At approximately 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, 1977, a thundering rainy night before camp started, the Girl Scouts were sheltering in, the first night of a two-week stay during the Oklahoma summer. Among them were Lori Lee Farmer, 8, Doris Denise Milner, 10, and Michelle Heather Guse, 9. Part of the “Kiowa” unit, the three girls shared tent #8, the furthest from the counselor tent, with a partially obstructed line-of-sight view due to the placement of the shower house, surrounded by dense forest.
At approximately 6a, the following morning, a camp counselor enroute to the showers, discovered the first girl’s deceased body, Doris Milner, partly nude, badly beaten in her sleeping bag in the forest. Recognizing she was from tent #8, it was soon realized her tent-mates were killed also. Left on the “cookie” trail, leading to the showers, the bodies were discovered about 150 yards from their tent. It was found that Doris, and Michelle had their wrists bound behind their backs and had been gagged with black duct tape, however, Lori was not.
In addition to signs of a struggle, a footprint from a 9.5 shoe size was also found in blood pooled in the tent. Further testing showed the girl’s had been bludgeoned, strangled, and raped. Later testing also found semen on one of the pillowcases. A large red flashlight was found on one of the girls’ bodies, with a still unidentified fingerprint on the lens.
During the investigation, It was found that less than two months before the murders, during an on-site training session, a camp counselor discovered that her belongings had been ransacked and her doughnuts had been stolen. Inside the empty doughnut box was an ominous, disturbing hand-written note. The writer of the note vowed to murder three campers. The director of that camp session treated the note as a prank, and was discarded.
While authorities followed all tips and leads, they had one suspect in mind, Gene Leroy Hart, an escaped kidnapper, rapist, and burglar. A Cherokee Native, raised about one mile from the camp. He was arrested about 10 months after the murders, when an an anonymous tip lead authorities to the remote cabin home of a Cherokee medicine man, named Pigeon.
Prior to Hart’s capture, several days after the murders, hunters discovered a cave which appeared to be inhabited. Inside the cave were a number of items, including photos Hart owned while in jail, a pair of women’s glasses and newspaper clippings from the local Tulsa paper. Inside of the flashlight discovered at the crime scene, there was some sections of pages found, which appeared to match the newspaper found in the cave. Investigators concluded that Hart spent time in the cave recently.
Perhaps the most interesting thing found in the cave was a note written on the wall which read: “77-6-17 The real killer was here Bye Bye Fools”
Hart was tried in March of 1979, and despite the “1000% certainty” of Mayes County Sheriff Pete Weaver, was acquitted by the jury in a 6hr deliberation. The defense tore apart the prosecution’s case, showing mishandled evidence, the bloody footprint not Hart’s size 11 size, non-matching fingerprint on the flashlight lens, and other circumstantial evidence. Local authorities, off record, and most locals believed it was a political pressuring of the local Cherokee tribe who believed Hart was innocent, and being framed because he was a Native. Many believed and still believe, that Hart was guilty of the Girl Scout murders. However, a lot of the evidence supports the idea that perhaps Hart was not alone in committing the murders but had an accomplice. This would explain the bloody boot print that was not Hart’s size and the fingerprint that was not Hart’s.
After Hart’s acquittal, he was sent back to prison to serve the remaining 305 years of his original sentence for his previous crimes. On June 4, 1979, just 2 months back in jail, Hart collapsed and died immediately after about an hour of lifting weights and jogging in the prison exercise yard, at the age of 35.
Two of the families later sued the Magic Empire Council and its insurer for $5 million, alleging negligence. The civil trial included discussion of the threatening note and the fact that tent #8 was 86 yards (79 m) from the counselors’ tent. In 1985, by a 9–3 vote, jurors decided in favor of Magic Empire. Further testing of samples collected at the scene were conducted in 2008, due to donations the sheriff’s office had raised to keep the case alive. However, due to the time degradation of the samples, the tests were ruled inconclusive. The sheriff’s office remains hopeful that current technology will still help identify the killer, and close the case.