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.

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