An unspeakable crime that occurred nearly 45 years ago in nearby Mayes County remains unsolved to this day, but some law enforcement authorities haven't given up on the case.
On June 12, 1977, 140 Girl Scouts set off to Camp Scott to spend two weeks learning about hiking, cooking, swimming, and more. But in the early morning of June 13, Camp Counselor Carla Wilhite, in the Kiowa Unit, stumbled across the bodies of three campers in Tent 8.
The girls were Michele Heather Guse, Doris Denise Milner, and Lori Lee Farmer. Local law enforcement officials were on the scene by 7:30 a.m., and now-retired Cherokee County Investigator Jack Goss was among the first to arrive.
“I did get up to the scene the day it happened because all surrounding counties were sending people to help,” said Goss.
Camp Scott was evacuated at about 10 a.m., and the campers were returned to Tulsa to their families.
Investigators initially withheld details of the crime, and Mayes County Sheriff Glen H. "Pete" Weaver believed he knew who was responsible: Gene Leroy Hart. Weaver's suspect had just escaped from jail before the murders occurred. A 10-month manhunt ensued before Hart was found hiding in a cabin in Cherokee County.
“You can imagine just how many reports of him spotted we received. He was fishing down at Etta Bend with Sam Pigeon, and we arrested Sam also and then turned him loose,” said Goss.
Hart pleaded not guilty to the murders and was on trial in March 1979, with Garvin Isaccs and Gary Pitchlynn representing him. The jury listened as the state’s case focused on hair and semen samples found on the bodies.
Dr. John MacLeod, fertility expert at Cornell University Medical Center, testified the sperm linked to Hart. Experts argued several items found in a cave a few miles away from Camp Scott were also connected to Hart. But Isaccs argued that evidence was planted to frame an “innocent man.” Both defense attorneys claimed the culprit was Kansas convict William Stevens, who was serving time for rape and kidnapping.
Jurors deliberated 10 days, and rendered a verdict sooner than anyone anticipated. On March 30, 1979, Hart was acquitted and returned to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where he collapsed and died from a heart attack just two months later.
Many long-time area residents agree with Weaver, and still believe Hart was the perpetrator. But others close to the case aren't so sure, and think there are still some area residents who may have information about what happened.
“[Weaver] locked in on Gene Leroy Hart and stayed with it,” said Goss.
Current Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault, Goss, and a ranking state-level law enforcement source closely involved with the case, say they believe the 1977 murder of Jimmy Dean Bryan may offer a lead.
According to Goss, a man named Pete Duffield called him Aug. 3, 1977, and claimed his sons, Wesley and Jessie Darryl, had killed Bryan, and that his body could be found at Eldon. Goss and then-Tahlequah Police Department Detective Darrell Scott, who later became Cherokee County sheriff, arrested Wesley the day Bryan's body was discovered. Wesley claimed Bryan had stolen marijuana from him, but then said he stole $50,000 from him, so he killed him.
During a taped interview made Dec. 4, 1990, a relative of Bryan's, Johnny Rotramel, alleged he, the Duffields, and Jimmy and Bobby Bryan were at Baron Fork Creek a few weeks after the Girl Scout murders. Rotramel told authorities the Duffield brothers had asked him who he thought killed the Girl Scouts. He said the Duffield brothers told him Hart didn’t do it, but claimed they knew who did.
Shortly afterward, Jimmy Bryan told family members the Duffield brothers were upset with him because he wanted speak with authorities. Jimmy disappeared, and the brothers' father, Pete Duffield, eventually called Goss to tell him where Jimmy's body was. Pete shot himself a few hours later.
“From an investigator's standpoint, what’s significant about that is, as near as we can tell, [the relative] had absolutely no reason to make that up,” said the source who has been close to the investigation for over 40 years. “That’s the first thing I saw that made me think there’s a story out here somewhere, and Jack and I started working on the case then.”
Mary Jane Jones was 19 years old in 1977, and she revealed information in a written statement in 2008 at the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office that suggested the Duffields might have information about the Girl Scout case. Jones approached Chennault because she said she felt the Mayes County Sheriff's Office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation wouldn't take her seriously. She also told her story to the Daily Press.
Over the years, DNA evidence from the Girl Scout murders has deteriorated, and authorities are still trying to piece together what's left. Some people have called media outlets and claimed to have committed the crime, so sifting through the material is difficult.
Chennault, Goss, and the other law enforcement source have asked that DNA samples be collected from other persons of interest. Samples were eventually collected, but the status was never disclosed to those three. Chennault pointed out that while the triple murder is a Mayes County case and not a Cherokee County one, they got involved after they learned about details they felt were too compelling to dismiss.
As for the Duffields, Wesley died in prison while serving a life sentence for the murder of Jimmy Bryan. Jessie Darryl was charged as an accessory but was never convicted. He was later convicted on charges of rape by instrumentation, and upon his release from prison in 2010, he was again arrested for failure to register as a sex offender in 2013. He was sentenced to three years to the Department of Corrections with time served, and was discharged in August 2021.
Officials have not confirmed whether the Duffields ever had information related to the Girl Scout case, and that may be difficult, since Wesley is dead. A contact number listed for Jessie Darryl, when he registered as a sex offender, is no longer in service Other numbers provided for him were also dead ends.
The next Crime Rewind: The case of NSU Professor Dr. Tiffany Maher will be detailed in the Nov. 26 TDP.