Cave Troll: Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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The troll was very comfortable in this forest, particularly after sundown. He felt as if it was his own reserve, a sanctuary where a few people ventured. The woods held his caves, where he could bolt if there was trouble or a sudden storm. His mother's place was off to one edge. A convenient excuse for why, at his age, he was haunting those particular woods, caves, and abandoned buildings in the first place.
It wasn't that troll felt discomfort in town or even the big city. He'd worked jobs in Tulsa, even found victims in Tulsa. Indeed, he was even attracted to the excitement, the opportunity of the city, but the forest of the Cookson Hills, a refuge for his ancestors and bandits alike, was home. When he left, he felt as if he was leaving sacred ground. The trade-off was that when he left, he could find the prey that he didn't dare touch closer to home. You don't shit where you eat, and you don't hunt inside your house.
Recently, Troll had been rethinking that maxim. For a few weeks each year, his refuge was invaded by outsiders. The camp was usually abandoned, but in late May and early June, the older people started arriving. Soon came the young women. Then later, the girls. Troll wasn't bothered by the small invasion, quite the opposite. He was tempted by it.
Troll wandered widely across hundreds of acres of forest when no one was at the camp. In the weeks the girls were there, they captured all of his attention. He began to sleep during the day so he could wander around the buildings at night undetected. Using the darkness as his shield, he often crept under windows so he could hear their plans. He became comfortable with their routines, even felt affection for some of the girls, though they'd never had a conversation.
So it was, that troll knew the difference between the elders and the camp staff. The elders stayed in the big lodge, a fair distance away from the young ones. The camp staff arrived a few days after the elders, in time for what they called training week. These were young women, and troll was drawn to them as they ate, drank, and talked.
From his nearby caves, he ventured forth doing some scouting of his own. Moving amongst the women who felt so safe. He listened to their bedtime conversations from the darkness outside their tents. Sometimes he would sit behind the outhouse so he could listen just on the other side of the thin wooden wall. He imagined what he would do if he had the courage to risk everything. He considered taking one but decided against it. A counselor disappearing before camp even started might scare away the main event, and he couldn't have that.
What Troll did instead was mess with them. One of the things he couldn't abide was how comfortable how confident these girls were. With the knowledge gathered over several seasons, he knew when the coast would be clear. He broke into their buildings and tents. He took their food; he fondled and sometimes stole their most intimate belongings. When these things did not change their behavior, troll wrote them a note, warning them exactly what he planned to do.
He knew these girls, despite their carefree confidence, were powerless to stop him. But he wanted them to know that he was there, and he was hungry.
It was arrival day of the '77 camp season. Troll didn't often observe in daylight hours, but he was keeping his distance; the sounds of heavy engines and screeching brakes echoed through the forest, announcing the arrival of each load. The buses disgorged their contents of happy, screaming, laughing, playing little girls. Their noises would echo through the woods in the ensuing days.
As day one progressed, a powerful afternoon storm built quickly, and girls from all the camp groups took refuge from the cloud bursts and lightning in the Great Hall. Troll temporarily retreated to his nearest cave. The excitement of the arrival overwhelmed him. Rain, or no. Tonight was the night.
As troll waited, the anticipation took him back to one of his past adventures. He was working a job in Tulsa and decided to skip his shift one evening. Recently he'd been keeping himself busy with his nighttime house burglaries, so he is driving around casing places and generally looking for any opportunity that presented itself. He cruised slowly through an area where there were a lot of entertainment venues, movies, nightclubs, and dance houses. In one of the large parking lots, he spotted two women getting out of a vehicle. They were alone, and he could see no one else among the parked cars.
Troll pulled into the lot, and as he approached the ladies, he saw they were both young and pregnant. He was overwhelmed with the impulse. He had to have them. Troll pulled up, jumped out, and, brandishing a pistol, popped his trunk. He ordered one of the girls in, promising to shoot her in the belly if she didn't comply. When the first was secure, he forced the second into the front seat at gunpoint. As troll drove away with his captives, his mind raced. He was off the tracks of any plan he had ever made. In his panic, troll drove the two women home, not to his mother's home, his home, his refuge, the Cookson Hills.
During the hour-long drive, the girl he had his front seat annoyed him with her crying and pleading. He tried on her eyeglasses. He was always looking for the right prescription. They didn't work, so he pulled over and swapped girls. Neither girl’s glasses were worth keeping.
What troll did to those girls was seared into his memory. He loved them hard, used their bodies every way he wanted to, and satisfied his lust for sex, domination, for vengeance. When he was done, he displayed his work, tying them both splayed out naked against the biggest tree he could find. He assumed they would die. It was a declaration and a warning.
The powerful reminiscence that swept him into the past like a tide deposited troll back into the cave's dark stillness. The rain had stopped, and as he stood in the dam night air, he could hear sounds of girls on the move. Troll gathered his tools into a bag and set out. He moved quickly, confident that the wet leaves and the blustery back end of the storm would cover any sound he made.
He arrived a few minutes later at the wooded edge of Kiowa camp. He realized he didn't need to worry about his footfalls attracting attention. The girls were boisterous, squealing, laughing, yelling, and he easily crept into his favorite observation spot. Troll, giddy with anticipation, rehashed his plan. This was to be the night of his fantasies. Helpless little girls delivered to him by bus from the big city. Those buses were like giant tin cans loaded with treats, ripe for the taking. These were the brats of outsiders. No one here would care about them for long. Besides, they owed him. He was a high school sports star. They may have forgotten, but he hadn't. All that adulation had to have afforded him some credit. He smiled, thinking of the woodland bears. It was natural. If you left a morsel out unprotected, it wouldn't be there in the morning.
Troll remained motionless, watching and listening to the girls and their counselors go through the rights of Girl Scout Camp, reciting, singing, and writing. They ended their evening around the fire. Then it was time for bed. Some of the girls burnt out from the first day plodded zombie-like to their assigned tents. Some would be awake for hours, riding high on sugar and new camp excitement.
The tents were large canvas shelters, raised off the ground on wooden platforms, large enough to house four full-size cots, and tall enough for a short adult to stand fully upright in the peak. Troll was patient. Waiting almost two hours for the camp to quiet. There were still occasional outbursts, but he knew those would help cover the noises he was about to make. He took a slow circuitous route, ending up at the rear of the tent, furthest away from the counselors.
It was the one he had warned them about in the note. Shame on them for thinking he was a joke. He slid quietly into the back of the tent. The wood platform creaked under the added weight, and in the darkness, he heard one of the girls shift in her cot. He paused, listening for more movement, but heard none. No noise was good news, and troll's attention was drawn back to the little girls sleeping around him. He discovered that a cot was vacant. They were supposed to be four. Worried, he scanned for another little girl. Was one hiding? Had she slipped out, maybe going for help? Then, even in the darkness, troll could tell the extra bed was lacking the requisite sleeping bag, pillow, and mound of belongings that lay beside each of the others.
Relieved, troll moved further into the tent. Standing in the middle of the group of sleeping girls, he inspected each in succession. He had fashioned a filtered flashlight just for this moment, and now he held that in one hand and a crowbar in the other. He turned the light on each face just long enough to make his decision. Then troll raised the bar and, with precise, powerful blows, crushed two of the girls' skulls.
The dying girls made no loud alarming sounds, but the metal bar's impact on bone and subsequent thrashes, and convulsions in the beds woke the chosen one. Troll dropped his body onto hers, firmly covering her mouth with both hands. As she made alarms, stifled noises with her throat, troll hissed into the girl's ear, all the ways, he would hurt her if she weren't quiet.
After a moment, he felt the tension in her body release. He told the girl he was gonna take his hands away and he would kill her if she made any sound. She nodded in understanding. Troll removed his hands, but only long enough to insert the gag and loop the cord around the girl's neck. He twisted until it was tight enough to make the point. Non-compliance meant strangulation.
Troll had a plan but being here with the girl caused him to deviate. He stripped the girl naked and began exploring her body. After a few minutes, he changed his mind. He tied the chosen to her cot with the warning that he would be close. If she moved or made any sound, he would kill her. She lay in the co motionless except for shuttering as she cried.
Troll used the sleeping bags the dead girls were in as body bags, and one at a time hefted each over his shoulder. The girl inside slid down to the bottom. Like a demonic, Santa Claus troll carried each sack one by one to the spot he had selected outside. He deposited them quickly and quietly as possible before returning for the chosen one. She hadn't moved. Troll detached her from the cot and, using the cord twisted around her neck as a leash, led her naked to the spot. They were at the base of a very special tree. It was prominent in the camp, but more importantly, it was a tree that he could see at a distance in the daylight across a nearby clearing. Part of Troll's fantasy was that hereafter; he would be able to look at the tree from a distance and remember this night. It would be a monument to his rebellion.
Troll tied the chosen to the tree and, just as he planned, brutally raped her. He was in the middle of living out his fantasy when he saw a flashlight coming toward them on the nearby path. Troll was suddenly acutely aware that he and the chosen had been making sounds appropriate to the occasion. Troll fell across the girl, pinning her down and stifling her face with his chest.
From the ground at the base of the tree, troll looked toward the light, which had stopped about 30 feet away. A woman's voice called out, asking if anyone was there. From under him, the girl tried to cry out, but all the escaped beyond the gag was a guttural moan. Troll cranked the rope around the chosen's neck, closing her throat. She began to fight, twisting, convulsing under him. She made more noises as she struggled for air. Then she shuttered and went limp. The woman with a light repeated her inquiry into the darkness. To troll, it seemed like a lifetime before the light turned around and moved hurriedly back toward Kiowa.
Troy was taking no chances. There was no time to tie all the girls around the trunk of the tree. His tableau was incomplete. He wanted to be free to fight another day, so he fled into the misty Oklahoma morning.
On the morning of June 13th, 1977, police from across northeast Oklahoma were summoned to the Scott Girl Scout Camp located three miles south of the small town of Locus Grove. The camp is located in the Cookson Hills part of the Far Western sweep of the Ozark Plateau. The region is distinct from most of Oklahoma in that the area holds densely wooded, craggy hills and hollers, very unlike the flat dry plains common further west in the state.
It was this distinct geography and the wilderness it afforded that made it a desirable location for the Girl Scout Camp, which had been hosting girls since 1928. Indeed, the Girl Scout presence was old enough to be a treasured part of local culture. The highway running south from Locus Grove was nicknamed the Cookie Trail in their honor. The camp had never seen a report of violent crime.
On that Monday morning, as the first of what would be, many officers began passing through Locus Grove, turning south on the Cookie Trail, and then turning onto primitive gravel and dirt lanes leading to the camp, which was about to change forever. To the first officers arriving for what was reported to be multiple dead children, what greeted them seemed surreal. Ashen-faced camp administrators met the officers, while children could be heard singing joyfully in several locations of the distant camp. Met with quizzical faces, the administrators explained that the buses were on their way. The counselors were keeping the kids occupied away from the crime scene, which was between the Kiowa Camp area and the central camp buildings. They added that the camp was closing and that the children would be leaving as soon as possible. The officers followed camp staff to the location, where they confirmed that there were three murdered children. This began a days-long buildup of state and local resources tasked with investigating the crime and arresting the perpetrator.
One of the first investigative tasks was filling in the blanks of what led up to the crime by interviewing the camp counselors. Counselors told investigators that the previous day had been chaotic because all of the girls had arrived by bus.
The orientations had just begun when the camp was hit by a significant thunderstorm and heavy rain. Everyone in the camp fled to the shelter of the Great Hall. Later in the evening, the storm abated, so scouts hiked back to their campsites, where they were directed to write letters to their parents. They then gathered around the campfire before turning in to sleep. Most of the counselors said the night was unremarkable. The girls were excited. Some stayed awake, talking, laughing, and making noise late into the night. Some had to be scolded into being quiet, but that was not unexpected.
One counselor, 18-year-old Carla Wilhite, said she was awakened early in the morning by strange noises. She left her tent, taking a flashlight to investigate. She said that on the path out of Camp Kiowa, she heard intermittent, low growl and moaning sounds. When she aimed her flashlight toward the noise and called out, it stopped. Carla decided it must be a wild animal. She backed away and went back to bed.
Carla Wilhite woke just after dawn and made her way toward the camp showers. As she walked, she spotted a sleeping bag just off the path in the brush. She approached the bag, looked inside, and saw a girl curled into the bottom who was obviously dead. Carlos summoned the help of other counselors, who ran to the main building and woke the director, who was an ER nurse.
During the initial confusion, they discovered yet another girl dead at the bottom of a second sleeping bag and a third girl naked, dead, and tied to a tree. The camp director ordered a headcount of the entire camp. Of the 140 girls, three were missing from the count. The dead girls were confirmed as those missing from Kiowa tent number seven and were identified to law enforcement as Denise Milner, ten, Michelle Guse, nine, and Lori Farmer, eight.
When the deceased girls' tent was examined, the most visible indication of the assault were large red stains that had soaked into the middle of the tent platform between the cots. A partial tennis shoe print was smudged into the dried stain. There were blood smears on two of the cots and on parts of the interior tent fabric, most notably on the rear tent flaps.
At the site where the three girls were found, there was one who was completely unclothed. She had a ligature wrapped tight around her neck and other bindings. It was clear that the girl had suffered physical trauma. The positioning of the body and bleeding was indicative of sexual assault. It appeared that whoever had committed the crime intended to tie her to the tree, she was lying under. The camp administrator identified the girl as 10-year-old Denise Milner. The two other girls were crumpled in the very bottoms of their sleeping bags. They wore night clothes and appeared to have sustained significant trauma to the head. Later at autopsy, it was determined that one girl had been struck with a heavy metal rod, probably once, causing death. The second girl had a similar fatal head injury but appeared to have been struck twice
On the ground near the victim's bodies, investigators found pieces of evidence; a large flashlight, the type that has a large square battery and a handle. The lens of the flashlight was covered by black plastic secured with tape. In the center of the black plastic, there was a small hole that aperture would allow a user to cast a narrow beam of light from the large flashlight. On the ground in the area was a roll of duct tape, a crowbar, and a bundle of white cord. The cord was the same as that found tied to Denise Milner's body.
After viewing the entire scene, investigators were able to piece together the probable sequence of events. They believed that the suspect crept in through the rear of that particular tent because it was one furthest from the counselors, a distance of about 80 yards with a blocked line of sight. The suspect bludgeoned Michelle Guse and Lori Farmer in their cots, where they died. The suspect took Denise Milner's clothes off in her tent and possibly began a sexual assault before taking all three out of the back of the tent and 150 yards away to the base of a tree he selected.
The girls were 60 to 70 pounds each, so it would be difficult to move all of them in one trip. It was probable that the suspect transported the dead or dying girls by slinging them in their sleeping bags over his shoulders. This was supported by the location of blood swipes on the flaps of the rear tent fabric. Denise Milner was likely forced to walk, unclothed, between the tent and the tree, with the rope ligature around her neck, restraining her like a leash. Based on the state of Milner's sleeping bag and clothing left in the tent, the investigators found it likely the primary physical and sexual assault occurred at the location where she was eventually found. Based on the statement of counselor Carla Wilhite, it seemed likely that the unidentified sounds she heard, which she attributed to an animal, were the assault of Denise Milner. This was also Wilhite's conclusion when all of the facts were known.
With the scene information and basic order of events established, investigators fanned out across the camp, searching for anything that might lead them to the perpetrator. The counselors were all questioned and cleared. In their statements, several had experienced suspicious circumstances over the prior few weeks. There were personal items that had gone missing, notably several pairs of glasses. Someone had broken into one of the buildings, taken donuts, and left a threatening note. The note said, "We are on a mission to kill three girls in tent one." At the time, the note seemed so implausible it was taken as a misguided prank. During a search of the camp property, numerous items were found scattered around, notably the various pairs of glasses that had been reported missing during the staff interviews.
As the Girl Scout camp investigation progressed, it became evident that the suspect was probably not someone affiliated with the camp. The investigators began looking in the surrounding area. The adjacent property owners were questioned. Some were asked and submitted to a polygraph examination.
While the traditional investigation was going on, the county sheriff coordinated an overland search in the open area peripheral to the camp. Numerous caves were discovered in the area, three of which were in the cliffs above the scout camp. One of the cave walls bore a fresh inscription that read, "the killer was here. Bye, bye fools. 77- 6- 17." In another cave, a cache of evidence was seized. These items included more stolen property from the camp, a roll of plastic tape matching that used on the suspect's flashlight, and photos of a woman in a wedding dress.
Several pieces of evidence came together at once to point to one particular suspect. The photos from the cave of the woman in a wedding dress were identified as a wedding that was photographed by an inmate, a trustee who was doing time at the county jail. The trustee wasn't a suspect, but his assistant on work release was a man named Leroy Hart.
Hart had been in jail for burglaries and had a violent criminal history. One of his past offenses stunned the investigators. A few years prior, Hart had kidnapped two pregnant women at gunpoint from a Tulsa parking lot. He drove them almost an hour to a secluded location near Locus Grove, at which point he tied them naked to a tree, raped and beat them, and left them for dead. During the kidnapping incident, Hart took both women's eyeglasses and tried them on to see if the prescriptions were right for him. The investigators discovered that Hart was very familiar with the Girl Scout Camp area. He was known to wander the area. His mother's home was on one of the adjacent properties. The only problem with Hart as a suspect was, he had been evading law enforcement for more than two years. He had escaped from jail just after the wedding. shoot.
Hart was popular in the community and well-known as a star high school athlete. He was an American Indian living in a community with a large population of people from his tribe. Law enforcement blamed their inability to capture Hart on the community that was suspicious of law enforcement and willing to shelter the fugitive.
Within a few days of the Girl Scout Camp Murders, the investigation began to focus primarily on Hart. A volunteer search Posse numbering several hundred was formed to conduct overland searches for the man. Specialized tracking dogs from another state were brought in to assist. The media closely covered the manhunt. In the time he had been evading capture Hart had gained notoriety in the community. Rumors that he was being assisted in his escape by Indian magic began to grow and assume mythic quality. The legends grew even more as the days went by, and neither the Sheriff's posse nor the special tracking teams achieved success. People were convinced that Hart was a shapeshifter. A couple of tracking dogs died, probably from heat exhaustion, but rumor spread it was an Indian curse placed on the dogs.
Hart's luck changed when an investigator with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations convinced a local woman to tell him where Hart was holed up. She led him to a cabin in the woods about 50 miles south of Locus Grove. When the police rated the cabin, Hart attempted to flee but was taken into custody.
Hart was charged with three murders, and the trial began on March 19th, 1979. His private defense attorneys were paid for by the Cherokee Nation. At trial, the prosecution founded its case on evidence like the glasses, items in the caves, and proximity to Hart's mother's home. There was biological evidence, hair, and semen, but relying on 1970s technology, the links were less than definitive.
The defense's tactic was to attack the prosecution as racially motivated. The prosecution was crippled mid-trial when, during a hearing, the prosecutor, Sid Wise, perjured himself on the stand. It turned out that Wise had been sharing information about the investigation with a journalist and had a contract for a book deal about the Girl Scout case. Hart's defense team exposed Wise as a liar who was looking to personally profit.
A new prosecutor was brought in to salvage the case, but the damage was done. Shortly after the defense rested, the jury acquitted Hart of all charges. After the trial, Hart was returned to prison, where he had been sentenced for previous crimes to serve a total of more than 300 years. On June 4th, 1979, two months after his acquittal, Hart died in prison of a heart attack. The investigators of the Girl Scout camp murders examined approximately 140 suspects. None of those people were ever charged
Marcy: Beginning the discussion on this case, since this was an acquittal, after having reviewed this case, what do you think about that result?
Mark: Well, the good thing is there's the historical information dating back to 1977, but also, there's been a lot of newer activity. About nine years ago, there was a new sheriff that was elected in the county that this happened in. His name is Mike Reed, and when he was elected, Lori Farmer's parents met with the new sheriff and asked him to look into the case. They wanted to see if somebody could come up with a definitive answer, whether or not any of the suspects they had were legit, whether or not that somebody had slipped through the net, or if it was actually Hart the, was the suspect.
Sheriff Reid and some of the OSBI investigators went through the case again As they went through, they analyzed, and somebody had the idea of taking the case to NACMEC, which is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. A place where I've gone to training. NACMEC offers a lot of services. And one of those is there's a board of 23 selected homicide investigators and FBI profilers that will evaluate a case if they accept it.
Sheriff and his Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations Associates went to NACMEC and presented this board with all of the information. The board had the opportunity to review the stuff for a month, and at the end, they came to a conclusion that Hart was the only offender that could have done this.
When this came out, the Sheriff explained it; I’m gonna quote him. Hart is a textbook serial rapist.
In addition to taking this case to NACMEC, Sheriff Reid raised private contributions in the amount of $30,000, which was what was needed to have everything in the case that could possibly have DNA attached to it, including contact DNA, evaluated. In 2019 the results came back. The full results weren't released until 2022, but the families were told in 2019, and what they were told is the DNA profiles they got, although they're not definitive, they rule out every other potential suspect they had, and match Hart in the partial profiles they were able to extract. It's difficult to understand, but the bottom line is this. They can't say a hundred percent its Hart because they don't have a complete DNA profile. But everyone involved in the DNA analysis is convinced that there could be no one but Hart. The partials they have match him and it's unlikely they would match anybody else.
Marcy: You think the evidence is solid and that Hart wasn't just a scapegoat?
Mark: That's correct. I don't think he was a scapegoat. We know a lot more about these types offenders now than they did in the 1970s. There's a reason for that. At the time, there was no blanket recognition that sex crimes are special in terms of recidivism, but on a local level, because the sentences back then were short, investigators kept seeing the same suspects come up over and over again.
The sentences were abysmally low. I mean, like Hart served under three years on a legit gunpoint, double kidnapping, rape, and nearly murder, and was paroled in three years. In that environment, where he is also doing residential nighttime burglaries, who knows how many victims went unreported, how many crimes were not linked.
Now the nighttime residential burglaries and what he's doing with the women will be recognized as being related. And the sentences on the crime, particularly with the two pregnant ladies, probably would've locked him up for most of the rest of his life.
These types of offenders had a revolving door in the sixties and seventies, and those things caused us to have things like the sex offender registries now.
Marcy: He ended up being acquitted for the Girl Scout murders, but having 300 years to serve, where did the 300 years come from? Was that part of the violation of parole or cuz they didn't have persistent felon laws then, did they?
Mark: I think he was sentenced as a habitual offender. He did those, and then he was caught with numerous residential burglaries.
Marcy: Those burglaries plus the time left to serve for the original sexual assaults.
Mark: He had a lot of hope that he was gonna get paroled again in three years, but his time was 300 years, and I think after his trial, he had expectations that he could whittle that down.
In this specific case, I think NACMEC, the analyst there, are right on. This is the kind of guy we're looking for, and it's not chance that he happened to be right there when it happened.
Marcy: There was one discrepancy in the facts as we were looking at this case, and that was whether the girls were in tent number eight or tent number seven. Can you just touch on that real quick?
Mark: There's several different sections in this Girl Scout camp. The girls who were murdered were in Kiowa section. Something like 25 to 30 girls in that section, four to a tent. Many of the sources say they were in tent eight, and some say seven. I found diagrams with both seven and eight tents in a row. Actually, the important part of the crime is that either seven or eight was the end tent in an arc of tents kind of around their campsite, with the counselors way at the other end. So they were, as far the girls that were murdered were as far from the counselors as you could get and still be in a tent. The counselor who found the girls said they were in ten seven. So, I trust that she, having thought about this for 45 years, would absolutely know the fact there.
Marcy: The tents all had four girls except for this one. How come there were only three in there?
Mark: So, I found a news article about a girl who was supposed to be the fourth person in their tent. It's not Kristin Chenoweth, the actress who did the 2022 series about this crime. She was supposed to go to camp and who was sick, but I think she was supposed to be in another part of camp. But the girl that was supposed to be in their tent was also sick, so that's why they only had three. She's kinda like the person that misses the plane that later crashes. It freaked her out in ways that echoed through her life for years, depression, followed by drug use and survivor's guilt.
Marcy: The cops and reporters, and residents describe this case in superlatives, horrifying. Never seen worst ever. The attention on this case was huge and lasting. Why do you think that is?
Mark: I think some of it is the common camp experience, the creepiness of little kids who are vulnerable. I think it's your parents said there's really no such thing as monsters. Go to camp. You'll be safe. Only to find out. what a lot of the country increasingly became aware of in the seventies and eighties, and nineties is that there are monsters out there, and they look a lot like you and me.
The camp was just part of it. People who went to the scene and described it in the media and in the documentary were obviously affected, and that's all about the kids. The fact it was kids.
Marcy: I wondered if this case caused lasting changes in summer camp operations. In my camp experiences as a camper, as a counselor, and as a parent chaperone, there were always chaperones or counselors in the same cabin or tent as the campers. However, our son, who was a longtime camp counselor, said in his organization, they still put campers and chaperones in different cabins. So maybe not as big of an impact on policies as I thought. but there was clearly a lasting effect on all those who were directly involved in this situation and the local community as a whole.
Mark: Yeah, Well, don't forget, you were a camp chaperone at a Cub Scout camp. So, they're closely related with the Girl Scouts, so who knows? That might have been it.
It definitely a lasting effect. A lot of the counselors openly talk about having guilt for not protecting the girls. Some of the counselors are just barely adults. According to Sheriff Reed, He talks to people who bring up the case all the time. They have theories about who did it. and he said that a lot of people have no idea the facts of the case. which actually common when you're looking at police cases, people have all kinds of opinions. According to him, it still divides people. Some people believe that Hart did it. Some people are firmly in the camp if he couldn't have done it. Everybody mourns the loss of the camp and the implications of the community as a whole. And I can see why. I mean, would you send one of your daughters to a place where this happened?
Marcy: No, no. I remember going to a 4- H camp when I was eight years old, and the teenage counselor in charge of my cabin took us on a midnight hike off camp property to a country store to buy contraband candy. As a kid, I thought it was the greatest adventure ever. As an adult, after hearing the Girl Scout murder story, it makes me cringe at the potential dangers that we apparently avoided.
Can you talk about the effect of kids on first responders?
Mark: Sure. It is what you'd expect. Normal people, cops, paramedics have an innate desire to protect the vulnerable from harm. They're negatively affected by any situation where they can't. I was fortunate to work in locations and times when I did not come into contact with a lot of kids.
They're present and sometimes directly involved in domestic violence in the middle of the night. but for the most part, on nights, they weren't the ones raping and robbing and shooting and crashing. I gave CPR to more than one infant who were found not breathing in bed. and not a single one of them made it. There were other heartbreaking cases, like the call the baby who wouldn't stop screaming. No one answered the door. So, I had to break into the apartment. It was a hovel, and the mom is the only one home. She's passed out drunk on the floor and the infants' across the room screaming.
But I never had the stuff my friends did. Like on swing shift or days. A long time ago, I woke up late in the afternoon because I'd worked all night. I turned on the evening news, and there's a buddy of mine in uniform standing on the shoreline of a pond in a neighborhood just south of our house. It's summer, and he's helping with the deployment of divers, of fire department divers. So what had happened is three little kids had made a raft. They floated halfway across the pond, and the raft broke up. All of those kids were out there in the water, under the water. A group of parents stood by my friend on the shore, waiting to see their kids for the last time. I'm sitting there my couch at home, thinking that is heartbreaking. I was sad for the call, but I was happy for myself to not have had been on that call.
Some of the calls I did have that had to do with little kids, they stick with you. Bad wrecks. I had one where the mom died and bled out all over the kid, who mercifully was only semi-conscious. There was the early morning call of a little girl, eight or nine years old, who was spending the night at a friend's house. The friend had an uncle who grabbed the visiting girl as she went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and he raped her. The girl victim later called her parents, who called 9 1 1. And I was lucky enough to be the area car. If you run that through your head sequentially, me arriving, waking up the whole family, just as the other girl's parents showed up, you can probably imagine how that went. And the uncle, when the dick's interviewed him, he said he was asleep in his bed. The girl snuck into his room, and the next thing he knew, she was doing things to him. Not a well-thought-out excuse. He's off to prison.
In another incident, I had to recruit. He and I were called to cover officers in another sector because they were getting slammed that morning and had just caught a nasty homicide. I should have been expecting something bad because recruits are often called to perform unsavory tasks under the guise of it'll be good experience. We were asked to transport two little boys, brothers, like six and eight years old. They were in their underwear because there was no time to get them any clothing based on what happened. Their mother and father had been in an early morning fight. The kids have been close enough that when their mother was stabbed to death, the boys ended up with her blood all over them. As I said, it was early morning. The staff and investigators hadn't made it to the child advocacy center yet, so my recruit and I took them around the corner. and bought the McDonald's, and they ate in the backseat. The image of those two boys, tiny bodies, shocked-out eyes huddled together with my green Army blanket around them, will always be with me. I have other kid stories, but I wanted to give you a sampling of why kid cases, in particular, stay with you. The common theme is their vulnerability.
Marcy: Talk about your take on Hart's personality.
Mark: He didn't make a lot of public statements unless you count his horrible crimes. In the middle of the trial, he gave a press conference. It reminded me of the clips of Ted Bundy's news interviews. Hart was attractive, charismatic, a natural public speaker. After his acquittal, Hart gave an interview from prison to the Cherokee Advocate Newspaper. It was the only one he did before his death. His answers were very critical about law enforcement. He clearly was pleased that he'd been able to elude capture for so long, openly saying it wasn't because he was some great outdoorsman or woodsman, but he credited the charity of friends and his supporters, his relatives, whom he wouldn't name, and the stupidity of local cops. His overall assertion is that he was a scapegoat, and I guess that's not surprising. What stuck with me about his interview, which was far-ranging, including the plight of the American Native, was that he seemed like a very intelligent guy. He complained about running out of interesting reading material from the prison library. This bolstered my Ted Bundy impression. I mean, if you keep in mind the crimes he had done for which he was caught almost red-handed and admitted to, the interviews he did, were telling. Keep in mind he isn't disputing the serious prior crimes.
And prior to being caught, he's hiding out in caves and an old cellar. He's so bored at times he's riding on the walls, almost stir-crazy as he waits. What's he waiting for? My point is, okay, I have a decent-sized piece of property boarded on two sized by fairly deep canyons, and on the sides of those canyons are several caves. And aside from looking in those caves, I spent like virtually no time in them. Why? Well, as an adult man, there's nothing that interests me there. So it occurred to me that Hart spent daylight hours in the caves and maybe sheltered from storms like that first night at camp. He's doing so because he's interested in something there. It's the camp and the victims.
Marcy: There was definitely some overt racism in this case, even when we believe that they identified the correct killer. And both things can be true. They can be racist and have found the right guy.
Mark: Yeah, unfortunately, I saw some pretty blatant racist statements from the prosecutor, and the unfortunate thing is these taint the prosecution, or at least the trust, that the investigation that comes from it is legit.
As far as the mystical medicine man, Indian curse stuff, one of the OSBI investigators had it right. He said that the searchers were just covering for the inability to catch the man by talking about him as having those superhuman skills. The reality is, and you can see this in the US, historic gangsters, actually this place, Cookson Hills, held several gangsters because of the geography is easy to hide there. In modern times like the Olympic Bomber, Eric Rudolph, who hid in the Appalachian Mountains, Osama Bin Laden. If there are people willing to harbor these people, it's very difficult to find them, particularly in rural areas. I think if I wanted to hide someone on our farm and we had electronic discipline, it would be very difficult to know that any person was here.
Marcy: Do you think Hart's acquittal was jury nullification?
Mark: No. Okay, so jury nullification is the jury is fully aware that the crime committed as stated and is a violation of the law but decides that they aren't going to convict the person for whatever reason. Sympathy, or there's some reason like they think it was a legitimate thing to do. That's jury nullification. The crime occurred, the jury knows it occurred and the person being tried did it. But they aren't gonna convict him for one reason or another.
Marcy: This seems like it might have some things in common with OJ Simpson's case.
Mark: yeah. When we were watching the Keeper of the Ashes, that's what I said, and right after I said it to you, one of the mothers said, this was like, to me, like the OJ Simpson case. So, I agree. First of all, the defenses in both cases made a great argument that the evidence there was tainted or was inadequate for conviction. And then they tainted that taint with added layers of racism. The cops, the prosecutors, the system is racist. There was a lot of public support. There's a lot of, you know, the whole Mark Furman racist thing was very similar. I mean, I'm not saying it's not legitimate. I mean, it's, they basically pulled out the audio tapes that Mark Furman was racist. And, when they showed the prosecutor, in this case, the same way. Hart can be guilty. And the defense did a great job of smearing the people, accusing him, with legitimate issues.
That's why I think that the parents of the girls killed didn't want to hear any of that. They wanted to hear that the person they were pretty confident killed their girls was gonna get convicted. Unfortunately, didn't happen because of some of the problems. The problems with the prosecutors. There were problems with the evidence. The evidence in this case, being in the 1970s, collected in the 1970s, was not what it should have been for a case of this magnitude.
Marcy: Before we move on from talking about Hart, let's talk about the wedding photo thing. Hart was an assistant for a private wedding photo shoot done by inmates, and so I guess some people will do anything to get a good deal.
Mark: Yeah. it's strange. It had to be cheaper, but how would you feel about getting discount prison labor courtesy of your local sheriff, only to find out that one of the guys who's been ogling your daughter at the wedding, is a convicted rapist and the main suspect in killing three little girls. Thanks. But I'll pay the full price.
Marcy: A lot happened in your career as far as the changes in the way technology advanced, the use of data and digital media and DNA. So can you just sort of talk about all of the things that happened from the change from the beginning of your career to the time that you retired?
Mark: Yeah. My first patrol car was a beat-up 1986 Chevy Capris. It was a POS. It didn't even have an AM/FM radio. No computers. We typed out criminal complaints on the actual typewriter. It's funny. I'm not ancient, but I feel like a dinosaur talking about this. All of our reports were handwritten on triplicate, you know, write 'em, and you get three copies.
When we were dispatched to a call, it came over the radio, and you reached down on a notepad next to you on the car seat, and you wrote the dispatch down. We're talking the early nineties. So DNA's just over the horizon at this point. All our cameras used 35-millimeter film, so you had no idea whether or not the shots you were taking were any good. Thankfully I didn't screw up any major cases. Tape recorders were like the full-size cassette type. Later we had mini cassettes, which were a pain in the butt because our clerk typist only use the full size, would only type out the full size.
The digital revolution in law enforcement changed everything. By the time I left, everyone had a laptop computer; patrol cars had the mounts. You could be dispatched by computer, run your own computer checks, do your own research in the field. All the photographs were digital. You could see if your shots were good at the time, so you could retake 'em if you needed to; change the lighting.
I had a digital recorder at the end that was the size of a pen. It could hold hours of interviews. And I could say as a guy who worked undercover, the wires and cameras, let's just say there were no more giant wires with batteries that burned the side of your belly as you wore 'em.
DNA that all happened during my career. The amazing thing is that it gets progressively better. There are cases that can't be proven now that will be possible with like contact just epithelial cells on pieces of evidence that’s sitting out there, that will possibly be analyzed in five to 10 years. It's exciting.
We had a scanner that you could set up on a tripod, and it spins, and 3D scans everything in an entire scene. And you do that because you can precisely pinpoint everything where it is, and it's relation to everything else. You can go back and virtually recreate the scene. I expect that in the future, this type of scanner will detect DNA, and you'll be able to put this up, and it will DNA sequence everyone who's ever been in the room. It's kind of wonderful and a little bit scary. In terms of technology, almost everything's better in terms of data, documentation, and research because of our move to digital.
Marcy: What were the issues that you noticed with how the scene was processed and the initial investigation was handled?
Mark: In the film, Keeper of the Ashes, the photographer was amazed. He shows up at the scene where the children are dead, and the sleeping bags have the kids still in them, and they're closed. And no one had, except for the original counselors, had opened up those sleeping bags and looked into them. So you have professional officers here that until the camera guy shows up, who's not an officer, he's a newspaper guy.
Marcy: So nobody confirmed those girls were dead in the sleeping bags.
Mark: Yeah. That was his point. Like, yeah, nobody, nobody even looked at them to say, are they really, truly, totally dead? You know? The other thing is, I thought of this at the time. So, there were witnesses at children at the scenes that were shuttled off in the buses to their parents. No one ever questioned them. They should have since they had 'em there, they should have at least segregated 'em off one at a time and soft questioned them to see if anybody had any idea of anything. You might not get anything, but to never have even crossed that off your list. One of the girls that was at the camp in the tent next to the girls that were killed said that she had to this date, 45 years later, never been talked to about this, and she had observations. She'd held observations for 45 years about what happened that night. She said she heard a scream. They should have gotten that information on day one.
One of the things I noticed is they had, the Sheriff's Posse was like; I think they said it was like two to 600 people, depending on the day. And they're slowly walking across the field. I don't know what they expected to find. And I said to you as watching this thing, you know, that's not how they're gonna find this guy. They're gonna find this guy with a detective who's got a source, and then they show the OSBI guy who did exactly that. Good detective work talks to a source convinces the source that it's in everybody's best interest to bring him in alive. It's actually the wife of a guy who's helping Hart. And she's worried that the guy's gonna get implicated and somebody's gonna get shot by a cop. That's how they got him. The wife gave him up, and he was 50 miles to the south in somebody's cabin, and no amount of overland searching in fields is gonna turn that guy up. You have to have a source.
This case is a good reason to catch, prosecute rapists. It's also good to track sex offender registry people because they've put society on notice that they have this proclivity for illegal sexual conduct.
One of the problems with the seventies processing is that they didn't package for DNA; they just packaged for the technology they had at the time. So a lot of the samples, the reason we can't get full samples off even where there's semen present, is that the samples are degraded to the point where the DNA has been damaged, and a lot of their testing has been inconclusive with partial DNA sequencing.
Marcy: So, tell me more specifically about what the problem was with the way they packaged.
Mark: You don't put wet items that may have DNA in plastic bags because plastic bags retain moisture. So if we had something in the field that would be wet, say, I remember there's a leather belt that I collected. It seems a little counterintuitive, like plastic's gonna protect everything like you put in your refrigerator, but actually, you put that in a paper bag where it can dry and drying versus rotting molding, mildewing bacteria that protects the DNA. You can get DNA from a liquid that's dried, but if you have something in plastic where it's like a little Petri dish and growing bacteria inside.
Marcy: You also don't want it to be sitting out in the sun or in super-hot conditions either.
Mark: Sure, sure.
Marcy: While we're talking about DNA, another discrepancy in the stories is whether all of the girls were sexually assaulted or just the 10-year-old. Can you talk about that?
Mark: So, one of the things that Sheriff Reed went back through is a detailed analysis of the order of events and the initial investigators, and he believed that, just like I wrote it, the bad guy goes into the tent, bludgeons the two little girls, and then, sexually assaults the third little girl. There's a lot of physical contact that can happen without transfer of blood. But the way it was described by Sheriff Reid is these girls pretty much died, bled out in their sleeping bags. And if there had been an additional a sexual assault with them in their sleeping bags, I think you would a lot more blood transfer. They had blood seep down onto the floor, and there was blood at the, basically where when he was carrying 'em out, the sleeping bags, the tops of the bags were bloody, so they brushed up against the tent flap. But I think if there had been more contact, the blood would've been smeared. Probably you would've had contact from the girl's blood onto the sexual assault victim also.
I think their analysis is right on. That's not to completely discount the idea of some kind of sexual contact with the other two, but I think it's most likely he had one single target, and the reason he murdered the other two is so that he could have access without the kind of risk that three conscious girls might pose to the criminal. I don't think anybody can say definitively that there wasn't sexual contact, but I think certainly the, at least, the primary sexual assault was on the 10-year-old.
Marcy: The parents of these three little girls became amazing victim rights advocates.
Mark: Yeah. Michelle Guse's father, Richard Guse, helped establish the Oklahoma Victims Bill of Rights and also the Oklahoma Victim's Compensation Board. Lori Farmer's family founded the Oklahoma chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, and Sherry Farmer, the mother, in 2018 helped pass Marcey's Law in Oklahoma, which gives crime victims access to various resources.
Camp Scott Girl Scout Camp had been operated since 1928. It closed the morning of the murders and never reopened.
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