I want to start this post off with a mention to Generation Why podcast – before I listened to Aaron and Justin’s episode on this case my knowledge of it was pretty much non-existent. They did a fantastic job in their coverage of it, as always. The episode is no. 169 and I highly recommend giving it a listen if you’re interested.
The intention of summer camp is that kids can go somewhere to relax and enjoy themselves, explore nature and make new friends. For many, summer camp can be nerve-wracking as it may be the first time they have really been away from home. When they get there however, a lot of the time they forget their nerves because they meet others who are in the same position and they bond with one another. Experienced camp counsellors are there, making sure they’re enjoying themselves and above all, they feel safe. This is what summer camp is meant to be. The summer of 1977 at Camp Scott in Oklahoma was the site of a tragedy, however: 3 girl scouts were murdered on their first night at camp and to this day, nobody actually knows who did it.
I’ll start off with the basics. It was summer 1977 and camp season was about to begin for children across the United States. Every summer, Camp Scott, which was located in northeastern Oklahoma in Mayes County, about 3 miles south of Locust Grove, would host girl scouts aged 8-18 for 2 weeks. The campsite was very remote and covered 410 acres.
On June 12th, around 140 girl scouts departed from the Magic Empire Council building in Tulsa, Oklahoma heading to Camp Scott, which was about 50 miles east. The camp was split into 10 different units, within which there were around 7 tents for campers and a counsellor’s tent. Girls were assigned to units dependent on their age.
Although this is not clear from the map, Kiowa unit was the most secluded of the units because it was surrounded by dense forest. There were 27 girl scouts in Kiowa unit and they were split into 7 different tents. When the girls arrived, they were assigned to their tents depending on their birth dates. There were 4 girls per tent, but tent 8 was short of one girl. The girls in tent 8 were Lori Farmer, who was 8 and the youngest girl at Camp Scott, Michele Guse who was 9 and Doris Milner who was 10. Tent 8 was the last tent in the row at Kiowa unit. Of all the tents, tent 8 was the most “remote” and the only one not visible from the counselor’s tent due to the showers blocking the view.
Around 6pm, the girls ate dinner and then made their way back to their tents, due to a large storm which began around 7pm. All the girls were given the task of writing a letter to someone at home, as there wasn’t much else to do given the storm.
The first night there were unsettling noises coming from within the trees. These were described by camp counselors as something like a low croaking sound, similar to a bullfrog. There were also strange lights appearing amongst the trees. Camp counselors were said to have flashed their flashlights at the mysterious light in the woods and it would disappear, only to reappear once they stopped flashing the flashlights.
There were also reports from girl scouts in other units claiming they heard a girl screaming during the night, but they either did not tell their counselor from their unit at the time or they did tell their counselor at which point they were told not to worry; it was assumed that if there was a problem the counselors from whichever unit it was coming from would take care of it.
We also have to keep in mind here that the camp counselors were only teenagers at the time - if their actions don’t sound rational or like something you would do, think about how they were also pretty much just kids as well.
The Morning of June 13th
Nobody knew that the night of June 12th, 1977 would be Camp Scott’s last. The events which unfolded over the course of the day would leave a dark smear on the reputation of Girl Scout camps not only in Oklahoma but across the nation.
Around 6am, one of the camp counsellors at Kiowa unit was making her way to the showers when she spotted something - an object which appeared to be a discarded sleeping bag near the edge of the trees. She found this odd and went over for a closer look. What she discovered was horrifying: it was the body of Doris Milner, partly nude, badly beaten and clearly deceased, lying outside her sleeping bag.
The authorities were contacted immediately and soon turned up at the campsite. Two more sleeping bags were discovered not far from Doris body. On further investigation, the dead bodies of Lori Farmer and Michele Guse were found inside of these sleeping bags. I’ve found varying reports, but most say that all 3 girls were sexually assaulted; Michele and Doris definitely were, they also had their wrists bound behind their backs and had been gagged. Lori was not bound or gagged. Michele’s ultimate cause of death was strangulation, while Lori and Michele had been killed by blunt force trauma to their heads. When they were discovered, investigators determined that Lori had likely been killed first, then Michele, and Doris last.
The rest of the girl scouts were not told that three of their camp mates were dead. They were taken to participate in activities away from the campsite until the buses arrived to take them back to Magic Empire Council in Tulsa. Parents were informed that something had gone wrong and that they would have to pick up their children at the council building. The really terrible thing here is that the parents of the Lori, Michele and Doris were only informed that there had been an “accident” at camp. A meeting took place, in which they were told their children had died while at camp. It wasn’t until media reports came out that they found out their daughters had been murdered.
The Murder Investigation
A side note: 2 weeks before the murders, a counselor at Camp Scott reported some items stolen, such as eye glasses. She also claimed she had found a note inside an empty box of doughnuts which said something to the effect of “4 girls will be murdered at camp this summer”. However, believing it was a prank, she threw the note away. It has never been found.
Mayes County Sheriff Pete Weaver headed up the investigation into the murders. The investigation turned messy quickly; from the very beginning, completely avoidable mistakes were being made. Firstly, the scene was not secured immediately as it should have been. This meant that it was pretty much a free for all for investigators and camp staff to wander through as they pleased. The bodies, on the other hand, were protected right away by officers.
Given that it was the 1970s, forensic analysis of bodily fluids was limited. This meant that there was only so much that could be done with the swabs taken from the girls; in other words, if these murders had happened in the 80s they would have been able to gather more information. If they had happened in the 90s or 2000s, it’s likely that forensic evidence could have been used to solve the case.
There was blood on the floor of the tent indicating the girls had initially been attacked inside and then carried outside. At the scene, investigators discovered a number of items: a flashlight with a finger print on it (it did not belong to anyone from the campsite), a crowbar, a bloody boot print in the tent, black duct tape and a long black hair.
The first suspect investigators focused on was Jack Shroff, who owned a ranch near Camp Scott. At his home, black duct tape was found as well as rope which appeared identical to that which had been used to bind the wrists of 2 of the girls. However, Shroff claimed that his home had been broken into and a number of items had been taken, indicating the items at his ranch were a replacement for those that had been stolen. Shroff took a polygraph and passed. He also had a solid alibi for the night of the murders and therefore was cleared as a suspect.
Gene Leroy Hart
Hart’s Criminal History
Sheriff Weaver then came up with a new suspect, someone whom he had encountered a number of times: 33 year old Gene Leroy Hart. Even if Hart did not play a role in the murders, he comes across as a really bad guy. Given his past criminal convictions and the fact his mother lived about a mile from Camp Scott, Sheriff Weaver thought he was a good suspect for the murders.
Hart had already escaped from prison twice. The first time he was in prison was for raping 2 pregnant women, tying them up and putting tape all over their faces, then taking them out into the middle of nowhere and leaving them to die. Miraculously, one of the women was able to break free and get help. Hart was caught soon after his first escape, but was paroled not long after (?!?) for the rapes and attempted murders.
Then, while on parole, Hart was arrested for burglary. This time he was given a life sentence for breaking his parole (why he was not given this sentence for the rapes, I do not know).
Guess what? Hart escaped from jail again and this time he was actually gone. No one could find him anywhere. This happened in 1973 and when the murders took place in 1977, he was still on the run.
There is a large Cherokee community in the Cookson Hills, of which Hart was a part of. Hart was well respected and surrounded by people who wanted to help him and protect him from law enforcement. They all seemed to think Hart was a pretty great guy.
Evidence Against Hart
Several days after the murders, some hunters discover a cave which appears inhabited. In the cave there are a number of items, including photos which Hart possessed while he was in jail, womens’ glasses and newspapers. Inside of the flashlight discovered at the crime scene, there was some crumpled up newspaper pages found, which appear to be match the newspaper found in the cave. It is unsurprising that investigators come to the conclusion that Hart spent time in the cave recently.
Perhaps the most interesting thing found in the cave is a note written on the wall which reads:
The real killer was here
Bye Bye Fools”
Hart Is Found
An informant (possibly someone who was threatened by police) tells law enforcement that Hart is living with another Cherokee man by the name of Pigeon in Cookson Hills, about 50 miles east of Camp Scott.
Law enforcement find Pigeon’s residence and trap Hart inside. They ask him if he killed the girls, to which he replies “you’ll never pin it on me!” After this he no longer speaks to law enforcement.
Here, the situation gets tricky and Hart’s supporters become very upset. Investigators search the residence of Pigeon where Hart has been living and do not find anything of interest. They search again and the second time find items that the camp counselor claimed had gone missing before camp began. Pigeon claimed these items were never there and had been planted in his house. There is also speculation that Sheriff Weaver actually had the photos which belonged to Hart in his desk at the Mayes County jail and planted them in the cave, therefore tying Hart to the cave.
The Trial - March, 1979
By this point, Hart’s supporters are defending him so aggressively and that the victims’ families need police escorts in the courthouse to keep them safe. This is so shocking and awful, to think that first their daughters are murdered and then at the trial they are in danger of attack by people who so vehemently support a man who is already a convicted rapist.
The trial turns into quite the circus as the defence carefully dismantles the prosecution’s case.
1. The bloody footprint in the tent was too small to be Hart’s.
2. The fingerprint on the flashlight was not a match to Hart’s.
3. The swabs taken from the girls were not conclusive. They were similar to Hart’s but not guaranteed to be a match.
4. It was claimed the hair was Hart’s, but again, it only looked like Hart’s hair. It doesn’t mean it was.
5. They emphasise the possibility of evidence being planted to frame Hart.
After hearing the evidence and how unclear it was, the jury took only 6 hours to deliberate. They found Hart not guilty of the murders.
Many believed and still do believe to this day that Hart was guilty of the Girl Scout murders. However, a lot of the evidence supports the idea that perhaps Hart was not alone in committing the murders but had an accomplice. This would explain the bloody boot print that was not Hart’s size and the fingerprint that was not Hart’s.
It is hard to comprehend that Hart murdered all three girls on his own, given that no one heard any commotion coming from tent 8. If there was more than one perpetrator, it would have been easier to keep them quiet. It would also make more sense that two people tied up Michele and Doris. I’ve also read that the knots used to tie the girls looked different, suggesting they were tied by different people. Nor were the attacks consistent between the girls, again indicating two perpetrators were involved.
The girls were found about 150 yards away from their tent, so would have been carried out. There is the possibility that the perpetrator planned to take them away from the campsite, which is just not something one person could do on their own.
There are so many possibilities about what really happened and I could go and on speculating but I’ll let you come up with some of your own thoughts.
After The Trial
After the jury ruled Hart not guilty of the murders, he was taken back to prison (remember he escaped?) to serve the remaining 305 years of his previous sentences. However, after just 2 months back in jail, Hart had a massive heart attack and died instantly, at age 35.
The parents of Lori Farmer and Doris Milner filed a $5 million lawsuit against Magic Empire Council, accusing them of negligence which resulted in the deaths of their daughters. They argued the threatening note found by the counselor should have been investigated and that their girls were unsafe due to the location of their tent and how far it was from the counsellor’s tent. The jury ruled in favour of Magic Empire Council, therefore deciding that the deaths did not occur due to negligence.
In 2008, bodily fluids from inside the tent were put forward for DNA testing with more advanced forensic technology analysis. No answers came from this, however, due to the deterioration of the samples being too great.
Then just last year, in 2017, the current sheriff of Mayes County set up a fund to raise money to carry out DNA testing again on remaining samples, this time with even more advanced technology that might bring some answers. The fund raised $30,000 (I can’t find anything further on this though).
Researching this case was really difficult. I think it’s the idea that Lori, Michele and Doris were supposed to be in a safe space, enjoying themselves and being carefree as young girls should be. It’s also knowing that their families expected them to be back in 2 weeks, full of stories from camp and ready to spend the rest of the summer with them.
It’s also really sad that Camp Scott closed after the murders and has since not reopened. It’s like when the girls were murdered, the camp died with them. Camp Scott was established in the 1928, therefore it had been hosting Girl Scouts for nearly 50 years. It would be much better to see Camp Scott open again and serve it’s original purpose of being a place for girl scouts to enjoy themselves in nature and create memories. Reopening Camp Scott would also be a way of honouring Lori, Michele and Doris, not letting evil “win”. I don’t know if this will ever happen; it’s been over 40 years since the camp closed so I have my doubts.
This is one of those cases where the victims seemed to almost get lost in the mess that was the manhunt for the suspect and the subsequent trial. This is an important reason for why I write this blog, because I think this happens far too often. This post is about Lori, Michele and Doris, whose lives were tragically ended far too soon. May they never be forgotten.
* I want to apologise in case there are any inaccurate facts in this post. Unfortunately, living outside of the US, I was unable to access a lot of articles on this case. I did, however, find a number of really informative sites which are listed below.