Did anyone else kinda hate camp? I always found the concept of it kind of weird. Luckily for me, I only had to go to camp once for school – it’s kind of a rarity in Australia – but in some countries there are multiple camps held for children throughout the year.
This month’s true crime case is about a triple murder that happened at Camp Scott, a Girl Scout camp, in the year 1977 in Oklahoma. It’s been over 40 years since the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders, and unfortunately, they still remain unsolved.
Disclaimer: this case covers heinous crimes against children. Absolutely no disrespect is meant towards any of the victims in this case or their families – the information shared in this article is a matter of public record and compiled for the purpose of spreading awareness. Reader discretion is advised.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
The Girl Scouts arrived at Camp Scott on June 12, 1977. Camp Scott had been running for 50 years, and was known for its wide range of outdoor activities. It was located in Mayes County, just south of OK Highway 82 and OK Highway 33. 140 Girl Scouts descended upon Camp Scott on Sunday, June 12, and were quickly split up into groups of three to four per tent.
8 year old Lori Farmer, 10 year old Denise Milner and 9 year old Michelle Guse were put into tent number 8, a 12-by-14 foot canvas tent that sat perched up on a wooden platform. It was situated almost 100 yards away from the nearest counsellors tent, and 75 feet away from the closest neighbouring tent.
After a thunderstorm that took place during dinnertime, the Girl Scouts all separated into their tents. The girls in tent number 8 unpacked their things and spent some time writing letters to their family.
At around 1:30am on the morning of June 13 1977, a camp counsellor named Carla awoke after she heard some girls giggling in tent number 5. Soon after, she heard odd sounds coming from somewhere near the camp. The sounds were described as guttural, and almost inhuman. She left her tent with a torch to investigate, but after looking around a little and getting spooked by the vast darkness, she went back to her tent for the night.
At 2am, a Girl Scout in tent number 6 saw the flap to her tent open and watched someone quickly flash a large torch inside at the girls before leaving. Around the same time, other scouts reported seeing a dim light flashing around the campsite.
At 3am, a girl in a tent nearby heard a scream coming from somewhere nearby. This scream was reported to a counsellor, but they thought it was just some of the scouts playing around, or someone having a nightmare.
By 6am, the thunderstorm had cleared, and Carla woke up and made her way to the showers. On her journey, she came across the deceased body of Denise Milner, who was laying half out of a sleeping bag around 150 yards from her tent – in the exact area Carla had heard sounds coming from a few hours before. Denise’s hands were duct-taped behind her back, and she was nude from the waist down. Carla noticed that beside Denise was two sleeping bags, and upon further investigation it was revealed that Michelle and Lori’s deceased bodies were stuffed inside them.
It was evident that the girls had been sexually assaulted and beaten. Michelle and Lori appeared to have died from blunt force trauma to the head, and it seemed as though they had been killed in the tent and dragged the 150 yards to where their bodies were found. Denise died from strangulation and her death appeared to have occurred where her body was found, beside the bodies of her friends.
Camp Scott was evacuated, and soon shut down for good. It remains standing and abandoned, and has been for 40 years.
Swabs were taken of the victims bodies, and seminal fluid was found on two of the girls.
On top of the bodies, police found a large red torch that had a fingerprint on the lens. The lens was also covered with what appeared to be a piece of plastic bag, and inside of the flashlight was a piece of newspaper that came from a paper titled Tulsa World. Also found by the bodies was a large roll of duct tape and some rope.
A bloody footprint was found inside the tent that matched a mens 9.5 shoe, and there was evidence of crime scene clean up inside the tent. Other campers reported that some of their belongings had disappeared, and a camp counsellor said her sunglasses had gone missing overnight.
After spreading out to canvass the area, investigators found a small cave not far from the camp. Duct-tape, plastic bag fragments that matched those found on the torch, sunglasses, a Tulsa World newspaper and some pictures of women unrelated to the crime were found inside.
The pictures of the women found in the nearby cave were published in local newspapers. Police were hoping the identification of the women in the photographs would help lead them to possible suspects.
It was quickly revealed that a prison guard from the area had taken the pictures at a wedding he attended. He told police that only one other person had access to those photos, and that was an inmate that had recently escaped prison – but more on that later.
The sunglasses were found to belong to the camp counsellor, and the newspaper was found to be the same edition as the fragment found stuffed in the torch at the crime scene.
About two months before the murders occurred, the camp counsellors were being trained at Camp Scott when a female counsellor had her belongings stolen. Found with what was left of her things was a note that said three campers would be murdered. Believing the note to be a prank, the counsellor threw it away and never reported the incident.
A hair was found at the crime scene that did not belong to any of the girls. It was tested and found to belong to a Native American.
The primary suspect in this case was Gene Leroy Hart. He was the inmate that helped develop the pictures of women found in the nearby cave. He had also escaped prison a few years before, after a conviction for kidnapping and raping two pregnant women, and burglarising a bunch of homes.
He was raised only a mile from Camp Scott, and his mother still lived there at the time of the murders. He was also a Cherokee Native American. Police spent no time naming him as the one and only suspect in the case, and released warrants for his arrest.
Because of his ancestry, a lot of the Native American’s in the area believed Hart was innocent, and that the warrant for his arrest was just a witch hunt. They dismissed his earlier convictions and helped him avoid capture for 10 months.
When he was finally captured, police went ahead and arrested Hart. They believed he was the murderer, and their main piece of evidence that supported this was the pictures found in the cave alongside other linking evidence.
Everyone involved could see that the case against Hart was flawed, and that – while the photographs were an interesting find – the main evidence against Hart was circumstantial. Hart’s feet were a size 11, so the bloody footprint found in the girls tent was obviously not his. The fingerprint that was found on the torch lens was tested, and found not to be Hart’s. The defence argued that the seminal fluid found on the bodies on the victims could not belong to Hart, because he had undergone a vasectomy many years earlier, however this was later contested by the prosecution, who claimed Hart’s vasectomy hadn’t worked entirely and resulted in non-productive, deformed sperm. Hart had type O blood and was a non secretor, which matched the seminal fluid found at the scene to a tee – including the fact that the sample found was deformed sperm. The hair found was similar to Hart’s, but it couldn’t be concluded whether it was an exact match.
There have been interesting things brought up in this case that there are still no answers to. Such as – how would one perpetrator have managed to control three girls? While he was assaulting and possibly killing one, surely one of the other girls could have easily run out of the open tent and gotten help. Many people believe it would have been impossible for a single offender to control and kill all three girls, so the concept of multiple offenders has definitely been considered. Further supporting this theory is the fact that two of the girls hands had been duct-taped behind their backs, but the other girl’s hands were duct-taped to the side of her body. Different signatures = different offenders?
The bodies were found 150 yards from their tent, and Denise was alive while her two friends bodies were dragged all that way in their sleeping bags. Could this signify that the offenders intentions were to kidnap her, and remove the other two bodies from the camp site? This links with the evidence of clean up shown in tent number 8. So – if this is considered a feasible theory – what was the plan for Denise? Was it always intended to be a kidnap of three girls – but it got out of hand?
It has been reported that female DNA was found at the crime scene that could not be matched to the victims, but also would not be ruled out as matching to the victims. Many internet sleuths believe a woman was present at the crime scene and involved in the murders, but no further investigation went into chasing this theory.
And finally – the note. Coincidence, or warning?
Hart was acquitted in a criminal trial. The jury said there was not enough conclusive evidence against him. Some jurors said that they thought there was more than one offender involved in the murders, and that their decision to acquit him of committing the offences as a sole perpetrator was not made to clear him entirely. They hoped further investigation would be done and further suspects would be identified, but unfortunately the authorities focused on Hart almost exclusively.
After the trial concluded, however, Hart was sent back to prison to finish his prior sentences. He died soon after of a massive heart attack while walking around the prison grounds. It’s been alluded that the other inmates worked together to poison Hart, as they all believed him to be guilty of the child murders, but official statements that were released at the time state that his death was due to heart failure. Hart was 34.
When DNA testing was made available in 2008, authorities conducted tests on samples found at the Camp Scott crime scene. Unfortunately, the samples that were recorded were deemed too deteriorated to garner any useful information, but just last year, the sheriff raised money from the local community to have the samples examined again with more advanced forms of DNA testing. No further statements have been released on the outcome of that fundraising.
The case of the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders, as of this day, remains unsolved. The authorities still receive tips from the public on the odd occasion, and for this reason the case remains open. Police are hoping that someone who knows what happened that night will eventually come forward, but with 40 years passed since, it’s fair to say that those people may be dead.
The families and friends of the victims have been involved in many acts of victims right activism and advocacy, and have never forgotten their little girls: Lori, a smart girl who loved to read and could finish a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle by the time she was 2; Michelle, a bright and happy flower aficionado who took great pride in her collection of African violets; and Denise, a kind girl who made her 5 year old sister breakfast every day after their mother had gone to work and made friends everywhere she went.