WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
I really should say "get ready, this one is really sad" before every single murder I cover, but I always reserve that designation for the murder of children. This story is about the murder of 3 children, ages 8-10, who were killed at Camp.
On June 13, 1977, 3 Girl Scouts were found on the trail leading from the tents to the showers at Camp Scott in Oklahoma.
The case was originally classified as solved when a local jail escapee, Gene Leroy Hart, was arrested, but he was acquitted. The case is technically still unsolved.
THE MURDERS (2)
On June 12, 1997, bus-loads of excited young campers entered Camp Scott. The first night of camp brought about rain and thunderstorms. The councilors were used to night 1 of camp, and weren't looking forward to the loud, late-night giggles as the girls got used to being at camp and away from home.
But beyond a stormy night and over-excited kids, some things were a bit amiss.
At around 10 PM, one of the councilors spotted a light in the forest moving towards Kiowa camp, but checked the tent and ensured everything was okay. At about midnight, councilor Carla Wilhite had to go over to the bathrooms and escort some noisy campers back to their rents. At 1:30 AM, the girls were still making noise, and Carla shouted at them to stop.
Around that time, she hears a low, guttural sound, but it goes away when she flashes her flashlight over toward it... for some time. She heard the noise intermittently throughout the evening. At around 3 AM, 2 girls were awoken by other noises, one being a single scream of a girl crying out for her mother. Additionally, someone was moving through camp Kiowa stealing purses and glasses.
The next morning, Carla woke up at 6 AM so she could take a quick shower before the girls woke up. On her way to the shower, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye, and thinking it may have been lost luggage, she walked over. What she found was the body of one of the campers, lying face up and naked from the waist down. Carla woke up the other councilors, Dee and Susan, to help check on the other children. They found that in Tent 8, all of the girls were missing.
I'm going to attempt a little visual exercise here to explain the set up. Tent 8 was the furthest away from the councilors, about 50 yards. If you were walking from Tent 8 to the councilors tent, you would pass all of the other tents on one side, and the campfire and showers on the other side. However, the bodies were found past the councilors tent, meaning the girls were either lured, or dragged, past 7 tents filled with sleeping girls and the camp councilors tent, to be left more than 50 yards away from where they were sleeping.
Carla ran to the nurse's station and then to the Director's house to let her know that one of the campers was dead. The first body found was that of 10 year old Doris Denise Milner. The nurse checked her pulse and confirmed the was dead, citing the injuries to her head. Her hands were tied behind her back.
In the same area, the other 2 campers from Tent 8 were found in their sleeping bags, 8-year-old Lori Lee Farmer and 9-year-old Michelle Heather Guse. At this point, highway patrol was called while the other staff tried to manage the other scouts without letting them know what was going on. They notified parents that they would be returning, but did not release the names of the girls involved.
The camp's official statement to the parents was that they had died in an accident, as even though foul play was clearly involved, they did not know the details yet. However, the grieving parents found out through the media that their daughters had been murdered.
Investigators tried to piece the murders together as best they could. They believed that Lori and Michelle had been bludgeoned to death inside the tent. Both of them had been sexually assaulted. The killer tried to clean up, but a boot print was left behind. They believe that Denise had her mouth stuffed with a gag and was walked over to where the bodies were found. She was sexually assaulted, bludgeoned and strangled to death.
The attacks had been planned in advance. There was also a belief there was a second killer, as the weapons were held in both the left and right hand, and different knots had been used to tie up the girls.
THE SUSPECT (3)
Gene Leroy Hart had escaped from Mayes County Jail in 1973 and had been at large since. He had been convicted of kidnapping and raping 2 pregnant women, and was raised very close to Camp Scott. They were able to hunt him down and find him a year after the crimes were committed.
But fears grew that he was being framed, or that investigators were planting evidence to convict him throughout the Cherokee community.
In the trial, there were only 2 usable items of forensic evidence, including the hair in some duct tape and semen collected at the scene. The hair was a 99% match, but this was before DNA testing was common and couldn't be used as an infallible piece of evidence in the trial. No exact match could be made for the semen, either. But his fingerprints weren't found and the boot print was too small. Additionally, he had an alibi for the night in question.
Other suspects were presented, including Bill Stevens who actually confessed and had kidnapped and raped a teacher, but it turned out to be, likely, a hoax. Karl Myers had abducted, raped and choked a 12-year-old girl before and could have been in the area. A couple of other names have come up, but the name people most believe to be the killer is Gene Hart.
However, the jury did not think so and found him not guilty after 6 hours of deliberation. There was shock on both sides. For those who believed he did it, they were shocked he was not convicted. For the Cherokee who believed the murder was wrongly being pinned on Hart, they were shocked that he was acquitted.
Though Gene Hart was not convicted of the Girl Scout Murders, he was transported back to prison to finish out his 300 years of other sentences from when he escaped. A few weeks after he returned to prison, despite being in good shape, he suffered a severe heart attack, collapsed and died in prison. 1,300 people attended his funeral. It appears that he was kind of seen as a martyr, a person who was wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit, and thus a popular figure to Native Americans, however, he did rape and attempt to murder someone in the past so he does not have my sympathy.
After Camp Scott was evacuated, it was shut down for good. (1)
Richard Guse, Michelle's father, went on to help the state pass the Oklahoma Victims' Bill of Rights and helped found the Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation Board. Sheri Farmer, Lori's mom, founded the Oklahoma Parents of Murdered Children support group. (1)
In January of 2016, Bettye Milner, Denise's mother visited her daughter's grave for the first time, something she couldn't bring herself to go for over 40 years. Bettye says remaining faithful to God is what keeps her going, but believes "closure" is a made up word. (4)
Even to this day, police hope for continued advancements so that they can get the DNA profile to determine if Hart was, or was not, the killer, and if another killer has waked free. A 2008 test revealed the semen was too degraded to make a profile. Maybe the killer has died in prison, but if not, knowing what kind of monster kills 3 children at Girl Scout Camp is of the utmost importance. The murders occurred 43 years ago today, so depending on their age during the killings, they could still be alive. (4)
I am not sure who committed these grisly, terrible murders, but I hope it was Gene Hart. He was not an innocent man plucked from the streets to pin it on, he was a prison escapee who had been convicted of the rape of 2 pregnant women. Rape and murder isn't exactly foreign to him, and a lot of circumstantial evidence points to him. But if it wasn't him, I hope continued developments in DNA can point to the killer so whoever did this is brought to justice, even if it is more than 40 years later.
Whatever happened 43 years ago, 3 little girls were killed and 3 families had their entire earth shattered. If the killer is not brought to justice in their lifetimes, I truly hope they have been able to find bits and pieces of peace and joy in the last 43 years without their daughters, sisters, granddaughters, nieces and friends.