As those who follow my approach to cold cases have learned, I treat them like a hot case. I reinvestigate as though the incident had just occurred. Instead of dwelling on the gory details, I start with the circumstances and context. Context is everything in history, and it is everything in unraveling history, which basically cold cases have become. Reenactment is the crucial step of the French method, which I always combine with the British method of obsessing on every detail.
Camp Scott was a fairly isolated but not too isolated girl scout camp in rural Locust Grove, Oklahoma. It was 50 years old in 1977, which for the era was quite a big deal. The 1970s were a nostalgic decade, a time in which Americans bemoaned that a better era was long gone, that is, the era prior to the antiestablishment movement of the 1960s. The 1930s through 1950s were especially fondly longed for. The younger generation, like me, grew up with a high esteem for the America of the golden age of Hollywood.
In many ways Camp Scott must have been a time capsule of the decades before– old stoves, utensils, woodland architecture that reflected 1930s and 40s cabins and then 1950s expansion (like the main hall). Pictures show that the 1950s coat of aqua green was still on the hall’s interior walls. Old west wagons were about and new chrome fittings on the swimming pool. 1950s signs led the girl scouts to their respective camps; 1970s brochures advertising the daily events were in the bright colors and “love fonts” of the time.
Teen girls had their own camps. Youngsters were billeted separately. Counselors were in their late teens or early 20s. The campsites invariably had Indian names– Comanche, Arapahoe, etc. They were located down narrow trails under the canopy of enveloping woods. The cabins– the cook’s, rangers, admin– were distant and peaked through the pines here and there. Each girl scout camp was set around a permanent building. This was a long covered cement slab that was largely open. The roof was supported only by beams. The enclosed side was a storage area and shower. The rest was an open patio for a kitchen and dining area.
The tents were large and billeted 4 girls in each. Each tent was set up on a heavy, elevated wood floor. The tents were taken down when the campsite was not in use. So for winter a camp area would be nothing but 9 wood floors, appearing like giant squares, set around an empty shower and kitchen unit.
It was the duty of the camp Ranger, along with his assistants, to set up the tents the week before the campsite was to be opened. With summer camp soon to open on Sunday, June 12, 1977, Ben Woodward, the ranger, had set up the campsites that would be in use. For the week preceding the opening, Camp Scott was largely not in use. The counselors came for their sessions and to prepare, but they also came and went. Ben lived on Camp Scott in one of the cabins with his family. Camp Scott was a huge area, including part of a river, a barn used as a club house, and several campsites far from any others. The camp dog had free territory to roam. But, in essence, anybody could stalk the camp and not be seen. The counselors were only told if they saw someone who was not to be there, they were to tell them it was private property and they must go.
Only a few of the campsites were to be in operation. Comanche was one of them, so was Kiowa. In a sense, Kiowa was the most remote camp. Since Ben had set up the tents here anybody prowling Camp Scott would know which campsites were to be used. They were obviously the ones on the west side of the camp, those sequestered in the woods near the tree line that bordered the open field of the rancher/famer next door.
This Google identifies Camp Scott. 1, is the entrance. At the end of the long, wooded road is the main camp and hall (2). Kiowa is marked by 3.
For most of the week before, the wooded areas of Camp Scott was a silent, eerie place of fully provisioned tents with cots sitting idly therein. The counselors slept in a cabin or grouped together in one camp.Therefore, all said and done, anybody stalking the camp a week before it opened need only creep about and see where the tents were erected to know which campsites were going to be used.
During this lazy week, as Ben Woodward went about preparing the camp, a few curious things happened indicating someone was visiting the camp and going unnoticed. While resting inside the counselor’s cabin, one of the counselors heard someone walking outside the cabin. The camp dog went wild and came rushing past, barking and chasing something.
More unusual was a 6 inch or so slice found in one of the ten flaps in Camp Kiowa. It had been cut one night, not long after being erected. More strange still was the fact that on Saturday it was discovered that about a 4 to 5 foot piece of a tent flap had been cut away from Tent 5. No explanation could be found for either occurrence.
Camp Scott opened the next day, Sunday June 12. About 200 kids were at the camp in the various campsites. Seven tents in each camp held 4 girls each, making a total of 28 girls. Three counselors were in the 8th tent in each camp. Camp Kiowa was short one girl because she had been billeted elsewhere in another camp. Therefore the most isolated tent in Camp Kiowa only had 3 girls in it.
In the early morning hours of Monday June 13, someone silently crept into the Kiowa campsite and murdered two of the girls in this isolated tent and took the third girl in the tent and dragged her to a fork in the path to the camp and raped and killed her there. The killer also then carried the other 2 girls’ bodies in their sleeping bags and placed them by the fork in the trail. These girls were 9 and 10 years old. They had all three been raped and murdered.
In the early morning, one of the counselors found them as she walked from the campsite. One body was obvious. It was spread eagle and raped. Next to it were two bundled up sleeping bags wherein were the other two girls. Clues left about were a flashlight, some of the heavy, specialty black tape used to bind them, and a pair of glasses belonging to one of the counselors.
The murders were chilling and gruesome enough on their own, but apparently the killer had crept about the campsite and took things from the counselors’ tent while they had slept. He was a silent, deadly predator.
Camp Scott. 1, Kiowa Camp. 2, Main hall. 3, Counselors’ cabin. 4, Cherokee. 5, Comanche.
There was no explanation for why and, at times, how this could have been done. The camp was ruined. It closed immediately and the other 200 remaining girls were quickly ushered back home by buses.
There are those who prefer to believe that Gene Hart, a renegade Cherokee, committed the murders because he had been tried for the crimes but acquitted. Though found not guilty, those who believe he did it simply dismiss the verdict as a miscarriage of justice. Hart had been in prison before for rape on adult women. He had broken out and been on the run long before the murders. When finally found he was living in the woods with another Cherokee.
During the murder investigation detectives had found an abandoned but recently used campsite in the hills surrounding Camp Scott, and were able to link its occupant with the murders. But had this been Gene Hart? How did he escape this campsite, apparently the day of the murders, and get far from there on foot until he was helped by another Cherokee?
Several clues give us a chain of events the killer had to go through in short order in order to pull off the crimes and get quickly away. It is hard to imagine that someone like Gene Hart, without a car, could pull it off.
A chain of events also indicate that the murder of the girl scouts was quite premeditated, and that the stalker of the camp had been preparing for quite some time. In the April preceding, 15 year old girl scout Michelle Hoffman found a scribbled note in an empty donut box at their campsite. It said 4 girl scouts were going to die. It was taken as a bad joke, and nothing was made of it. The note was not saved.
In our next post we will look at the clues that give us a precise chain of events that night. This will give us insights into what the killer had to do. Due to the warning note, we know the killer had been waiting months to do this, and he struck the very day the camp opened and had a plan by which to quickly escape.
* * *
Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.