Girl Scouts no longer squeal with excitement as they hop off buses at the Camp Scott Lodge deep in the Mayes County woods. Their giggles no longer spill from canvas tents. Splashing at the camp pool ceased long ago. The joy and laughter at Camp Scott ended 30 years ago. All that remains now are a few gutted buildings ravaged by time and heavily wooded trails haunted by the memory of three stolen souls. On the hot, sticky morning of June 13, 1977, campers were awakened by the horrified screams of a counselor who discovered the bloodied bodies of three children. The girls — Lori Lee Farmer, 8, of Tulsa; Michelle Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow; and Doris Denise Milner, 10, of Tulsa — had been abducted from their tents in the night and murdered. Their small bodies were found bloodied, bound and stuffed inside their sleeping bags 140 yards from their tent on the western edge of the camp. No one has been convicted of the crimes.
Ghostly remainsCamp Scott closed the day after the murders and has never reopened. Today, the deeply rutted dirt road — once named "Cookie Trail” — drifts into the dense woods and ends at the ghostly remains of the camp lodge. Screenless, wood-framed doors flap in the wind at the lodge entrances where excited girls once found refuge from a thunderstorm on the first day of camp in 1977. A lone picnic table sits in the shadow of a blackened stone fireplace, perhaps just as it did 30 years ago. Outside, weeds have overtaken the now empty cement pool. And if pieces of the wooden tent platforms remain, they have long been swallowed by the dense overgrowth of the woods. The laughter of children, heard for nearly 50 years, is gone. Quiet relents only for the wind.
‘One of us was missing'The last time Sheri Farmer saw her daughter alive, Lori smiled and waved from a bus window as it departed for Camp Scott. Sheri and Charles Farmer of Tulsa have lived the last 30 years without their oldest child, a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who protected her four younger siblings. "Recently, we had the entire family here,” Sheri Farmer said this week in the sunroom of her Tulsa home. "Our youngest daughter, Kali, just gave birth to her first child, and our grandson, Chase, just graduated from high school. We had a lot to celebrate. "We were all here together, and yet we weren't all here. One of us was missing.” Since then, Farmer has been haunted by her daughter's final moments in the presence of one or more of her killers. "Lori had two decks of cards she took with her to camp,” Farmer recalled. "One deck was found neat and in its case. The other deck had been strewn all over her sleeping bag. I imagine she was a bit nervous and excited by her first night at camp and probably couldn't sleep. She must have had her flashlight out and was playing solitaire when the killer came into the tent. "I know she was so scared.” After the initial shock and suffering, family life without Lori required adjustments. Joli Beasley was only 5 when her oldest sister was murdered. Beasley, now 35, clings to the handful of memories of Lori, like the time when her older sister helped her down from a tree. She can't forget the stigma of living in the shadow of a famous murder. "We were always known as the kids who were related to ‘that Farmer girl who was murdered at that Girl Scouts camp,'” Beasley said. The Farmer children weren't spared cruel playground whispers. "Lori always had darker hair than the rest of us,” she said. "And we would hear things like, ‘Their mother bleaches their hair so it doesn't remind her of the daughter who was killed,' or how we kept a shrine in our house to Lori ... just crazy stuff. "But those were the perceptions, even though none of it was true.” As a parent, painful choices had to be made. "I remember wondering how to answer someone who asked how many children I had,” said Sheri Farmer, now 61 and the founder of the Oklahoma chapter for Parents of Murdered Children. "Do I say four? Do I say five? Do I explain? Then one day I was stopped in a store and a woman said, ‘Oh, you have such beautiful children. How many do you have?' I said, ‘Four.' "And one of the younger ones said, ‘No Mommy, you forgot Lori.' So I had my answer. "From that day on I always said five.” Lori was murdered five days before her ninth birthday, and she was buried days before Father's Day. "So we deal with those dates in the same week every year,” Farmer said. "We changed as a family the day Lori was murdered.” Misty Coates, the second-oldest of the Farmer children, shared a room with Lori. After her sister's death, Misty never slept in that room. "People would often say to Misty, ‘Oh, so you're the oldest?'” Sheri Farmer said. "Misty would always say, ‘No, I'm the second-oldest. Lori is the oldest.'” Beasley is awestruck by her parents' strength. "My parents are heroes,” Beasley said. "As a parent, I now look back and wonder how they did what they did. It was never like they had lost one daughter, and so they forgot about the rest of us. "We've always lived life to the fullest.”
Moving forwardSleeping bags and summer camps were taboo in the Farmer household. "We never had sleeping bags,” Beasley recalled. "But once my mother and father did let us girls go to a gymnastics camp. I remember them checking the locks on the dorm door and then leaving. "Looking back now, I can't imagine what that ride home must have been like for them.” Beasley relives her mother's nightmares as her own three children grow. Last year, she stared at the demons of her own past and sent her two oldest sons — Joshua, 12, and Luke, 10 — to a Christian summer camp. This year, her daughter Anna Kate will stay for two weeks. Anna Kate is 8 years old — the same age as her aunt Lori when she left for camp in 1977. "Waving to them as the bus pulls away was tough,” Beasley said, crying. "Now I can imagine how my mother must have felt. That was the last time she saw Lori alive — waving to her with her little hand from the window of the bus.” But Beasley refuses to be bound by fear. "Camp, to me, is holy ground. And when I send my kids to camp, they receive blessings. If I don't send them, they are robbed of those blessings. When they go to camp, we are triumphant over evil.”
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Timeline•June 13, 1977: Lori Farmer, 8, Michele Guse, 9, and Denise Milner, 10, are found dead by a counselor at the Camp Scott Girl Scout camp. Investigators later determine that each girl was sexually molested. The camp, operated by the Magic Empire of Girl Scouts since 1928, closes the next day and never reopens. •June 23, 1977: Gene Leroy "Sonny” Hart is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Hart, who has two rape convictions, escaped from the Mayes County jail four years earlier and had been at large ever since. One of the largest manhunts in state history follows, involving more than 400 law enforcement agents. •April 6, 1978: Nearly 10 months after the manhunt begins, Hart is arrested 50 miles from the camp. •March 5, 1979: Jury selection in Hart's trial begins in Mayes County. It takes 10 days to seat a jury. •March 19, 1979: Opening statements begin, 20 months and 19 days after the crime is committed. •March 29, 1979: The jury takes six hours to acquit Hart. Hart returns to jail to finish 305 years left on his previous convictions. •June 4, 1979: Hart dies of an apparent heart attack while jogging in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.