Our previous case dealt with Ruth Ellis, a young English woman who killed her playboy lover in 1955. Sentenced to death, she refused to appeal her conviction or her sentence. She became the last woman to be hanged in England. Her case gave impetus to the movement to abolish the death penalty in the UK. This week, we return to the United States and the heart of America, to Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. There in the summer of 1977, three girls ages 8, 9, and 10 were brutally slain at a Girl Scout Camp. The case ignited tremendous public interest but officially remains unsolved.
Camp Scott, Oklahoma
When someone mentions Girl Scouts, it’s likely to conjure up wholesome images of young girls in green uniforms peddling cookies. Or you may think of girls sitting around a campfire singing songs while they toast marshmallows. Summer camps have been part of the scouting life since Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. In northeastern Oklahoma, camping meant one of two camps in near Locust Grove, east of Tulsa. Camp Garland, a Boy Scout camp was the easternmost of the two. Camp Scott, the westernmost of the two, was where the Girl Scouts camped.
Camp Scott took its name from H.J. “Scotty” and Florence Scott, two volunteers with the Tulsa Boy and Girl Scouts. In 1924, the Scotts donated 24 acres of land that would be the core of Camp Scott. Over the years, the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts used the proceeds from cookie sales and other funds to buy additional land. By the summer of 1977, Camp Scott consisted of 410 heavily wooded acres.
Camp Scott had ten camp units, each named after a Native American tribe. Besides the campsites, there were several buildings for offices and gatherings. There was also a health center and a cabin where the camp ranger lived with his family.
June 1977 at Camp Scott
On Sunday, June 12, 1977, about 140 girls arrived at Camp Scott for the first day of their two-week summer camp. At the Kiowa unit, counselors assigned girls to their tents. They put three girls in Tent #7: Lori Lee Farmer, Michelle Guse (goo-SAY), and Doris Denise Milner. None of the girls, ages 8, 9, and 10 respectively, knew each other previously, but they quickly became friends.
(Note: there is some confusion over the numbering of the tents. The Girl Scouts numbered the campers’ tents 1 through 7, not counting the counselors’ tent. This put the three girls in Tent #7. Subsequent police reports did count the counselors’ tent, placing the three in Tent #8.)
At roughly 5:45 p.m. on June 12, the campers sat down to dinner in the Great Hall. After the meal, campers and staff moved the Great Hall’s front porch. Counselor Dee Ann Elder led the group in camp songs until it started storming and raining heavily. Counselors then dismissed the girls back to their campsites.
At the Kiowa unit, Dee made sure the campers got their tents and changed into dry clothes. She then secured all the tent flaps to keep the rain out. Around 10:00 p.m., she checked on each tent again, making sure the campers were okay and that they had enough blankets.
At 1:30 a.m., the counselors heard the latrine door slam. Counselor Carla Wilhite left the counselors’ tent to escort the noisy campers back to their own tent.
Horrible Murders at Camp Scott
Carla Wilhite’s windup alarm clock rang at 6:00 a.m. in June 13. The alarm also woke Dee Elder, but she decided to stay in bed. Counselor Susan Emery apparently slept through the alarm. Carla got up and headed to the staff house to take a hot shower. She returned moments later, yelling that the counselors needed to count the kids. Carla said that she’d seen something in the road, and they needed to check on the children. Dee ran to Tent #7 while Carla and Susan bolted to Tent #1. They would meet in the middle at Tent #4.
Tent #7 was empty. Dee called out to the other counselors. Carla and Susan converged on Tent #7. They noticed that the sleeping bags and mattress covers were missing from the cots and there was what appeared to be a large amount of blood on the floor. Checking the other tents, they determined that three campers were missing.
Then Susan saw a dead child lying on the ground. Dee told Susan to stay at Kiowa while she jumped in her car and drove to the Staff House to get help. With reinforcements arriving and the police on the way, Dee came up with a plan to get the campers out of the area using a back road. Later, the entire camp was evacuated, and the campers sent home on buses.
The body Susan had seen was that of Denise Milner. She was partially clothed and lying on top of her sleeping bag. Soon, the bodies of Michelle Guse and Lori Farmer were discovered nearby, zipped up in their sleeping bags. All three girls had been sexually assaulted in some manner. Autopsies conducted later on June 13 determined the Lori and Michelle had been bludgeoned to death while Denise had been strangled.
A Suspect and a Trial
Police quickly focused on Gene Leroy Hart as a suspect. Hart was a convicted felon. He was also a fugitive. While serving time for kidnapping, burglary, and rape, he managed to escape from the Mayes County Jail. He remained at large for four years, aided, authorities suspected, by the Cherokee community in the area (Hart was a member of the Cherokee Nation).
Arrested and charged with three counts of murder, Hart’s future looked bleak. But his attorney, Garvin Isaacs, himself a Native American, mounted a spirited defense. Despite what seemed like a formidable array of evidence against Hart, Issacs won an acquittal for his client.
DNA testing could have nailed or exonerated Hart, but it wasn’t available in 1977. As DNA testing emerged and matured, authorities made several attempts to test samples from the Camp Scott murders. None of these tests were conclusive and, over time, the samples degraded to the point where further testing is not possible.
Mayes County Sheriff Glen H. “Pete” Weaver insisted until his death that Hart was the man responsible for the Camp Scott murders. Subsequent sheriffs investigated new angles, some of which indicated the involvement of more than one person. But the case officially remains unsolved.
The parents of the three girls sued the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts and their insurer for $5 million in 1985, citing negligence. The plaintiffs presented considerable evidence that the design of Camp Scott introduced many security risks. Furthermore, camp directors and the Magic Empire Council were aware of several disturbing incidents at the camp prior to June 13, 1977. Inexplicably, the jury voted 9-3 in favor of the Magic Empire Council, a verdict upheld on appeal.
The Girl Scouts evacuated Camp Scott after the discovery of the three bodies. It never reopened.
Although acquitted of murdering the three Girl Scouts, Gene Leroy Hart returned to prison. He owed the State of Oklahoma 308 years for his previous sentences. On June 4, 1979, four days after his acquittal Hart dropped dead of a heart attack at age 35. He maintained his innocence in the Camp Scott case.
The Camp Scott murders inspired several books and documentaries. Someone Cry for the Children was the first book about the case, published in 1981. That was also the title of a later documentary film. The Camp Scott Murders includes a detailed timeline and excerpts from Gene Hart’s preliminary hearing. Gloyd McCoy’s Tent Number 8 purports to contain insight into the case that can’t be found anywhere else.
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