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OKLAHOMA MYSTERIES: 1977 Camp Scott Girl Scout murders remain unsolved

Roxann Perkins Yates / Red Dirt Report
Forgotten and falling into disrepair, the Camp Scott Red Barn was used for Girl Scout activities until 1977.
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LOCUST GROVE, Okla. -- Three young girls were brutally murdered nearly 38 years ago in a wooded area that was once full of frolic and fun. Before that horrific day in 1977, it was a magic place for girls of the "Magic Empire" created for Girls Scouts to camp in and enjoy the wonders of the outdoors.

Camp Scott, located in Locust Grove, had been a retreat for Girl Scouts and Brownies since 1928. Its 410 wooded acres could accommodate 140 campers and 30 staff. The Cookie Trail road led to ten camping units scattered throughout the green beauty.

Two months before the murders, during a training session, a counselors' tent was ransacked and a note was left behind in a doughnut box. In the hand-written note, the writer declared that three campers would be murdered. The note was dismissed as a prank and trashed.

On the night of June 13, 1977, three girls were pulled from their Kiowa tent, bludgeoned, strangled, and sexually assaulted and left on a trail--two buried in their sleeping bags and another left, partially clothed nearby.

Lori Lee Farmer, 8, of Tulsa, Michele Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow, and Doris Denise Miller, 10, of Tulsa were discovered by camp counselor, Carla Willhite, while she was on her way to the showers at 6:00 a.m.

On the day before the murders, the girls loaded a bus at the headquarters in Tulsa.

Campers traveled 40 miles east of Tulsa to Camp Scott to begin a two-week stay.

Activities would include hiking, crafting, swimming in Snake Creek, singing around a campfire, gathering at the Red Barn for play, and many other enterprises.

Campers were allowed to choose their tent buddies. The 14 foot by 12 foot tent bases were constructed of wood and covered in canvas and contained four mattress-laden bunks. Milner, Farmer, and Guse didn't have an extra buddy, so they stored their belongings on the extra bunk.

Kiowa tent number 7 (sometimes called 8 when counted with the counselors' tent) was the most remote tent in the unit and in the camp. It couldn't be seen from the counselors' tent.

“Before and during 1977, Camp Scott had no lights in the wooden platform tents. Aside from the campers' flashlights, the only light source provided at the camp units were the kerosene lanterns which were lit at night. These lanterns hung at the unit latrines,” as is described in The Camp Scott Murders written by C. S. Kelly and published in 2014.

Eerie sounds heard the night of the murders

Just past midnight, Willhite was awakened by a noise.

“It was a cross between a frog and bullhorn or something. It was low and kind of guttural. It wasn't language. It didn't seem like language. It didn't seem human. It didn't sound like any animal I've heard," said Willhite in the documentary, Someone Cry for the Children: The Girl Scout Murders, produced and directed by Mike Wilkerson, who co-authored a book with his brother Dick Wilkerson Someone Cry for the Children, that was published in 1981. Both were members of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Willhite awoke another counselor in her tent, Dee Elder, and asked if she had heard the strange sound. She hadn't. Willhite went outside with her flashlight to survey the woods. Each time she flashed her light, the sound stopped. She walked the tents. Everything was quiet. She went back to bed.

Many saw a strange light and heard guttural sounds throughout the night. Tent 6 was flooded by light and then it disappeared. A girl was heard crying for her momma.

“Two counselors had been frightened by two men at the camp, the night before the murders. Some campers said they saw a man in army boots behind a tent;” whereas another man was seen by a latrine the night of the murders," as is reported in Kelly's book.

After Willhite alerted Camp Director Barbara Day of the grisly scene that morning, Day and her husband Richard ran to the sight, they determined that Milner was dead. They lifted the sleeping bags and believed crumpled bodies were in them. The highway patrol was immediately called.

Camp Ranger Ben Woodward, distraught and nearly in tears, upon seeing the bodies, said, “This is the reason why we moved to the country. To get away from crazy people,”according to Someone Cry for the Children.

Mike Wilkerson recalled the reticent atmosphere.

He described the scene as “...the reverence of a church. People were talking in low whispers. They were quiet...I don't even recall birds singing,” said Wilkerson in the documentary.

Wilkerson was struck by how tiny the figures were. Tape, rope, a gag, and a flashlight were collected from the victims and the scene.

On inspection of the tent, it was determined that Guse and Farmer had been struck and killed in the tent and that Milner had been taken into the woods and then killed. Blood on the wooden floor was wiped by the killer with mattress covers and towels in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the floor of it. The bloody materials were then stuffed in the sleeping bags.

The campers were put on buses that morning and sent back to Tulsa, not knowing why they were leaving. People were beginning to hear the news of the murders, but no victims' names, so parents did not know if their girls were going to be stepping off the bus or not.

Before Guse began her trip to Camp Scott, she had asked her parents to take care of her African violets while she was away. When authorities came to the Guse home to speak with George Ann and Dick Guse, they said that Michele had been in an accident. It was only later, while watching TV, that they learned how she had met her death, as is related in the documentary.

Military boot footprints were found on the grounds and in the victims' tent. The killer had walked past and into the Kiowa counselors' tent and had stolen a purse and some eyeglasses.

Farmer was the youngest victim and the youngest camper at Camp Scott. Her birthday was in a few days, and her parents planned on seeing her there on that day.

Farmer's mother said in the documentary that Lori was torn between going to a Y camp and the Girl Scouts camp. Her mother made the decision for her

“That's something that I have to deal with myself,” said Sherry Farmer. “Also, the week that Lori went to camp was my decision. And that's a decision that rests pretty heavily with me."

Milner was apprehensive about going to camp and leaving her 5-year-old sister.

“I convinced her that she should go and try it. If she didn't like it, all she had to do was call and we would come and get her,” said Betty Milner, Denise's mother.

Autopsy results confirmed the killer or killers’ methods were horrific.

“Doris Milner had died of strangulation. There were also indications that she had been sexually assaulted--lacerations of the genitalia and fragments of leaves and other debris were found,” as is detailed in the Wilkersons' book.

Michele Guse was killed from beatings to her head as is reported in Someone Cry for the Children.

“Her wounds were located on the back of her head, as well as the sides, leading investigators to believe that she was either lying or standing with her back to the assailant. There were also indications that she had been sexually assaulted, both vaginally and anally.”

Lori Farmer also died from blows to the head.

“She too appeared to have been sexually assaulted. All tape and cord were removed from the body,” as is related in the Wilkersons' book.

Results from the Medical Examiner's Office in Tulsa explained the discovery of seminal fluid.

Swabs taken for seminal fluid revealed: Milner's tested positive in the vaginal swab, and Guse's in the anal swab, "and all swabs taken from Farmer were negative for any seminal fluid," according Kelly's book.

Crime scene materials were found in a cave not far from the camp. Tape, plastic from a garbage bag similar to that wrapped around the flashlight found next to the girls, two photos of women, eyeglasses, and a newspaper that was from the same edition as the piece discovered in the flashlight left next to the girls' bodies.

Gene Leroy Hart

The women in the photos were identified after they appeared in several newspaper. A prison guard had taken the pictures at a wedding. Gene Leroy Hart had developed the photos when he was serving prison time for kidnapping and first degree rape convictions in 1966.

Hart was paroled in 1969. Soon after, he was tried for four Tulsa burglaries and sentenced to 50 years of prison time.

The Wilkersons wrote that in 1973 Hart was moved to the Mayes County Jail to “appear for post-conviction relief involving the rape-kidnapping charges imposed in 1966.” He escaped with another inmate and had been eluding law enforcement for the past four years.

Hart, a Cherokee Native American, born and raised in Locust Grove, was diligently pursued, especially after connecting him to the photos found in the cave that also contained items stolen from Camp Scott. He was known to be in the Locust Grove area.

His mother lived near Camp Scott. He was an outdoorsman, and he had previously been convicted of a brutal crime. The search was on. Ten months later he was apprehended from a home in the Cookson Hills area.

Many family and area residents believed Hart was innocent. They raised money for his defense and supported him during his trial. People also knew that he had had a vasectomy, so many felt that the sperm evidence could not be connected to him.

With a jury of six men and six women, the trial began in March 1979 in the Mayes County Courthouse in Pryor. The jury could not find conclusive, indisputable evidence against Hart. He was acquitted in April.

One juror said the decision was not made to clear Hart. Many felt that this heinous crime must have been committed by more than one person.

“I'm not saying he's not guilty. But I am saying the evidence showed that not one person did it by themselves. We all twelve agreed on that,”  said Lela Ramsey for an OETA Stateline documentary series.

Garvin Isaacs, the defense attorney for Hart, said in the same documentary that the footprint in the girls' tent didn't fit Hart's and neither did the thumbprint on the flashlight.

“You can't change your fingerprints or shrink your feet,” Isaacs said.

Within in weeks of being returned to prison for his previous crimes, Hart was dead. He was 35 years old. Autopsy results reported that he had died of a massive heart attack and that the vasectomy surgery had not been successful.

This Oklahoma murder mystery remains unsolved.

DNA findings

DNA testing, called DNA fingerprinting, was performed in 1989. It had been developed in 1987. The results, using Hart's body fluids, were inconclusive.

In 2002 another test was conducted, using samples from a crime scene pillowcase. The samples tested were too deteriorated to yield adequate results.

In 2007 a semen sample was tested. Nothing resulted from the sperm sample, but a partial DNA female profile was found.

“Female DNA found could not be ruled out as coming from the victims,” according to Kelly's account. The DNA testing timeline above comes from her book.

In 2013 evidence was submitted to a private lab. No results are available yet, according to Kelly.

No Girl Scouts ever again took the Cookie Trail to Camp Scott. It is now private property owned by a local citizen. The tents and platforms are gone The Red Barn is in ruins.

Many have mourned the losses of Lori, Michele, and Denise. Most cannot fathom the deep sorrow the three girls' families have endured.

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About the Author

Roxann Perkins Yates

Roxann Perkins is a teacher, writer, poet, and an amateur smartphone photographer. She lives in...

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