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Award-winning singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth has revealed she could have been the victim of a brutal triple homicide that continues to haunt America’s heartland had it not been for an unexpected illness.
The Oklahoma-born artist returns to her hometown in the upcoming true-crime series “Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders,” premiering on Hulu on May 24. The four-part docuseries covers the 1977 murders of girl scouts Lori Farmer, 8, Michele Guse, 9, and Doris Milner, 10, who were violently murdered in the middle of the night while away at a Locust Grove summer camp.
The three girls were found bound and murdered in their sleeping bags, which were left outside their tent. According to Oklahoma City’s KFOR News, they were raped, mutilated, beaten and strangled to death.
Chenoweth describes being haunted by the grisly murders in the new series’ trailer, divulging that she was a Girl Scout who was due to be at Camp Scott that fateful night.
“I remember, I should have been on that trip, but I had gotten sick and Mom said, ‘You can’t go,’” Chenoweth explains. “It has stuck with me my whole life. I could have been one of them.”
Camp counselors weren’t far from the three girls on June 12, 1977. Farmer, Guse, and Milner sought shelter from a storm and were last heard giggling through the night inside their four-person tent. They were found dead the next morning.
The murders prompted a massive search during which agents and volunteers scoured several caves surrounding the 400+ acre campground. One cave contained items that indicated someone had settled there, including groceries, duct tape that seemed to match the bindings of the three girls and a newspaper that matched one found inside a flashlight left with the bodies.
Authorities found film pictures of women in the cave, which were linked to escaped prisoner, Gene Leroy Hart — though it would take another 10 months before he’d be captured.
Before his escape, Hart had been serving a 300-year sentence for a series of violent burglaries while on parole after being convicted of the kidnapping and rapes of two pregnant women.
“This is a story I wish I didn’t have to tell; it haunts me every day,” said Chenoweth. “But this story, it needs to be told.”
Earlier this month, Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed announced that DNA testing from semen found at the crime scene led him to believe that Hart — who was tried and acquitted of the murders in 1979 — would have been convicted of the murders if held accountable in current times.
Hart returned to prison after his acquittal to continue serving his sentence for the burglaries and died from a massive heart attack a few months later.
Despite the beliefs of Sheriff Reed — who appears in the new series — the case remains officially unsolved. And other suspects, such as Kansas rapist William Stevens, are still under a cloud of mystery for some investigators.
“This happened,” Chenoweth continues. “There’s no closure. There’s no pretty red bow at the end.”
Suspicion surrounding Hart offered more than a whiff of anti-Native sentiment, as media reports at the time widely covered the suspect’s Cherokee roots and some people even claimed that Hart was a shapeshifter who was able to get away with the murders because he could change his appearance. Others, like a 1978 article by the New York Times, highlighted the arrest of purported “Indian Medicine Man” William Smith, who was charged with helping Hart stay in hiding.
One Native American official tells Hulu producers that he had his own medicine man bless his bullets.
The new series aims to look at other suspects in the murders after “uncertainties surrounding the case” continue to haunt Oklahoma, according to the promo.
“Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders” features interviews with surviving family members and law enforcement officials who continue to investigate who is responsible for the Girl Scout murders. The series, produced by ABC News Studios, will be released only on Hulu.
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