THE "GIRL SCOUT MASSACRE"
HORROR AT OKLAHOMA'S CAMP SCOTT
On June 13, 1977, Camp Scott, a Girl Scott camp that was located in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, opened for its 49th season – the season that would turn out to be its last. At some point in the dark of that same night, three of the young campers were brutally murdered in their tent. The bodies were discovered by a counselor the next morning, beginning a period of horror and tragedy, and creating a mystery that has never been solved.
Before that terrible night in 1977, Camp Scott was a magical place for the girls who came there for summer retreats. It had been offering hiking, crafting, swimming, and much more for Brownies and Girls Scouts since 1928. Its 410 acres accommodated 140 campers and 30 staff and the Cookie Trail Road led to 10 camping sites that were scattered throughout the woods. The campers were allowed to pick their “camp buddies” and each ten was 14 x 12, with a base constructed of wood and covered with canvas. There were two bunk beds with mattresses inside of each tent. There were no lights inside of the tents. Aside from the campers’ flashlights, the only source of light at night were kerosene lanterns that were hung near the tent’s latrines – which made the killer’s work even easier.
The tent further from the counselor’s units was “Kiowa” tent. In June 1977, it was the temporary home to three young girls: Lori Lee Farmer, 8; Michele Guse, 9; and Doris Denise Miller, 10. On the day of their murders, the girls had boarded a bus in Tulsa and made the 40-mile trip east to Camp Scott for a tw0-week stay.
Near midnight on June 13, camp counselor Carla Willhite heard some sort of strange, guttural sounds in the dark quiet of the camp. Finding nothing amiss, she returned to her bunk. The next morning, around 6:00 a.m., she was on her way to the showers and discovered the bodies of the three girls from the Kiowa unit. They had been pulled from the tent, beaten, strangled, sexually assaulted, and left for dead. Two of them were stuff inside of their sleeping bags. The third was left, partially clothed, on the trail nearby.
No one could have known that the horrific events were going to occur – but there had been ominous warning signs that something was not quite right at Camp Scott. Two months before the camp had opened for the season, counselors were there for a training session. While it was going on, one of the tents was ransacked and a handwritten note was left behind, warning that three campers were going to be murdered. The note was believed to be a joke and it was thrown away.
One week before the murders, a local rancher reported that his house had been burglarized, and it was later determined that some of the stolen property was likely used in the crime.
When Carla Willhite was startled awake on the night of the murders, she roused another counselor in her tent, Dee Elder, and asked if she had heard a strange sound. She hadn’t. Willhite went outside with her flashlight to look around and heard the sounds again. But when she turned the flashlight toward the woods, the sounds stopped. She walked the tents and, finding everything quiet, she returned to bed. Later, others would claim to have seen strange lights and to have heard cries in the night. One said that she heard a girl crying for her mother.
None of the warning signs were enough to save Lori, Michele, and Doris.
After the bodies of the girls were discovered, the camp directors, Barbara and Richard Day, alerted the highway patrol. Law enforcement officers flocked to the scene. Many of the hardened men, fathers themselves, were moved to tears. One office later recalled that the scene was like “being in church.” Everyone spoke in a whisper and quietly collected evidence from the scene. It was believed that Lori and Michele had been struck and killed in the tent and Doris had been taken into the woods, where she was murdered. There were bloody marks on the wooden floor of the unit, where the killer had tried to wipe away evidence with a towel and a mattress cover. The bloody rags were stuffed into the girls’ sleeping bags.
The rest of the campers were put on buses that morning and sent back to Tulsa, not knowing why they were being sent away. The news of the murders reached Tulsa, but the names of the victims were not released, so parents had no idea if their daughters would be stepping off the bus or not.
Items stolen from the camp were found in a nearby cave, along with photos and other evidence that eventually led investigators to name Gene Leroy Hart as their prime suspect. Hart had a long history of violence, with convictions for burglary, rape, and kidnapping. He had last been paroled in 1969 but, soon after, was tried in Tulsa for more burglaries and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He had escaped prison several years before the murders – and had vanished.
Hart, a Native American of Cherokee ancestry, had been born and raised in Locust Grover and knew the area well. He managed to avoid the police, hiding out in the Cookson Hills region, for almost 10 months before he was captured. When Hart was brought to trial, many of his family members and area residents believed that he was innocent. They raised money for his defense and supported him at trial. The truth was that Hart was a rapist, a kidnapper, and was known for being violent. Evidence linked to him was found near the camp, but nothing at the murder scene could be directly tied to him. His trial took place in Pryor, Oklahoma, in March and April 1979, but the jury could not find conclusive evidence to link him to the murders. He was acquitted, although jury members stated that they did not necessarily believe he was innocent, only that the prosecution was unable to prove it. Hart returned to prison anyway, to finish out his previous sentence, as well as additional time for his escape. Two months later, he died of a heart attack.
Over the years, as technology has changed, the evidence in the Camp Scott murders has been tested – and tested again. Unfortunately, all of the tests have proven inconclusive and it’s likely that it will never point to any one suspect. Sadly, the murders will probably never be solved.
No Girl Scouts ever again walked the trails or slept in the tents at Camp Scott. It never reopened after the murders. It was essentially abandoned as it stood and remains out in the woods, serving as an eerie reminder of a terrible tragedy – and the stolen lives of three little girls.