One night in June 1977, what was supposed to be a fun camping trip for a Girl Scout group turned deadly when three young girls turned up dead. Hulu’s four-part docuseries ‘Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders’ delves into the enduring tale of this challenging case and the person who remained the prime suspect despite an acquittal, Gene Leroy “Sonny” Hart. So, if you’re curious to find out what happened to him, we’ve got you covered.
Who Was Gene Leroy “Sonny” Hart?
On June 12, 1977, a group of Girl Scouts headed out to Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, for a two-week summer camp. An exciting first night for the 140 scouts turned into a terrifying ordeal the following morning with the discovery of three dead bodies — 8-year-old Lori Lee Farmer, 9-year-old Michele Heather Guse, and 10-year-old Doris Denise Milner. The trio was assigned to sleep in tent 8 of the Kiowa Unit.
At around 1:30 am on June 13, Carla Sue Wilhite, a camp counselor, heard moaning sounds and checked it out. While it was close to tent 8, she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and went back to her tent. About an hour and a half later, a girl in another unit heard a scream, and another from a different unit thought she heard Lori scream for her mother. At around 6 am, Carla found three sleeping bags laid out about 150 yards from tent 8, and she made the gruesome discovery.
Lori, Michele, and Denise were murdered. While Lori and Michelle died of blunt force trauma, Denise was strangled to death in addition to a blow to her head. It was then confirmed that the girls were sexually molested. At the crime scene, the authorities found a roll of duct tape that was used on the girls and a flashlight. A newspaper was jammed into the flashlight to keep the batteries from rattling, and the light itself was covered with masking tape.
Once the authorities looked into parolees and outpatients with a history of such crimes, they were led to Gene Leroy “Sonny” Hart; his mother lived close to the campsite. Quickly, Sonny floated right to the top of the suspect list. A Cherokee Indian raised by his mother, he was seen as a talented football player while in high school before losing his way to crime. In June 1966, Sonny kidnapped two pregnant women from the parking lot of a nightclub in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Sonny eventually confessed to the kidnap in addition to raping and sodomizing the women and was sentenced to three concurrent 10-year terms. However, he was released on parole after only 28 months. Then, Sonny began burglarizing homes and was arrested on his fourth such burglary. Given that he was on parole, the court sentenced him to over 300 years behind bars. In 1973, Sonny was transferred to a county jail in Pryor, Oklahoma, and he escaped from there, remaining at large until after the Girl Scout murders.
A few days after the three girls were killed, hunters came across a cave about three miles from the campsite. It seemed like someone lived inside, leading to a call to the police. The authorities found a newspaper that was of the exact date and edition as the one found at the crime scene. Then, a pair of sunglasses were identified as the ones a camp counselor had lost. Furthermore, photographs of two women were located, and it seemed that Sonny developed them during his time at a Granite reformatory.
However, catching Sonny was more difficult than anticipated. There was a note written on the wall of the cave that said, “The killer was here. Bye bye fools.” Not just that, Sonny’s loved ones believed he was innocent and helped keep him away from the police. He was ultimately arrested in April 1978 with the help of an informant. Sonny was found at a shack in Cookson Hills, Oklahoma.
How Did Gene Leroy “Sonny” Hart Die?
The authorities had seminal fluid as evidence, but this was in the pre-DNA era, and Sonny had already undergone a vasectomy by then, meaning he couldn’t have produced sperm. So, the prosecution claimed that the procedure was not entirely successful. Furthermore, Sonny’s blood type matched the semen sample, but in the end, the evidence wasn’t conclusive enough. The defense reiterated the same and pointed to other potential suspects. In March 1979, Sonny was found not guilty of the murders but was sent back to prison to serve his burglary sentence.
On June 4, 1979, he died of a heart attack due to blocked coronary arteries at the age of 35. At the time of his death, Sonny was at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Pittsburg County. There was speculation about his death, with the belief that inmates poisoned him doing the rounds. In May 2022, results of DNA testing carried out a few years prior using new techniques were made public. They showed that Sonny was the only suspect who could not be ruled out as the contributor to the semen stain found on a pillowcase inside Michele’s sleeping bag.
Read More: Where Are Sheri Farmer and Bo Farmer Now?