Lori Farmer, aged 8, Michele Guse, aged 9, and Denise Milner, aged 10, met a tragic fate on their inaugural night at Girl Scout camp in 1977. Anticipating a delightful two-week experience, over 100 Girl Scouts arrived at Camp Scott, located near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, on June 12, 1977. However, during the obscurity of that particular night, an intruder surreptitiously infiltrated a tent, brutally ending the lives of these three young girls. Lori Farmer, aged 8, Michele Guse, aged 9, and Denise Milner, aged 10, were not only victims of murder but also fell prey to sexual assault. Their lifeless bodies, bearing signs of strangulation and mutilation, were abandoned beneath a tree, approximately 100 yards away from their tent.
In an exhaustive search for evidence, law enforcement meticulously combed through the wooded area. In close proximity to the victims, investigators discovered a crimson plastic flashlight, its lens partially obscured by a fragment of a garbage bag affixed with tape. The flashlight contained a newspaper to prevent the batteries from creating any noise.
A few days later, acting on a tip from local squirrel hunters, officers descended upon a nearby cave. Inside, they stumbled upon a roll of masking tape, with a strip of plastic adhered to it, corresponding to the tape discovered on the flashlight at the scene of the crime.
Sheriff Mike Reed of Mayes County, speaking during the two-hour premiere of the seventh season of People Magazine Investigates, entitled “Girl Scout Murders,” states, “Upon examining the masking tape and the newspaper, we discovered that both the fractures matched perfectly with the evidence found on the flashlight.” This episode will be broadcast tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ID and will be available for streaming on Max.
A modified red flashlight was found at the scene
However, it was not until an employee at a penitentiary identified two wedding photographs, also recovered from the cave and later aired on the evening news, that the police believed they had identified their suspect: Gene Leroy Hart, a fugitive and convicted rapist. The revelation came to light as it was revealed that Hart had developed the photographs as part of a prison work program several years prior.
Following a 10-month manhunt, which ranks among the lengthiest in the annals of Oklahoma history, Hart was apprehended at a cabin in the Cookson Hills on April 6, 1978. During the subsequent trial, Hart’s defense attorneys posited that he had been framed and questioned the circumstances surrounding the presence of the black and white wedding photos in the cave. Allegedly, Hart had left them behind after his escape. Gary Pitchlynn, Hart’s defense attorney, asserts, “Our interpretation was that the evidence had been deliberately planted.”
After more than seven days of testimony, Hart was acquitted of the murders, much to the dismay of the victims’ family.
Sheri Farmer, Lori’s mother, vividly recalls the day the verdict was announced. She recounts, “We made a stop at the cemetery. I made a promise to Lori that we would persist in seeking justice — and that we would channel our energies into something positive in her memory.”
Hart was returned to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence, but his life was cut short two months later when he suffered a fatal heart attack while in the exercise yard.
In the years that followed the gruesome murders, various theories and suspects emerged. At one point, a woman came forward, alleging that her brother and two of his friends were responsible for the girls’ deaths. The claims were thoroughly investigated by the police but eventually dismissed.
The tent where the girls were attacked.
In 1989, the FBI conducted tests on a semen stain found on a pillowcase inside Michele’s sleeping bag. The results partially matched Hart’s DNA. However, it took another two decades for advancements in DNA testing to take place. Although the subsequent results were inconclusive, they managed to rule out other suspects, but Hart remained a potential perpetrator. This evidence was sufficient to persuade Reed that Hart was indeed the culprit behind the murders.
Reed asserts, “Every aspect of this case leads me to believe that Gene Hart is the guilty party. I have not come across any evidence pointing elsewhere.” The case, however, remains open.
Sheri reflects, “Bo and I have been receptive to hearing different perspectives, and we still are. It has been 46 years, and my sentiments today mirror those of yesteryears — that the truth matters to us.” Upholding her promise to Lori, Sheri, along with Bo, has dedicated their lives to advocating for the rights of victims and providing a voice for parents who have experienced similar tragedies.
“In our instance, when the verdict was announced, the judge declared, ‘in case number 777025, not guilty.’ At that moment, it became evident to me that in the eyes of the court, Lori did not even possess a name,” Sheri laments. “As we departed with a verdict of not guilty, that particular realization stayed with me, igniting a desire to effect change in how we perceive victims. The accused individual had a name, while the three girls remained nameless.”
In 1984, the couple established the Oklahoma chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. In 2018, Sheri successfully spearheaded a campaign for the passage of Marsy’s Law in Oklahoma, advocating for enhanced protections for victims.