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A longstanding suspect in the high-profile case dubbed “The Girls Scout Murders" has been connected to the crimes by DNA — at least according to the local sheriff.
Lori Farmer, 8, Michelle Guse, 9, and Doris Milner, 10, were brutally raped and murdered while away at summer camp in Locust Grove, Oklahoma nearly 45 years ago. Now, according to Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed, DNA has confirmed that the man tried for and acquitted of the killings in 1979, Gene Leroy Hart — who died in prison about two years after the murders — was in fact the likely killer.
Prodded by the mother of Lori Farmer, Reed has been reexamining the case for the past nine years, according to CBS Tulsa affiliate KOTV-DT. Investigators utilized new DNA testing that wasn’t available during Hart’s 1979 murder trial, according to Reed.
Details were slim about how DNA definitively tied Hart to the triple homicide, but Sheriff Reed asserted that there was no room for doubt that Hart was the person responsible. In fact, had this science been used in the 1979 murder trial, he says Hart would have been found guilty.
“I pray that there’s something that we’ve done that gives the family a second of something that even resembles closure or acceptance or something,” said Reed. “But as far as peace, there is absolutely nothing about this case that has given me one second of peace. Period.”
The findings, however, did not mean that other agencies involved in the investigation were ready to declare the case closed, as Sheriff Reed posted on the “Girl Scout Murders Cold Case Research” Facebook page.
“I will clarify some miss information [sic],” Reed posted. “The case will not be closed unilaterally by any one investigative agency and will only be closed when and if the family’s [sic], OSBI, the Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office all agree to do so.”
There have been long-standing rumors of other suspects in the case, as outlined by the Tahlequah Daily Press last year; the outlet noted that DNA for the other rumored suspects had, in fact, been collected and analyzed.
On the night of June 12, 1977, the three Girl Scouts were in one of several four-person tents at Camp Scott, according to ABC Oklahoma City affiliate KOCO-TV. Camp counselors weren’t far, even instructing some of the girls to go to sleep when they heard them giggling in the middle of the night. One later reported seeing what she thought was a flashlight and hearing moaning that she thought might be an animal.
At around 6:00 a.m., one of the camp counselors discovered three sleeping bags on the ground near her tent, each containing one girl's brutalized body. A flashlight lay on top.
Investigators eventually searched several caves surrounding the camp, finding one with grocery items, newspapers and duct tape that seemed to match the tape used to bind the three girls and newspaper found inside the flashlight. Developed pictures of women found in the cave were linked to escaped convict Gene Leroy Hart — but it would take 10 months to find him.
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Hart had been serving a sentence of more than 300 years for a series of violent burglaries he committed while on parole after being convicted of the kidnapping and rape of two pregnant women in 1966. He escaped from a local jail in early 1973 and was recaptured, only to escape again on Sept. 16, 1973.
With the help of informants, he was captured in a small home in the forest of Adair County on April 16, 1978, about 45 miles away from Camp Scott and a year after the girls’ deaths.
Agents said he evidence against Hart was "extensive” for the murders of Farmer, Guse and Milner.
Physical evidence was used against Hart in the 1979 murder trial, including sperm that showed “only .0020% of the population met the unique characteristics contained in that evidence, including Hart,” according to the OSBI. “Despite this evidence, the local jury acquitted Hart.”
The verdict shocked the Green County region and elsewhere.
Hart was sent back to prison to continue serving his previous sentence and died of a massive heart attack in June 1979.
In 1989, the state tested DNA from a semen stain found on a pillowcase in Michelle Guse’s sleeping bag, according to KOCO, but they were unable at that point to get more than a partial match. It did not exclude Hart at the contributor. It's unclear if a fuller DNA profile was developed from that or another sample more recently.
Oxygen.com reached out to Sheriff Reed and the OSBI for clarification about the DNA testing in the case but did not receive an immediate response.
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