The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders shocked a nation and remain unsolved

Lori Lee Farmer, Doris Denise Milner, and Michele Heather Guse
From left to right, Michele Heather Guse, Doris Denise Milner, and Lori Lee Farmer were brutally murdered while attending camp. Pic credit: @ABCNews/YouTube

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders is a truly horrific case surrounding the shocking rape and murder of three preteen girls, Lori Lee Farmer, Doris Denise Milner, and Michele Heather Guse, at a campsite in Mayes County, OK.

On June 12, 1977, 140 girl scouts arrived at Camp Scott, hoping to embark on some fun-filled days camping out in the wilderness. However, later that night, 8-year-old Lori, 10-year-old Doris, and 9-year-old Michele were subjected to a sadistic attack that cost them their lives.

The three girls, all from Broken Arrow, OK, had been sleeping nearly 100 yards away from the nearest counselor, and their tent was partially obscured. Other children staying at the camp would later speak of hearing screams in the night, and a local resident said they spotted vehicles in the area at about 2 a.m.

Otherwise, nobody knew anything was wrong until the camp counselors found the girls’ remains the following morning. The sick killer had cut into the girls’ tent before raping, bludgeoning, and strangling the three victims.

The girls were located lying on a trail about 150 yards away from their tent. Two of the bodies had been stuffed into a single sleeping bag, while the other body was lying out in the open.

At the scene, the cops found a red flashlight with a smudged fingerprint. They also discovered a size 9.5 footprint, and they recovered DNA samples.

After the discovery, the camp was evacuated and shut down; it never reopened.

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The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders: Gene Leroy Hart was suspect No. 1

Almost immediately, the Mayes County police focused their investigation on local man and Cherokee Native American, Gene Leroy Hart.

Hart had a long history of violence against women. In 1966, he kidnapped two pregnant women at gunpoint and drove them to a secluded area. He raped them repeatedly before covering them in bushes and branches and leaving them for dead.

The rapist was caught and convicted of kidnapping and rape, along with four counts of first-degree burglary. However, he managed to escape from custody, twice. He had not been behind bars since 1973 and was still at large when the girls were murdered in 1977.

After a massive manhunt, the cops found Hart ten months later hiding in the home of his uncle, a Cherokee medicine man in Cookson Hills of Cherokee County, about 50 miles from where the murders took place. The police also found a number of photos in a cave three miles from Camp Scott that they said proved their suspect had been in the area.

And a witness stated they’d seen Hart with the same flashlight that was found lying on top of the girls’ bodies. The cops were also sure that the hair and sperm samples found at the crime scene belonged to Hart. They were convinced they had their man.

Gene Leroy Hart lawyer said the police had a vendetta against his client

Mayes County Sheriff Pete Weaver was instrumental in focusing the case against Hart. The suspect’s lawyer, Garvin Isaacs, would later claim that Weaver held a personal vendetta against Hart because he had evaded capture for four years.

Isaacs also argued that Weaver had decided almost immediately on arrival at the crime scene that Hart had committed the murders, all based on very little evidence.

A jury trial began in March 1979 and ultimately led to a not-guilty verdict. The defense had pointed to the size 9.5 footprint found at the scene; Hart was size 11.5. The fingerprint also did not match Hart, and the sperm and hair samples were inconclusive.

The jury decided after only five hours that Hart was innocent. In fact, one juror anonymously told the press that the jury had made up their minds after just five minutes of the opening deliberations.

The cops refused to reopen the case and remained convinced that Hart was the killer. Weaver remained indignant, telling reporters, “I do not intend to reopen any investigation. We had the man we were after.”

A mugshot of Gene Leroy Hart
The police were convinced that Gene Leroy Hart was the killer. Pic credit: @NEWS9OklahomaCity/YouTube

Despite his acquittal, Hart went straight back to prison to continue serving his sentence for previous crimes. He died of an apparent heart attack just two years later.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders: DNA testing continues to be inconclusive

The case has been kept alive through the use of DNA, with up-to-date testing done in 1989 and 2019. On each occasion, the results have officially been inconclusive, but they have pointed at Hart as being involved in the crime.

In 1989, Hart matched to three of the five recovered DNA samples. Officials admitted that only 1 in 7,700 Native American males would have matched the profile.

A new generation of law enforcers in Mayes County has since taken over the case, spear-headed by Sheriff Mike Reed, who vowed to continue working the case. In 2019, Reed raised enough money through donations to have a fresh round of DNA testing.

These tests, again, strongly linked Hart to the murders, and the authorities admitted that he was probably involved. However, the case remains officially unsolved.

Sheriff Reed said there had been 130 individuals they examined concerning the case, and every single one was ruled out due to DNA testing, alibi, or polygraph testing. All except Hart.

Reed has said there will be no more DNA tests as all the usable samples have been exhausted. He said he remains open-minded and will examine any new evidence, but just like his predecessor, he’s sure Hart was the killer. He said, “Everything else that I’ve been able to see and look at and dissect points to him.”

In 1985, the parents of Lori Lee Farmer and Doris Denise Milner filed a lawsuit against the owners of Camp Scott, the Magic Empire Girl Scout Council, accusing the organization of negligence. Their lawyers argued that the camp should have had better security in place. However, a jury ruled against the parents’ lawsuit.

Another chilling aspect of this case was revealed when camp counselors admitted to finding a note two months before the murders, which read, “We are on a mission to kill three girls in tent one.” The note had been found in a donut box previously stolen from a counselor. The note was dismissed as a prank and thrown away.

Actress Kristin Chenoweth investigated the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders for documentary

Actress Kristin Chenoweth was an 8-year-old girl in Mayes County in 1977, and she really wanted to go on that trip to Camp Scott. Thankfully, she was sick and her parents wouldn’t let her go.

Chenoweth returned to her home county in 2022 to investigate the murders for a documentary on Hulu, Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders.

The actress said, “Forty-five years ago, I never thought I would still be haunted by these murders that stripped away our innocence. That’s why I’ve come back home. To find answers, to find healing.”

Chenoweth spoke with the parents of the murdered girls. The mother of Doris Denise Milner, Bettye Milner, spoke openly about her pain and how it still feels like yesterday that her daughter was killed. She said, “Every day was a struggle. It doesn’t matter how many people have been through it. I mean, it doesn’t diminish your pain.”

Sheri Farmer, the mother of Lori Farmer, spoke about the trauma of the trial. She said, “I just assumed they’re going to find him, there’ll be a trial, all of this in a reasonable amount of time. That is not what happened. It was not right.”

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