Camp Scott, Part 1

One of the reasons I created this site was to clear up misconceptions about Sid. Although Sid has been in the news many times for many reasons, people mainly remember him in connection with the Camp Scott murder investigation. In that context, what I’ve read about him in books and online is almost universally negative, and the statements are often incorrect or misleading. I’ve put this off for a long time, but it’s time I said something about Camp Scott.

Camp Scott was a Girl Scout camp in Mayes County, Oklahoma. In 1977, three Girl Scouts were raped and murdered there. Sid was the district attorney, so he helped investigate and prosecute the case. In court, the defendant was found not guilty, so people generally refer to the crimes as “unsolved” or a “cold case.”

Forty years later, the case is still on people’s minds. Compared to other horrific crimes, these murders felt closer to home for many people, especially other Girl Scouts. Many women feel that they could easily have been among the victims. Some believe they were supposed to be in the tent that night but escaped by chance.

The suspect’s acquittal leaves many armchair detectives wondering who really killed those girls, how many perpetrators there were, and if they might someday be brought to justice. Some of these sleuths work diligently to learn real facts about the case, such as the people who scanned and published the pretrial hearing transcripts. Others simply recycle rumors and casually name suspects. The sleuths mean well, and I appreciate their concern for justice. However, I think many of them are playing telephone with the facts, repeating information without knowing where it came from or how it got altered along the way.

In often-repeated versions of the Camp Scott story, the investigators and prosecutors are inept and corrupt. In these versions, Sheriff Pete Weaver has a grudge against an innocent man (I’m using the word “innocent” loosely here), and Sid Wise is a bumbling prosecutor who thinks he can get fame and fortune out of the case.

Not surprisingly, I have a very different view. I don’t think the case is unsolved, I don’t think Pete and Sid were inept, and I certainly don’t think they were corrupt. I’ll give you my version of the story and try to correct some misinformation.

If you’re one of the sleuths — and if you’re reading this, you probably are — I hope these posts will give you some new things to think about. This won’t all be about Sid; I’ll include some details that don’t often get covered elsewhere.

Two weeks before the camping season began, Camp Director Barbara Day visited the police in Locust Grove, a small town near Camp Scott. She asked whom she should call if there was an emergency, such as a fire, at the camp. Back then, you couldn’t just call 911. They told her the fastest thing to do would be to call the Oklahoma Highway Patrol dispatcher in Vinita.

The week before the camp opened, Sid attended a meeting of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association in Tulsa. Although he had only been a district attorney for two and a half years, Sid was the president of the association. He was well-known for combatting drug abuse and organized crime, and he was often asked to speak at conferences in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

As the district attorneys checked out of the Tulsa Hilton on Saturday, famous golfers were checking in. The U.S. Open would be a few days later at Southern Hills Country Club. Reporters converged on Tulsa for the golf championship — ABC used 30 cameras to cover it. This may be one reason why three murders in rural Oklahoma would soon be international news.

On Sunday, Girl Scouts and their parents arrived at the council headquarers in Tulsa, where the girls would board buses to go to Camp Scott. Two of the youngest campers, Michelle Guse (pronounced “goo-say”) and Lori Farmer, introduced themselves to each other. Lori’s parents had to leave before the buses arrived, so Michelle’s parents looked after both of them.

The buses arrived, and the campers piled onto them. They left the city and were soon among the ranches, farms, and forests of northeastern Oklahoma. They followed the old State Highway 33, a narrow and crowded road that has since been replaced by US 412. They went through the tiny town of Chouteau and a rural intersection that locals knew as Sam’s Corner, named for a store that was long gone. They turned south at Locust Grove and soon rolled into Camp Scott.

The camp counselors were already at the camp, where they had been training for a week. They met the campers and divided them into groups of 25 to 28 girls, using lists made ahead of time. Each group headed off to a different part of the camp. The youngest campers, including Lori and Michelle, followed three counselors to the Kiowa Unit.

When they reached the Kiowa Unit, the campers chose which tents they wanted to sleep in.  Michelle and Lori ended up in a tent that was set off a bit from the rest of the unit, near the edge of Camp Scott. Another camper, Denise Milner, joined them. The tent was made for four people, but one bunk was empty.

The three girls happened to be a cross-section of Tulsans. Denise was the only black camper at Camp Scott, and she lived on the north side of Tulsa — the bad side, where “The Outsiders” was set. Her parents were divorced, her mother was a “domestic” (an underpaid housekeeper), and her grandmother helped raise her. Her father was a Tulsa cop. Michelle lived in Broken Arrow, a growing, middle-class suburb. Her parents were a department store credit manager and a high school math teacher. Lori’s father was a doctor, and she lived in an affluent neighborhood on the south side of Tulsa.

Station Wagon Bombs

According to Sid, I almost got blown up by a car bomb when I was three or four years old.

At that time, Sid was the district attorney for three counties in northeastern Oklahoma. He had campaigned in 1974 on an anti-corruption platform. He took on the so-called “Dixie Mafia,” a loosely-organized, interstate community of criminals. It was a dangerous time to take a public stance against organized crime.

In 1969, young Angie Bliss and her cousin, Becca, were playing with Suzie Homemaker ovens in the Blisses’ garage. Angie’s father, Bill, started his pickup truck and detonated a bomb. The three were injured but survived. Bill was an assistant district attorney in Cherokee County, next to Sid’s future district.

A year later, Judge Fred Nelson of the Tulsa County District Court started his station wagon and set off another bomb. It was primary election day, and he was on his way to vote for himself. Like the others, he was injured but survived. As far as anyone knows, the motive for the bombing was to help his primary opponent get elected.

A grand jury convened to consider two suspects, Albert McDonald and Tom Pugh, in Judge Nelson’s bombing. One of the witnesses was Cleo Epps, commonly known as the Bootleg Queen, who had once almost married McDonald. She testified in secret while wearing a wig. She said McDonald and Pugh had come to her ranch to ask for dynamite, which she used for blowing up stumps, and she had given it to them. The Bootleg Queen and another witness, Arles Delbert Self, were soon dead. McDonald and Pugh were never tried for bombing the judge, but they were convicted for murdering the witnesses.

A year after that, another pickup truck exploded, killing 28-year-old kindergarten teacher Fern Bolding and sending her remains into a neighbor’s yard. The bomb was meant for Fern’s husband, Don, who was scheduled to testify in a car theft case.

The suspect in the car theft case was Rex Brinlee, who had also been a suspect in the Bliss bombing. Brinlee had a career of diverse criminal enterprises. In the ’60s, he was suspected of using a small plane to case out farms and plan thefts in Mayes County. He was convicted of cattle rustling but got off on a technicality. At that time, he wore a belt buckle that read “Mayes County Flying Bandit.” He had since moved to Cherokee County, where he owned several businesses and threatened people.

Don Bolding, undeterred by his wife’s murder, testified against Brinlee, who was convicted of the car theft.

Brinlee was also charged in Fern Bolding’s death. Soon after that, there were death threats all around. Reporters, the sheriff, the wife of a juror, and Bill Bliss, who was now a judge, received them. Brinlee had a dispute with a propane dealer and hinted that one of the dealer’s tanks might explode.

Brinlee was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. While he was still in the courthouse, he swung at reporter Mike Miller, who ducked, and hit cameraman Richard Wilson.

In prison, Brinlee made it clear that he had connections to the Dixie Mafia on the outside. He somehow acquired a gun. He escaped twice, but he got caught both times.

It was in this environment that Sid, who had arrived in Mayes County shortly after the Flying Bandit left, decided to take on organized crime.

According to Sid, he was giving a lecture in Tulsa when an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) agent interrupted and took him aside. The agent explained that they had picked up someone who was transporting a bomb. The bomb was intended for Sid’s car. They had reason to believe that the suspect had made two bombs, and the other bomb was already in Carol’s (my mother’s) station wagon. The OSBI agent told Sid not to call Carol, but instead to go home and make sure she didn’t start the car.

I’m not clear on the details or the rationale. Maybe they wanted to warn Carol but just hadn’t gotten in touch with her yet. In any case, Sid put a magnetic cop light on his car and drove home at eighty miles per hour. He says he arrived at the same time as the sheriff’s deputies, and he told Carol just to stay inside and not worry about what they were doing in the driveway.

I was too young to remember any of this, but my oldest sister says Sid had a new ritual after the bomb scare. Before the family got in the car, we would stand in the front yard while he checked for bombs. If he had ever inadvertently set off a bomb during his inspection, we would have all been there to see it happen.

Hart’s Pretrial Transcripts

I’m posting the transcripts of the preliminary hearing in The State of Oklahoma vs. Gene Leroy Hart.

A while back, two of the regulars at girlscoutmurders.yuku.com raised money and went to a lot of trouble to get these transcripts, scan them, and post them online.  Their websites, girlscoutmurders.com and campscottmurders.com, both seem to be gone now.  I’m posting the transcripts here because they don’t appear to be available anywhere else.

Thanks, betrumka and SKAB, for making these available.

 

Heroin Aviation

If you’re a smuggler with an airplane, and you want to move heroin from Mexico to Chicago or New York, you need to refuel somewhere along the way. A dark cornfield in northeastern Oklahoma might be just the place for clandestine refueling, if you plan ahead.

Sheriff Weaver and Sid were alarmed when kids in Mayes County started turning up with heroin instead of pot. Sid and Pete had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Sid was a pilot, and Pete Weaver was omniscient in Mayes County.

“We relied on informants to tell us where they were at, or we would fly. You’d see a corn field or a wheat field where they had obviously cut an airstrip.” The smugglers were flying twin-engine planes, generally Beechcraft. “They had to have a landing spot ’cause that’s when their fuel would run out. They would make arrangements for somebody to meet them.”

Sid was hanging out at the sheriff’s office when one of the deputies called Pete on the radio. “We’re sittin’ there pickin’ our nose and whittlin’ when this deputy calls in,” says Sid.  The deputy was at the small airport outside Pryor, the small town that’s the county seat for Mayes County.

The deputy said, “Uh, a couple o’ hippy-lookin’ kids just put 250 gallons of aviation fuel into barrels in the back of this van. Is there any law against that?”

Pete looked at Sid, and Sid said, “Not a thing in the world.”

Pete asked the deputy if the van had placards for flammable cargo. The deputy said no. “Does it have any kind of fire extinguishers in it?”

“I didn’t see nothin, Sheriff.”

“You stop ‘em.”

Along with the fuel, the hippies had two hand pumps and hoses.

Sid says, “So he brings these two kids into the sheriff’s office, and they’re tremblin’ in their boots. Of course, we didn’t have a thing in the world on them. You know, they were just innocent drivers of a van. And when you walk into the sheriff’s office, there in front of you is the dispatcher, i.e. booking agent. So Pete just went like this, and the kids walked up there, and he says, ‘Empty your pockets.’ And of course, in their pockets was a diagram of the landing field.” On the same piece of paper were instructions to cut the wires on their brake lights so they wouldn’t be seen.

Pretty soon, a lawyer showed up. “Boy, I mean the Mafia worked quick. By the time we got one of ‘em in the office to try to visit with him, there was a lawyer walking in the front door, says, ‘I’m here representing a couple of my clients that you’re holding without charges, and I demand you release them immediately.’ We said, ‘Well, we’re not holding them. They’re right here. We’re just visitin’ with ‘em.’”

Pete and Sid didn’t catch the smugglers, who presumably found another airstrip and a stealthier pit crew.

Speaking of himself in third person, Sid says, “Of course, the reason this was uppermost in Sid’s mind, and had been for a couple o’ years, was that anytime you would capture something like that — confiscate it — it became sheriff’s property. Sid would have a twin-engine Beech in his collection.”

I asked if he had a twin-engine pilot, since he wasn’t qualified to fly twins himself. “I’d be one pretty quick. Oh, damn!”

Fishing for Drugs

When Sid was a district attorney, he had a police radio in his pickup truck. He would often talk on it with Sheriff Pete Weaver, his friend and crime-fighting companion.

“And of course, that was the occupation for every farmer. You’re out there ridin’ a combine or a tractor, and you had earphones on and you were listening to the scanner, police scanner. You knew when ambulances went out, and you knew what people Sid was talkin’ about.”

One Friday at the office, Pete told Sid he had a tip about a drug delivery. “We knew who was making it and who they were making it to, and it was going to be at the dam. I said, ‘Well, dammit, we don’t know when it’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna destroy our weekends.’”

Pete said, “That’s alright. My weekend is taken up. Whaddo you plan to do?”

“Well, I was gonna take Carol and the kids to the cabin this weekend.”

“Go ahead,” said Pete. “You go on to the cabin, and you can contact me and ask me about what’s goin’ on over at the dam.”

When I was a kid, I loved going to our cabin, which was at a place called Cedar Crest.  We would row our little boat, or walk down to the Swimming Hole, or just hang around the cabin playing board games and stuff. I had no idea what else was going on while we were there.

During this trip, unbeknownst to me, Dad was occasionally going out to his truck to talk to Pete, who had deputies staking out the dam.

“I’d say, ‘D.A. 1 to Mayes County 1.’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah, Sid.’ And I’d say, ‘Any activity down there, fishin’ at the dam?’ He said, ‘Not a sign. We haven’t gotten a bite.’”

It doesn’t seem especially stealthy, but they kept it up all weekend.

“Not bitin’ yet?”

“No.”

“Whaddya think?”

“I think we oughtta leave the bait out there just a little longer and see what happens.”

Naturally, a lot of people overheard this on their scanners. To all appearances, the D.A. and the sheriff were spending a great deal of time fishing and talking about it on the radio.

I asked if they caught the drug runners. He said, “They had excellent communications, too.”

On another occasion, drug dealers made sure to let law enforcement know how good their communications were.

“One time, we had a raid to go on, and we had highway patrol and deputies and all kinds, and we all met a mile or so away… We parked the cars and went on the raid, and there wadn’ a damn thing. Nothing. I mean, it was clean as a whistle.”

When Sid and the cops got back to their cars, the state trooper yelled, “Somebody’s been under my hood!” His hood was open, and his windows were open a little bit. Of course, everyone was worried that there might be a bomb in the car. It turned out there was no bomb — the drug dealers just wanted to let the cops know they had been there.

“Oh, they were ornery,” says Sid.

You can smoke it, but don’t eat it.

I was three years old when my father was elected district attorney. Some of my earliest memories are of courthouses and law enforcement officers. One of the adults I remember fondly from back then is Pete Weaver, who was the sheriff of Mayes County at that time.

Sheriff Weaver was a smart and streetwise man who had served in Burma during World War II. From what I can gather, he knew pretty much everything there was to know about Mayes County and its rural underworld.

Pete and Sid were inseparable. While other men might go bowling or fishing, Pete and Sid’s favorite pastime was chasing drug dealers and pot farmers.

When I was about five, we had a big cannabis plant in our house for a while.  It was evidence for a trial, and of course it would die if they put it in the evidence locker, so somebody had to take care of it.  I didn’t understand what it was, but I knew my parents thought the plant was funny, because for some reason people weren’t supposed to have this kind of plant.

On one occasion, Pete got a tip that somebody was growing pot in the woods, where it wasn’t visible from the air.

“We had snitches who would go out and check. And sure enough, in a week or two, the people that had it had cut the marijuana and kinda bundled it and put it up to dry and were gonna come back and get it. So then we staked out that treed area and caught the guys that were doin’ it, and then of course we had to have a photo op. And we brought all this in and piled it up… And so, boy, we made the front page.

“And so we sent it off to the Crime Bureau [the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI], and the Crime Bureau came back and said, ‘That’s not marijuana.’ We said, ‘It looks like marijuana, it has all the leaves like marijuana — we know what marijuana looks like.’”

In fact, the would-be pot farmers had inadvertently grown hemlock, the stuff that Socrates drank. Smoking hemlock isn’t especially harmful, unless you’re a grower with disappointed customers. But if you eat it — in brownies, for example — it will kill you.

For the growers who got caught, it was lucky they were botanically challenged. It turned out they hadn’t committed the crime they thought they had committed.

On the other hand, Pete and Sid were afraid some hemlock might have hit the street. Embarrassed, they had to go back to the newspaper and explain that they didn’t really have a big pot bust after all, and that people shouldn’t eat what they smoke.

Milking the Brahma Mama

In 1974, Sid got elected as the district attorney for three counties in northeastern Oklahoma. He defeated the previous D.A., Bob Vinzant, in a close race.

Soon after the election, there was a rodeo in Rogers County, the county where Bob Vinzant lived. Somebody had the idea to invite Sid and his staff to participate in one of the less prestigious events in the rodeo, the wild cow milking contest.

As Sid tells it, “They would bring these humpback… what do you call the cows that are so mean? Brahma. They would bring in brahma cows, ’cause they had to have cows to produce those calves. So they had these brahma mamas, who were meaner than shit. They weighed a thousand pounds. And so they would have a brahma milking contest. And they’d bring one o’ those brahma ladies out with a rope around its neck, and then hand you a paper cup, and it was up to you to figure out… with two of you, one holdin’ the rope and one underneath. And they had a clock goin’ — how long it’d take for ya to get a little milk outta this damn brahma cow.”

I asked if they cared how much milk you got. “Oh, any amount would do. God, if you had any, you were the winner.”

The organizers invited Sid because, as he puts it, they didn’t give a shit about him. “So they came in, and really, you could just see the guilt in their eyes, and they said, ‘We want to invite you — and we’re so excited that you’ve been elected district attorney. We haven’t had a chance to meet you yet.’ So they explained the contest in detail, you know, to the city boy. And I said, ‘Oh, we’d be pleased to.’”

Rather than milking the cow himself, Sid delegated the task to two members of his new staff.  Apparently, the organizers didn’t realize how much rodeo expertise was in the district attorney’s office.

The district investigator, J.B. Hamby, was an imposing man who had a reputation at the rodeo. Supposedly, he had stopped riding bulls because he broke them, literally. He was a former deputy sheriff who would later become the police chief in the town of Catoosa. He died in a gunfight in Catoosa, and he is fondly remembered to this day.

When Hamby faced the brahma mama, he was with a coworker who had lower standards of virtue. I’m not sure what his job was or what his name was, but Sid calls him Nipshit.

“If there was an illegal way to do it, he’d rather do it that way. He wanted to know if I’d like to have a fish fry for the offices. I said, ‘That would be nice.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll furnish the fish if you wanna grill ‘em.’ And by God, he came up with all these beautiful fish. Somebody later told me that the way he fished — you know the crank in an old telephone? Well, that’s a generator. He would go out in a wooden boat — fiberglass or wood — and he’d put the two wires in there and then crank like hell, and stunned fish would come floatin’ up. You pick the good ones, leave the rest, and they’ll shake it off and go back to swimmin’ again.”

Nipshit, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, also had rodeo experience. He was a former president of the Junior Rodeo Association. According to Sid, Nipshit was also a great-nephew of the famous humorist Will Rogers, who was himself a son of the county’s namesake.

When Investigator Hamby and Nipshit went out with their paper cup, they knew what they were doing. “The two of them went out, and the crowd all cheered, and I mean, in a matter of seconds, they had milk in the cup. And they won this great big trophy.”

From then on, if you walked into the Rogers County courthouse and went to the district attorney’s office, the first thing you’d see was the brahma-mama-milking trophy.

As it turned out, Nipshit’s milking technique was just as shady as his fishing. “Years later, I learned that Nipshit had a mouthful of milk. And while he was under there, he spit the milk into the cup.”