Founded in the early 20th century, the Girl Scouts is an organization dedicated to the empowerment of young girls. Instilling promising youths with confidence and courage, troops often bond over activities like community service and camping. But one troop went on a camping trip that would bring only death and devastation.
On June 12th, 1977, a group of Girl Scouts set out for a trip at Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. Earlier that day, 10-year-old Doris Denise Milner expressed hesitation about the trip to her mother, but was convinced to board the bus on the promise that her parents would pick her up if she felt unwell once she arrived. She would be one of three young girls who never returned home.
Months leading up to this particular trip, there was some strange activity around the camp. A counselor found one of the tents slashed open. Others on the campground reported some of their items missing. Some heard strange noises off in the distance. One counselor even found that food had been stolen, and in its place was a handwritten note proclaiming "We are on a mission to kill three girls in tent one." All of these incidents were dismissed as a prank.
On the night of June 12th, a thunderstorm rolled in, and the girls and their counselors all hunkered down to sleep. In order to keep a close eye on the Girl Scouts, the counselors had the tents fanned out around their own sleeping quarters. Milner was in the farthest tent, accompanied by eight-year-old Lori Lee Farmer and nine-year-old Michele Heather Guse.
In the middle of the night, counselor Carla Wilhite heard a strange, guttural moaning coming from outside. She got up to investigate, but seeing nothing unusual, she dismissed it as the sounds of a wild animal. She wasn't the only one to hear a disturbance, though. Around 1:30 in the morning—the same time Wilhite was awakened—several campers heard the ominous moaning. Roughly half an hour later, a camper was woken up by someone opening the tent flaps with a flashlight. Around 3 AM, a camper heard a scream coming from the tent housing Milner and her friends. At the same time, another camper heard someone crying out for their mother. The young girls were unsure of what to do, and simply went back to sleep.
Morning came, and as Wilhite made her way to the camp showers around 6 AM, she made a horrifying discovery. Milner, Farmer, and Guse lie dead on the trail, about 150 yards from their tent. Two bodies were stuffed into the bottom of a sleeping bag, while one was left out in the open. The young girls had been brutally raped before being bludgeoned and strangled to death.
An investigation turned up a well of evidence. A large, red flashlight was found atop the bodies, and while there was a fingerprint on the lens, it was too smudged to be identified. Newspaper was stuffed into the casing to prevent the batteries from rattling. The girls' tent was covered in blood—and in that blood was the print of a 9.5-sized shoe. A larger search of the 400-acre camp turned up duct tape, rope, and women's eyeglasses. A nearby cave showed signs that someone had been living there, and newspapers discovered there matched the issue that stuffed the flashlight. Words were scrawled across the cave wall, declaring "The killer was here. Bye, bye fools. 77-6-17."
Soon, the police identified a suspect: 33-year-old Gene Leroy Hart. Hart had a documented history of violence, which included rape. He was arrested for the kidnap and rape of two pregnant women in Tulsa, only to get out on parole shorty after. He found himself in jail once again on a burglary charge, but managed to escape in 1973. However, as he was a member of the Cherokee Nation, tensions mounted as the police focused their search on him.
Hart was arrested, and though the sheriff at the time said he was fully certain of his involvement, Hart was acquitted in 1979 when a jury unanimously found him not guilty. Unfortunately, the strides in DNA testing have found that Hart's involvement was very likely. Officially, the case remains unsolved.
Though he didn't serve time for the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders, the rapist and jail escapee still had 305 years to serve for his sentence. In June of 1979, he died of a heart attack in the prison exercise yard.
Eventually, Camp Scott was shut down. Alleging negligence, two of the victims' families sued the Magic Empire Council—which ran the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma—for $5 million. Jurors voted 9 to 3 in favor of Magic Empire.
Richard Guse, the father of Michele Heather Guse, helped the state legislature pass the Oklahoma Victims' Bill of Rights. He also went on to found the Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation Board. Lori Lee Farmer's mother, Sheri Farmer founded the Oklahoma chapter of the Parents of Murdered Children support group.
If you'd like to take an even deeper look at this disturbing case, Hulu released a documentary in May called Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. It features Kristin Chenoweth, who was supposed to attend this very trip as an 8-year-old girl, but narrowly avoided the tragedy as she fell ill.