The case against the main suspect in the 45-year-old murders of three Tulsa-area Girl Scouts is only growing stronger with time, authorities say, with DNA testing results recently made public pointing right at him again.
Gene Leroy Hart, who died in 1979 while in prison on unrelated charges, was acquitted for the slayings two years earlier of Lori Farmer, 8, Michele Guse, 9, and Denise Milner, 10, at Camp Scott near Locust Grove.
But over four decades later, the latest DNA testing in the case, although officially inconclusive, strongly suggests Hart’s involvement, officials say, while eliminating several other potential suspects.
Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed said, “Unless something new comes up, something brought to light we are not aware of, I am convinced where I’m sitting of Hart’s guilt and involvement in this case.”
Reed said the results of the DNA tests have been known since 2019, part of an effort to raise private funds from Mayes County residents to have evidence reexamined.
He didn’t go public with them, however, until asked to do so by the victims’ families as part of an upcoming ABC News documentary series about the case.
The four-part series, which will release on Hulu, is expected to premiere around the 45th anniversary of the crimes on June 13, although no official release date has been announced.
The Tulsa World also participated in the series.
Reed, who spoke at length to ABC, said the latest DNA testing resulted in several partial profiles of the killer.
No full DNA profile has ever been developed in the case, so officially the testing results are considered “inconclusive.”
But inconclusive does not mean unhelpful, Reed said, and partial profiles can be used to eliminate suspects.
Reed said authorities originally questioned over 130 potential suspects in the case, and other names have surfaced through the years.
Over time, DNA has been collected from potential suspects.
The latest testing was able to eliminate several who had not been previously eliminated, he said.
In fact, Reed added, at this point, Hart excepted, “there’s no suspect attached to this case that has not been excluded in one way or another, whether it’s DNA, whether it’s alibi, whether it’s polygraph test, whatever.”
Meanwhile, significantly, the latest testing could not eliminate Hart, whose DNA matched the partial profiles, Reed said.
One previous DNA effort, in 1989, also produced a partial profile matching Hart.
Officials said at that time that only 1 in 7,700 Native American males would have matched the profile.
Reed said the latest DNA tests most likely are the last that will be done in the case, as testable evidence has been all but exhausted.
He said you can never rule out “touch DNA” — or DNA from skin cells left behind by human contact.
But evidence collection and preservation in the 1970s was not done with the care and precision that would make touch DNA valuable in this case, he said. Every piece of evidence likely has picked up skin cells from dozens of people over the years.
Reed said the only reason he decided to relook at the decades-old case was that the families asked him to after he was elected in 2012.
He shared the DNA results with them in 2019 and only recently decided to make them public at their request.
It was also at their request that Reed, who previously declined to do interviews on the case, participated in the ABC News series.
Even without DNA, he added, the case against Hart remains rock-solid.
“Everything else that I’ve been able to see and look at and dissect points to him,” Reed said. “And that actually carries more weight for me.”
While satisfied of Hart’s guilt, he remains open to new information.
“My ears are open, and I will listen to what anybody has to say.”
A look back at the Tulsa World, Tribune archives during Girl Scout murder case
Locust Grove aerial
Girl Scouts from Camp Scott
Girl Scout murders
Girl Scouts 06131977 6
Girl Scout Murders
Girl Scouts 06131977 5
Girl scouts manhunt 06231977 2
Girl scouts manhunt 06231977 1 p
Tulsa World: June 24, 1977
Pete Weaver 1977 T p
Hart search 06241977 p
Tulsa World: April 7, 1978
April 1978 cabin T
Hart capture cabin 04061978 T p
GIRLS SCOUT MURDERS SHAFFER
Gene Hart capture 04061978 3
Gene Hart capture 04061978 1
Gene Hart capture 04061978 2
Hart capture 04061978 T p
Tulsa Tribune: April 7, 1978
Gene Hart 04071978 W p
Gene Leroy Hart escorted to his preliminary hearing
Gene LeRoy Hart, who had been acquitted of murdering three Tulsa-area Girl Scouts at Camp Scott near Locust Grove, died of a heart attack in the state penitentiary. He was serving 145 to 305 years for rape, kidnapping and burglary unrelated to the June 13, 1977, killings.