints, other than the partially unidentifiable print on the flashlight, were found.
Semen was found on each of the girls’ bodies as well as on the red flashlight. A single hair that was attached to a piece of duct tape was confirmed to NOT belong to any of the girls.
If you’re thinking “what about DNA evidence?” DNA wasn’t used as a material to identify an individual until the 1980’s and was first used to solve two murders in 1983 and 1986, so unfortunately it wasn’t being used at the time of these murders. I’ll be talking more about the DNA testing later on in this episode.
Both the evidence found at the scene as well as the autopsies indicated that there was possibly more than one offender involved. The perpetrators brought the items used at the crime scene with them - so they were well prepared - but they didn’t take any precautions to conceal the bodies and the crime scene was disorganized and sloppy, and the wiping down of the blood inside of the tent was haphazard.
Investigators believed that the crimes were well planned out, possibly months in advance and that the killers - if there was more than one - knew each other well and knew the area well to be able to navigate the scene with ease. They also believed that only one of the girls was targeted and that the other two were murdered so as to not identify the attacker.
The viciousness of the murders indicated to investigators that the offenders may have killed before or had been involved in some type of violent crime.
On June 18th, Sheriff Glen Weaver, who was spearheading the investigation, claimed to have found the murder weapon - a crowbar, however the district attorney, Sid Wise, denied any weapon had been found.
A search of the area utilizing the tracking dogs, uncovered a cave about three miles southwest from Camp Scott. Inside of the cave, there was a flashlight battery, a pair of red lace panties, a pair of sunglasses in a vinyl case that were seemingly stolen from a Camp Scott counselor, a roll of tape and plastic material that matched the plastic used to cover the flashlight lens, and pictures of two women possibly in a wedding. There were also pages of a Tulsa newspaper that matched up with the same edition of the newspaper that were found stuffed inside the flashlight found near the girl’s bodies. The paper had been used to wedge the batteries in the flashlight to restore a loose connection.
These pieces of evidence could possibly have something to do with the murders, but investigators needed something more solid. They put the pictures of the women on television and in newspapers to see if anyone recognized them. A prison officer who had a part-time job as a wedding photographer, happened to recognize the women in the photos. They were from a wedding that he’d photographed. As part of a photography course in prison, a prisoner named Gene Leroy Hart had helped to develop the photos.
The cave that had the items and the pictures was only a few hundred feet from a cellar and foundation - remnants - coincidentally - of Gene Hart’s childhood home.
Strangely, there was another cave nearby where on the wall of the cave was written: “The Killer was here. Bye bye fools. 77-6-17.” The unusual date format was said to be used by the military and the prison system.
There were a couple of individuals who were targeted as possible suspects, but authorities had their focus on one individual: 34 year old Gene Leroy Hart. Hart, born in 1943 and of Cherokee descent, had been raised about a mile from Camp Scott, and was a local football hero.
In 1966 Hart had kidnapped two pregnant women outside a nightclub, put them in the trunk of his car, drove them to a forest on the outskirts of Locust Grove and raped them. The women that he had raped had been gagged and bound with duct tape and rope. He then put duct tape over their noses and mouths and left them to die in the woods. The women managed to untie themselves and ran for help. They offered authorities the make and model of Hart’s vehicle as well as providing them with a physical description of Hart. When asked to describe how Hart was during the rape, the women said he was ‘incoherent’ and that he made strange, growling noises.
Hart was eventually captured and had committed three burglaries while he was an escapee- in each case the victims were asleep in their houses at the time.
Hart did eventually admit to the rape of the two women and the two burglaries and was sentenced to 305 years, however, Hart had escaped Mayes County Jail in Pryor Oklahoma in 1973 and had at large ever since.
The fact that Hart was able to escape Mayes County Jail and evade Sheriff Weaver for so many years, led many locals to believe that the Sheriff had a personal vendetta that drove the manhunt for Hart for the girl scout’s murders. Members of the American Indian Movement had argued that Sheriff Weaver was trying to find a scapegoat among their tribe to pin the murders on.
Investigators had believed that the local Cherokee community had been helping Hart hide out since his escape . The FBI became involved in searching for Hart and launched what was to be the largest and longest manhunt in rOklahoma history. They enlisted 40 FBI agents to search for Hart, as well as 600 volunteers to be involved in the search.
Hart was eventually tracked down 10 months after the murders. Agent Larry Bowles was working with an informant within the Cherokee community and found out that Hart had been hiding out at the home of a Cherokee medicine m an named Sam Pigeon, about 50 miles from Camp Scott. Pigeon was convinced of Hart’s innocence and had let him live in his three bedroom shack for the last 8 months.
Agent Bowles and OSBI officers surrounded the shack and on April 6, 1978 Hart was arrested and charged with three first-degree murders. A child’s mirror and a small corn-cob pipe were taken as evidence from the shack. While Bowles was taking Hart into custody, he asked him a question:
[Agent Larry Bowles]
"I asked him, I said 'You killed those little girls didn't you?' He said, 'You'll never pin it on me.' "
Hart quickly enlisted the help of Garvin A. Isaacs and Gary Pitchlynn, both Oklahoma City attorneys. Hart’s trial began on March 19, 1979 with Judge William Whistler presiding and S.M. “Buddy” Fallis representing the state. On March 20, a day after the trial began, Gene Hart held a press conference where he answered pre-selected questions from the press:
[Gene Leroy Hart]
"I am not a hero. I have no desire to be a hero, but maybe I represent the fears and doubts that many people have about any system that has the means and the power to overwhelm each of us, each and every one of us."
The trial lasted 11 days, ending on March 30th, 1979. The jury was comprised of six men and six women and they included a school teacher, a plant manager, a gas firm foreman, and a housewife. None of the jurors were from Locust Grove and all of them were sequestered for the entirety of the trial.
Many people in the community rallied behind Hart, a former high school football star, including members of the Native American population who felt he was being targeted because of his ethnicity. Many believed that the OSBI had planted evidence to convict him and it was also leaked to the media that sperm had been found in the semen that was obtained for evidence, but Hart was known to have had a vasectomy.
The evidence presented by the prosecution seemed to rest on two key pieces of evidence: a piece of hair found at the scene and semen found on the bodies.
Dr John McCloud, America’s Foremost authority on male fertility at the time, testified that Hart’s sperm was “quite similar” to the sperm taken from the victim’s bodies. It also came out in testimony during the trial that apparently Hart’s vasectomy hadn’t been successful.
The prosecution presented evidence that the newspaper found in the cave was a match to the newspaper found in the flashlight at the crime scene. They claimed that the hair that was found on the duct tape at the crime scene matched Hart’s hair, that it had to come from either Hart or someone with the same microscopic characteristics. It’s interesting to note that as of 2015, microscopic hair analysis had been discredited as a forensic technique due to the many problems in analyzing it.
The prosecution also presented evidence of the mirror and the corn cob pipe found at the Shack where Hart was captured and identified those as belonging to a camper who was at Camp Scott the night of the murders.
The items that the state claimed linked Hart to the crime scene were the pair of glasses and its case that had been stolen from the camp counselor’s tent the night of the murders and were found near the bodies, the duct tape that was found in the cave that matched tape found at the scene and the photos of the women that linked to Hart’s time in prison.
The defense claimed that the glasses had been taken from Hart’s prior rape victims - and Hart had admitted this as well - and that Sheriff Weaver had planted the rest of the evidence at the crime scene. They also stated that the 9.5 bloody footprint in the tent, could not have been a match for Hart’s foot as he wore a size 11 shoe. They stated that the fingerprint on the flashlight was not a match to Hart, that the swabs taken from the girls were inconclusive, and that the hair on the duct tape was similar to Hart’s but it could not be proven that it belonged to Hart. Gene Hart did not take the stand in his own defense.
Waitress Dean Boyd was called to testify and stated that she’d seen a nervous man which was not Hart, at her diner the morning of the murders. Her diner was approximately 15 miles from Camp Scott. The man was identified as Williams Stevens, a convicted rapist. An 11 year old camper had seen Stevens on Camp Scott grounds in the days just prior to the murders.
Steven’s friend Duane Peters, also testified that he had loaned Stevens the flashlight that was found at the crime scene, and that in October of 1977 Stevens admitted to him that he killed the girls.
Although the local Sheriff said he was 1000% sure that Gene Hart was guilty, the jury took 6 hours to come to a verdict:
[Parents of Lori Farmer, Denise Milner and Michele Guse]
"They said the verdict was in, of course I asked, I can't remember who I asked because they ran by, and they said "he's not guilty."
"And it just took a second for them to read it."
"Total hush over the courtroom as the verdict was announced."
"We heard a noise when we heard the verdict because of their jubilation we looked over there and they were celebrating."
"There was pandemonium in the courtroom. People were hugging Hart's lawyers, they were hugging Gene Hart. I saw people with the media hugging Gene Hart and Gene Hart's family. There was yelling and laughing in there, it was mass hysteria on that side of the courtroom."
The jury acquitted Gene Hart of all charges on March 31, 1979….however, having a prior conviction from 1966 for raping the two women, Hart still had that 305 year sentence left to serve. After only being back in prison for a little over a month, Hart was working out with weights and jogging in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary prison yard when he collapsed and died of a heart attack on June 4 1979. He was 35 years old.
In an attempt to hold someone responsible for the girls’ safety, in 1985 Charles and Sheri Farmer and Bettye and Walter Milner sued the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts and its insurer for $5 million, alleging negligence. The civil trial that ensued included discussion of the threatening hand written note that found by the camp counselor during orientation as well as the fact that tent #8 was 86 yards or 258 feet from the counselors' tent. The families however, lost the suit by a 9–3 vote, as jurors decided in favor of Magic Empire. Magic Empire Council sold the property and the remnants of the camp buildings in 1988.
Also in 1985 Sheri Farmer opened a Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Oklahoma, an organization dedicated to providing assistance and support to the families of homicide victims. The organization is still functioning today, however, they no longer have a chapter in the state of Oklahoma.
Dick Guse, Michele’s father, helped establish the Victims' Bill of Rights in Oklahoma, as well as the Oklahoma Victims' Compensation Board. Dick said said that throughout the investigation of the murder of the three girls, he felt he and his wife GeorgeAnn were ignored by law enforcement and prosecutors, so he drafted the bill to create coordinating centers in Oklahoma to keep victims and families involved in each step of the legal process. The compensation board helps to provide victims and their family members with money to assist them with various expenses.
Over the years many people have contacted law enforcement to point to a potential suspect, but all leads have been fruitless. Many believe the case to have been solved with the arrest, albeit acquittal, of Gene Leroy Hart.
12 years after the murders, in 1989, DNA testing was conducted on semen samples that were found on a pillowcase from the crime scene. The tests showed three of the five probes matched bodily fluids taken from Gene Hart. Statistically, DNA from 1 in 7,700 Native Americans would obtain these results. As only three of the five probes matched, the results were deemed inconclusive.
In December 2001 the DNA was analyzed again, but the samples were insufficient and the DNA too deteriorated. Investigators were able to retrieve a partial DNA profile from a female. But they don’t know which female. The information was not sufficient for comparison to the girls and resulted in no conclusive results.
31 years later, in 2008, new DNA testing was conducted on the semen stains but the samples were too deteriorated to obtain a DNA profile.
In 2017, the current Mayes County Sheriff's Department had raised over $30,000 in donations in order to do new DNA tests using the latest advances in testing. The report and results of those tests are pending.
[Start Closing Ambient Music]
Lori Farmer's little sister is still hopeful that the mystery of who murdered her sister will be solved. Here’s Lori (error: should state "Misti") from a 2017 interview with KJRH TV in Tulsa:
[Misti Shannon - Lori Farmer's sister]
"I have faith that there will be some answers and somebody will come forward - with something."
"Breaking her silence for the first time about the tragedy that shaped her life."
[Misti Shannon - Lori Farmer's sister]
"I felt like I had to step into Lori's shoes and take care of them too."
"Caring for her siblings and later being a bit overprotective of her own boys."
[Misti Shannon - Lori Farmer's sister]
At the end of every conversation of phone call, I always say "I love you" because you just never know."
What do you think? Do you believe that this is no longer a cold case and that the murderer was Gene Leroy Hart, or do you believe the killer or killers got away with murdering three young Girl Scouts in the dead of night on that warm June evening? I’d love to say that I’m convinced they had the right guy, that the families of Lori, Denise and Michele can be reassured that the real killer was captured, but what if….what if they didn’t and the killer or killers are still walking among us? We may never know the truth or have definitive DNA tests from the crime scene, and that may be something we’ll have no choice... but to live with.
Camp Scott was evacuated following the murders and subsequently shut down. The camp has since remained abandoned and is frequently visited by paranormal enthusiasts and ghost hunters who claim the property is haunted by the three girls. The Girl Scouts sold the camp in the 1980’s to a private party and the land is leased out for hunting only. It’s almost unrecognizable and has been overrun with trees and shrubs, but a picnic table, a stone fireplace and multiple wood tent platforms still remain. Cookie Trail Road, the road that was used to transport the Girl Scouts into Camp Scott, can still be seen through a padlocked security gate on the property.
[Ambient Music Ends; Outro Music Begins]
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[Outro Music Ends]
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