The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

            Lori Farmer, 8, Michelle Guse, 9, and Doris Milner, 10, were attending what was supposed to be a two week long camp when their young lives were so suddenly and brutally ended (D’Souza, 2018). In June 1977, Locus Grove, OK woke up to the horrific news of a murder at the Camp Scott Girl Scout Camp not far from them. Camp counselor Carla Wilhite was on her way to the showers at the camp at approximately 6 AM on June 13th when she came across the bodies of three of the campers, taken roughly 150 yards from their tents and into the path (girlscoutmurders.com). Milner was found on the path directly, while Guse and Farmer were found in their sleeping bags, zipped up, nearby. Reportedly, others at the camp had heard strange noises during the night but had likely written the sounds off as those made by the local wildlife (D’Souza 2018). By 7:30 that morning the investigation into the deaths of the young campers was started. The remaining campers were evacuated by 10 AM with no knowledge of what had occurred, only knowing that they were being sent home after only one night of camping. That was the last night Camp Scott was open. After the horrific events of June 13, 1977, the camp that had been open for approximately 50 years, Camp Scott permanently closed its doors (girlscoutmurders.com).

            When it all began, things seemed to be going fast. Within the first few days, the wooden floor from the tent the girls had been in, tent 7, was airlifted from the camp to be examined. It was reported that a tennis shoe print was found outside the tent as well as another inside the tent, and Mayes Country DA, Sid Wise, announced outrage that the information had been made available to the public. Specially trained dogs were flown in from Pennsylvania, known as the Wonder Dogs, after an arrest was made of a man who lived near the camp in his van. He was later released. A ranch not far from Camp Scott became a subject of investigation for a while after it was discovered that the ranch had been robbed around the time; the owner later passed a lie detector test. A name is even suggested, Gene Leroy Hart, who was on the loose after escaping the Mayes County jail four years before the murders (girlscoutmurders.com). Hart continued to be on the top of the suspect list, partially due to a single hair not belonging to the victims that was found. The hair was reportedly likely from someone of Native American descent, like Hart, who was Cherokee. Local Native American groups felt that Hart was being unfairly targeted due to his Cherokee ancestry and race became a factor in the case. Some believe that locals involved with the Native American groups may have actually helped Hart while he was on the run (D’Souza 2018). It is also worth noting that Hart wore a size 11 to 11.5 in shoes, and the shoe prints found by the crime scene were significantly smaller, at a size 9.5. While squeezing into a smaller shoe isn’t impossible, a shoe that much smaller is unlikely (Rebel 2020). More information is released to the public, fingerprints on the bodies, duct tape and cord, as well as a flashlight found at the scene. The Wonder Dogs, after finally arriving from Pennsylvania, traced the scent of the killer(s) passed the counselor’s tent (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On June 18th, it’s announced that a murder weapon was found by Sheriff Pete Weaver, however DA Wise and other agents claimed to have no idea what Weaver was referring to. The murder weapon is reported as a crow bar with fingerprints found on it, and the Wonder Dogs lead investigators to ponds on the same property of the robbed ranch, but lose the trail there. The next day it is announced by the trainer of the Wonder Dogs that they have found evidence in the case and expect a break any day. That same day, the public gets three different answers to possible suspects in the case. The FBI claims there are three suspects, DA Wise claims there are no suspects, and Sheriff Weaver claims there is one suspect in the case. DA Wise also publicly corrects Sheriff Weaver’s earlier statement and claims no murder weapon was found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            By the 20th, however, DA Wise turns around the claims that there are actually several suspects in the case and that they have a lot of evidence collected, including the earlier reported fingerprints on one of the bodies. The governor of Oklahoma, David Boren, offers the national guard’s help on the hunt for the killers on the 21st, and another suspect who was camping nearby when the murders happened is added to the suspects list. A media blackout is ordered by DA Wise on the 22nd, but not before word gets out that photos with three women in them have been found, some say at the camo ground while others claim in a cave approximately two miles from the camp ground. On the same day, the medical examiner declares that only one of the fingerprints found on the bodies is actually usable, as the other prints are too smudged (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On the 23rd the photos are announced as having been processed by suspect Gene Leroy Hart while he was at a reformatory. A full-scale hunt is launched after a man matching Hart’s description is seen nearby. The group that comes together the next day, made up of 200 law enforcement officers and 400 volunteers, are not supposed to have guns. Many do, and many arrests are made for drunken behavior and marijuana possession. Most of the officers involved leave the manhunt on the 26th. They try using heat seeking equipment, but the equipment fails, possibly due to weather conditions. After a $14,000 reward is put up, Hart’s mother comes forward claiming that the photographs were planted by Sheriff Weaver due to the stress to find a suspect, and that she was being continually harassed. Despite these claims, the FBI says there is evidence that Hart was in the area at the time of the murders (girlscoutmurders.com).

            July 6, 1977, the medical examiner’s report is released on the girls. The report indicates that, despite earlier reports, there are no fingerprints found on the bodies (girlscoutmurders.com). While Milner had been strangled to death, Guse and Farmer had been brutally beaten (D’Souza, 2018). OSBI Director Jeff Laird declares that there is a lot of evidence against Hart and that he would declare him guilty if he could. On the 29th, a security team hired to look after the camp claims to have seen someone in the woods and apparently found the shoes of the one of the victims, along with her socks, in a bag on the steps of the counselors’ cabin. The items were wet. October 10th, it is declared that they are still looking for Hart and that the hunt will remain on until he is found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            In late January of 1978, composite sketches of Hart are made available to the public along with a list of possible aliases he may have been using. Among the sketches are some showing what he may look like with long hair or glasses. Hart is apprehended on April 6th after eight OSBI agents storm a house 45 miles from Camp Scott. Hart is on trial from March 19, 1979 until March 30, 1979, and acquitted of the charges (girlscoutmurders.com). Ann Reed, investigative forensic chemist, examined the hair that supposedly connected Hart to the case and declared that, while they appeared identical, she couldn’t actually say definitively if the hair belonged to Hart. While the jury acquitted him of the murders, he was sentenced to 300 years in prison for other crimes, but died later in 1979 from a heart attack (D’Souza 2018). Why was Hart the only suspect so doggedly sought after? Was it underlying racism, due to him being Cherokee? It’s no secret that the United States has a major problem of system racism, and a man who isn’t white being framed for a crime he did not commit is hardly unheard of. Hart had a history of sex crimes, having raped women previously. Who would be an easier target to frame, in order to have someone pay for a crime, than someone that is known to the public to already be a convicted criminal? At the same time, the crimes that Hart committed were not just similar. He kidnapped two women and raped them before leaving them dead not far from where Camp Scott was. Knowing that, the suspicion of the OSBI seems slightly more founded. This knowledge does not change the noticeable tunnel vision investigators seemed to have on Hart (Rebel 2020).

            Chillingly, only a few months before the murders took place a counselor at the camp was left a message in a donut box after her belongings had been ransacked. The message, which at the time was thought to be a bad prank, made the promise to kill three campers (D’Souza, 2018). In 2008 and in 2018, DNA tests were conducted. The 2008 test was inconclusive and the tests from 2018 have had no public updates. Hopefully this lack of updates to the public means that something has happened with these tests (Rebel 2020). Hopefully someday soon, we will have answers to this horrific crime.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2020, from http://www.girlscoutmurders.com/index.html

D’Souza, B. (2018, February 19). 12 Facts to Know about the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders That Remain Unsolved. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://crimeola.com/oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-12-facts/

Rebel, A. (2020, June 08). The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders – did the OSBI get the right man? Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://darkideas.net/the-oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-did-the-osbi-get-the-right-man/

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