It is not my intent to get into details here of the crime scene at Camp Scott. Those can be gleaned on the web. Rather I wish to introduce facts that came out during the pre-trial and trial.
First off, the existence of that note in April 1977, months before the murders, was confirmed. Michelle Hoffman’s mother called the camp director, Barbara Day, and confirmed it for her. The note had most likely threatened death against 4 girls, not 3 as was later commonly said. (The pre-trial uses both numbers.)
Of course in April this had meant nothing. Only Michelle and her friends knew of it, and they took it as a crank note. With hindsight, however, we can see it was implying a murder late at night in a tent, since 4 girls are routinely billeted in a single tent. Only three were in this particular tent, June the 13th, because of a mistake in assigning a girl to another camp.
The existence of the note is disputed, and the pre-trial would not pursue it because it was not something that anybody present was involved with in direct knowledge, and Michelle Hoffman was not called.
However, the idea that there was premeditation does not hinge on the note. Someone was clearly hanging around Camp Scott for at least a week before it opened for summer camp. This is easy to deduce because it would be impossible for a stranger to know what campsites were going to be used until the week before Camp Scott opened, when the Ranger Bill Woodward would put up the tents. Camp Scott was a big, woodsy place, and it would take some stalking indeed to locate the few camps that were going to be in use.
While empty and waiting for occupation that week before, Camp Kiowa had been visited by someone. A slice was found in one tent, and then a 4 to 5 foot swath was cut out of another one (tent 5 I believe).
Altogether we have a number of clues that reveal the killer’s careful selection.
First, the killer struck on the very first night of camp, a night when none of the girls were too familiar with the area yet and were probably more than dog tired after their long orientation day.
The killer intentionally left behind evidence– a flashlight, a pair of glasses he had stolen from the counselor’s tent, unique engineer’s tape.
A search of the surrounding hills found an abandoned campsite. Pieces of a newspaper were found there. They had been used for toilette paper. This newspaper matched a piece of newspaper that had been found in the flashlight to help make the batteries make contact. Thus it was quite elemental to associate the killer with this abandoned campsite. He didn’t take the flashlight back with him, apparently, because it was dawn by the time he was finished and he didn’t need it anymore.
The tape was unique. It was easy to trace. It belonged to a farmer on the other side of the hills, who had been robbed that very night. It was thus easy to backwork what the killer had done. That night the killer had raided the nearby house (empty because the farmer was in town) and stole the tape he would use to bind the girls. Boot prints were found in the ground around the house and storage area. They had been left after it had rained that night, so that the theft occurred late night June 12.
The farm house, used only part time by the farmer, had been robbed before. Clearly the killer knew the stuff he needed was available inside. This seemed to point to the campsite in the hills, which had been occupied for a while. The killer thus had been living in the hillside for sometime and had robbed this farmhouse before when he needed something.
Thus the killer appears to have gone down the hill to the farmhouse, broken in and robbed it of the things he’d need for that night. He also stole a 6-pack of beer and some other things. He must have returned to his campsite and soon set out with the flashlight to go down the hillside several miles to stalk Camp Scott.
A dim light had been seen by a counselor in Comanche as it passed along the wooded fringe of the camp late that night. Someone was walking in the field of the neighbor. When the flashlight was found after the murders, the lens had a piece of tape over it with a hole in the middle. This had effectively dimmed the light. The dim light seen that night was clearly the flashlight in the hands of the murderer.
From Comanche, it was clear by the direction of the light that the person holding it was going right to Camp Kiowa.
Later, after midnight, one of the camp counselors in Kiowa heard a strange sound like a frog or foghorn. She had never heard it before. She went to bed. When asleep, the killer must have crept quietly by, stolen a couple pairs of glasses off the counselors’ nightstand and then proceeded to walk around the camp and select the most isolated tent, which was Tent 7. This is the tent of the victims. Curiously, one pair of the counselors’ glasses was found by the bodies, the other conveniently at the killer’s campsite in the hills. Thus yet another link between the campsite in the hills and the killer.
When the police found the campsite in the hills, there was no piece of ripped tent found, such as had gone missing a few days before the crime from Tent 5. This missing 4 to 5 foot piece of tent was one of the mysteries of the preceding week. A few days before the murders one of the tents in Kiowa was found to have a piece ripped from it.What for?
From start to finish we have a complex chain of events which cannot simply be explained as the result of an impulsive act. I suggest to you that the killer had torn the 4 to 5 foot piece off the tent days before to use as a hobo knapsack. After the murder he knew he would have to abandon the area. He returns from his bloody act to his campsite in the hills, he loads up what he has, including the beer, in the piece of tent, ties it up and leaves.
How far someone without a car thought he could go with all this I do not know. But the chain of events indicates the murders were preplanned, though without any announced purpose. The killer left and got away. The escape was no doubt preplanned as well.
Gene Hart was associated with the killer’s hillside campsite because a Cherokee law enforcement officer said the signs around the campfire indicate Cherokee signs. Gene Hart was a Cherokee. Photos were found at the campsite, folded and tossed aside on grass, wet from the rain. Thus they had been tossed aside before the killer even went to the farmhouse. These photos were linked to Gene Hart through an extraordinary claim. The claim was made that they were wedding pictures he had taken in prison in 1969, while serving a sentence for rape. Yet this proved doubtful. How did he keep them with him all those years. Moreover, why? The Sheriff testified that when Hart was transferred to another jail in 1973 he basically came with the shirt on his back. No pictures are in the records as being in his possession. He had taken many photos while in jail. Why should he have kept these for 8 years?
Gene Hart was loose at the time of the murders and on the hideout because he had broken out of jail and was a renegade. When he was finally captured he was living in the wilds and with Cherokee friends in outback cabins who protected him.
At the trial it was becoming increasingly difficult to link the popular Gene Hart with the campsite and therewith the murders. He was found not guilty. Thus the Camp Scott murders are officially “unsolved.”
I have formed no opinion on Gene Hart, one way or the other. But I stress the killer had to go through a sequence of preplanning that very night and it is unlikely it was spur of the moment. The farmhouse had been robbed first. The house had been robbed before, and clearly the killer knew the things he needed and wanted were there this night. He knew the nice and very rare engineer’s tape was there. He took what he wanted, returned to his camp, bundled up his things, most likely in the torn tent flap, covered the flashlight lens with tape to soften the light, marched off to Kiowa at Camp Scott, bound the girls with the tape, murdered them, and got back in early dawn. He then took his goods hobo style and, remarkably, got away without ever being seen hitching a ride. Or, somehow, he now had a car.
Whether it was Gene Hart or not, this was premeditated by someone who had been stalking Camp Scott from that hillside camp for months, left that note Michelle Hoffman found the previous April, had previously robbed the farmhouse for necessities, knew therewith the tape and flashlight were there for tonight’s bloody deed.
Gene Hart had a peculiar penchant to take women’s glasses and even wear them. One of Camp Kiowa’s counselor’s glasses was found in the abandoned hillside camp. This too linked Gene Hart with Kiowa and with the murders. However, the defense attorney had muddied the water enough so that the jury believed evidence was planted. It did seem suspicious that the killer would steal 2 pairs of glasses, leave one by the bodies and one up in the campsite, to create an easy link. For someone who had to go through the preceding planning to prepare for the opening night murders, it does seem odd they should carry a pair of glasses back with them just to leave them before trundling off with their hobo knapsack of beer and other goodies.
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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.