The bare-bones facts would be disturbing enough on their own: in June 1977, three Girl Scouts—ages 8, 9, and 10—sharing the most remote tent at summer camp were found raped and brutally murdered. It’s the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. But the story got even worse.

Prior to the murders, Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Oklahoma—40 miles from Tulsa—had been operating for 49 years. June 12, 1977 was its opening day that year; the morning after that first night, the bodies of Lori Lee Farmer, Doris Denise Milner, and Michele Guse were found by a terrified counselor who’d carefully checked the camp after being awakened by a strange sound in the middle of the night. Too late, she realized what she had probably overheard. The crime scene spoke volumes:

Tape, rope, a gag, and a flashlight were collected from the victims and the scene. On inspection of the tent, it was determined that Guse and Farmer had been struck and killed in the tent and that Milner had been taken into the woods and then killed. Blood on the wooden floor was wiped by the killer with mattress covers and towels in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the floor of it. The bloody materials were then stuffed in the sleeping bags.

The camp was swiftly evacuated, and understandably, never re-opened. (See recent photos of the abandoned site here.)

Evidence led investigators to a suspect who seemed extremely viable at the time, as a Fort Smith, Arkansas (just across the Oklahoma border) TV news station recalled in 2014:

Less than a year later, 34-year-old Gene Leroy Hart was arrested and charged with murdering and sexually assaulting Lori Lee Farmer, 8, Michele Guse, 9, and Doris Denise Milner, 10, investigators said.

In 1979, Hart faced a jury trial, but was acquitted. A police report states Hart returned to prison to serve more than 300 years on a previous sentence for kidnapping and raping two pregnant women. He had escaped custody in connection with that case prior to the killings. Sixty-six days after his return to prison, Hart died of a heart attack, the report states.

“Some people believe he did it, and some believe he did not do it,” said Meredith Frailey, a local woman. “This divided families and our community as a whole.”

During the girls’ homicide investigation, agents worked hundreds of leads, most of which led to Hart, a police report states.

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In the years since the triple slaying, evidence has been re-tested more than once using the latest available technology. The most recent instance of this, in 2007, yielded no new information—and with this 2008 report from News OK, it seems the case may never be solved through forensic testing, because simply too much time has passed.

Testing of evidence from the 1977 Locust Grove Girl Scout slayings proved inconclusive, District Attorney Gene Haynes said today ... Haynes said crime scene evidence was too deteriorated to obtain a DNA profile.

“If the tests had been successful, the DNA profile could have been compared to the known DNA profiles of suspects, and entered into DNA databases for possible matches,” Haynes said.

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As a side note, there’s an extensive website dedicated to the crime if you’d like to delve deeper into the mystery; on a page remarking on the legacy of the Camp Scott killings, the author of the site suggests they may have influenced the trend of slasher movies set at summer camps, but adds this intriguing addendum:

UPDATE ** June 5 2011 ** I recently emailed with the writer of the original “Friday the 13th” movie, Victor Miller. He told me that he had never heard of the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders. He said he was only trying to come up with a remote, secluded setting where young people might actually find themselves in real life. He thought that a summer camp was a good choice.

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At top: the tent where the three Girl Scouts were slain at Camp Scott, taken July 16, 1977, over a month after the crime. Credit: AP Photo

Below: a trio of men assist in the search of eastern Oklahoma countryside in the wake of the June 13, 1977 murders. Credit: AP Photo