Cold Case Files: Murder of Girl Scouts in Locust Grove from 1977 still "officially" unsolved
In June of 1977, in Locust Grove, a small town 110 miles away from Fort Smith, three young girls were brutally murdered at Camp Scott — a retreat for Girls Scouts that was designed to allow campers the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of the great outdoors.
Camp Scott had served as a retreat for Girl Scouts and Brownies since 1928. Its 410 wooded acres could accommodate 140 campers and 30 staff. The Cookie Trail road led to ten camping units scattered throughout the green beauty.
By all accounts, Camp Scott appeared to be a beautiful, serene and safe spot for Girl Scout campers.
However, just two months before the murders, that all began to change. During a training session, a counselor’s tent was ransacked and a note was left behind in a doughnut box. In the handwritten note, the author stated that three campers would be murdered. Unfortunately, the note was dismissed as a prank and it was thrown away.
On the evening of June 13, 1977, three girls were kidnapped from their tent at Camp Scott, bludgeoned, sexually assaulted, and strangled.
Lori Lee Farmer, 8, of Tulsa, Michele Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow, and Doris Denise Miller, 10, of Tulsa were discovered by camp counselor Carla Willhite, while she was on her way to the showers at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. Two of the girls were found buried in their sleeping bags and one was found partially clothed.
On the night of the murder, just past midnight, Willhite was startled awake by what she has described as a guttural noise. Willhite awoke another counselor in her tent, Dee Elder, and asked if she had heard the strange sound.
Willhite went outside with her flashlight to survey the woods. Each time she flashed her light, the sound stopped. She walked the tents. Everything appeared to be quiet so she went back to bed.
However, many others at the camp that night claimed to have seen a strange light and heard guttural sounds off and on. One young girl was heard crying for her mother.
The next morning, law enforcement recovered tape, rope, a gag, and a flashlight from the victims and the scene.
It was determined after inspecting the tent that Guse and Farmer had been struck and killed in the tent and that Milner had been taken into the woods and then killed. Blood on the wooden floor was soaked up by the killer with mattress covers and towels in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the floor of it.
The bloody materials were then stuffed in the sleeping bags.
Military boot footprints were found on the grounds and in the victims’ tent. The killer had even walked past and into the Kiowa counselors’ tent and had stolen a purse and some eyeglasses.
Autopsy results confirmed that Doris Milner had died of strangulation. There were also indications that she had been sexually assaulted—lacerations of the genitalia and fragments of leaves and other debris were found.
Michele Guse was killed from a beating to her head. Her wounds were located on the back of her head, as well as the sides, leading investigators to believe that she was either lying or standing with her back to the killer. There were also indications that she had been sexually assaulted.
Lori Farmer also died from blows to the head. She too appeared to have been sexually assaulted.
Additional evidence was found in a cave not far from the camp. Tape, plastic from a garbage bag similar to that wrapped around the flashlight found next to the girls, two photos of women, eyeglasses, and a newspaper that was from the same edition as the piece discovered in the flashlight left next to the girls’ bodies.
No Girl Scouts ever took the Cookie Trail to Camp Scott again. It is now private property owned by a local citizen.
The only suspect ever arrested in connection with the murders stood trial in 1979, but was acquitted of all charges.
Gene Leroy Hart had been at large since 1973 after escaping from the Mayes County jail. He had been convicted of kidnapping and raping two pregnant women as well as four counts of first-degree burglary.
Hart was raised about a mile from Camp Scott.
Hart, a Cherokee, was arrested within a year at the home of a Cherokee medicine man. He was tried in March 1979.
Although the local sheriff pronounced himself “one thousand percent” certain that Hart was guilty, a local jury acquitted him.
Two of the families later sued the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts and its insurer for $5 million, alleging negligence. In 1985, by a 9-3 vote, jurors decided in favor of Magic Empire.
By that time, Hart was already dead.
As a convicted rapist and jail escapee, he still had 305 years of his 308-year sentence left to serve in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
On June 4, 1979, he collapsed and died after about an hour of lifting weights and jogging in the prison exercise yard.
In 2008, authorities conducted new DNA testing, the results of which proved inconclusive because the samples were too old.
In September of 2022, the Cherokee Nation’s top marshal says he was assigning a new investigator to look into potential new information surrounding the 1977 slayings of the three girls.
“We’ve had some information come to our office related to the Girl Scout murders,” Marshal Service Director Shannon Buhl told tribal leaders Sept. 29 during a monthly report. “So I’ve assigned him to run some of that down. He’s one of my MMIP investigators – missing and murdered indigenous people.”