Kristin Chenoweth reveals connection to Girl Scout Murders in new doc: 'It haunts me every day'

·6 min read

Even after 45 years, Kristin Chenoweth remains haunted by one of the most horrific murder cases in her home state's history.

"This is a story I wish I never had to tell. It haunts me every day," Chenoweth says in the trailer for the upcoming series "Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders."

"But this story, it needs to be told."

As the 45th anniversary of the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders approaches, the Tony- and Emmy-winning performer is appearing in a new four-part streaming documentary in which she opens up about her ties to the tragedy.

In June 1977, three Girl Scouts — Lori Lee Farmer, 8, and Doris Denise Milner, 10, both of Tulsa, and Michele Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow — were murdered on the first night of a weeklong camping trip at Camp Scott near Locust Grove.

"As a Girl Scout, I loved going to camp. The friendships that I made, they were like my sisters. I never once thought anything bad could happen, but I came to learn what murder was. ... I remember, I should have been on that trip. But I had gotten sick, and Mom said, 'You can't go,'" Chenoweth, 53, recalls in the "Keeper of the Ashes" trailer.

"It has stuck with me my whole life: I could have been one of them."

Kristin Chenoweth receives the Oklahoma Cultural Ambassador award at the Governor's Arts Awards for Excellence in the Arts at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 9, 2021.
Kristin Chenoweth receives the Oklahoma Cultural Ambassador award at the Governor's Arts Awards for Excellence in the Arts at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

When and where can people watch Hulu's 'Keeper of the Ashes?'

All four episodes of “Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders” begin streaming May 24 on Hulu.

The series will delve into the lasting effect the murders have had on those close to the tragedy, the details of the manhunt for and trial of the alleged killer and the mysteries that persist surrounding the harrowing case.

The documentary also will chronicle how Oklahoma investigators recently reopened the case and used the latest forensic technology to comb through the evidence left behind.

Artist Harvey Pratt, left, is given flowers for his wife by Tom Kuker during Pratt's retirement celebration on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Okla.  At center are Sheri and Dr. Charles Farmer, parents of Girl Scout Murder victim Laurie Lee Farmer. The longtime OSBI forensic artist, Pratt retired in 2017 after 50 years in law enforcement.
Artist Harvey Pratt, left, is given flowers for his wife by Tom Kuker during Pratt's retirement celebration on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Okla. At center are Sheri and Dr. Charles Farmer, parents of Girl Scout Murder victim Laurie Lee Farmer. The longtime OSBI forensic artist, Pratt retired in 2017 after 50 years in law enforcement.

Who will be featured in the docuseries 'Keeper of the Ashes'?

Along with Chenoweth, "Keeper of the Ashes" will include interviews with Bettye Milner, the mother of Doris Denise Milner; Sheri Farmer and Bo Farmer, the parents of Lori Farmer and founders of the Oklahoma chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, who have worked with authorities on behalf of their daughter over the last four and a half decades to keep the case active; Carla Wilhite, a camp counselor on duty the night of the murders; and Sheryl Stokes, Lori Farmer's childhood friend and a senior family advocate specialist at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who helped retest key evidence after it had spent decades in storage.

The series also will feature Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed, who reopened the case in 2016 and is investigating it using new DNA technology; Garvin Isaacs, co-lead defense counsel for Gene Leroy "Sonny” Hart, who was tried for and acquitted of the murders; and others who were involved in the case.

Cheyenne-Arapaho artist Harvey Pratt, a forensic artist and former agent who retired from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 2017 after a more than 50-year career in law enforcement, is shown in the trailer recalling that "I went to my medicine man (and) I had him bless my bullets" while working the case.

"That was true," Pratt told The Oklahoman, part of The USA TODAY Network. "There's not too many of us around anymore. There's a few that worked on that case. But it's been 45 years. It's been a long time."

In 1977, Pratt was still an OSBI agent and had not yet shifted into his longtime role as the agency's forensic artist. He has recalled camping out for a month in the Cookson Hills of Cherokee County doing interviews during the manhunt that followed the murders.

Since, Pratt said he has been interviewed several times about the case, which has haunted most everyone involved in it. Over the decades, he has kept close ties with the Farmers, who attended his OSBI retirement party in 2017.

"I worked 5,000 cases just in forensics ... but people ask me about it all the time," Pratt said. "Honestly, I feel like we had the right guy."

Officers enter private property near Locust Grove while searching for a suspect in the Camp Scott girl scout murders. From negative envelope dated June 20th through the 27th, 1977. Staff Photo by Paul Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Officers enter private property near Locust Grove while searching for a suspect in the Camp Scott girl scout murders. From negative envelope dated June 20th through the 27th, 1977. Staff Photo by Paul Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Girl Scout Murders remain shrouded in mystery

On June 12, 1977, nearly 140 Girl Scouts arrived at the heavily wooded Camp Scott for summer sleepaway camp. The Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts had owned the sprawling property since 1928, and weeklong campouts there had become a favorite tradition.

That night, a killer cut into the tent occupied by Lori, Doris Denise and Michele. A camp counselor found their molested, beaten and strangled bodies stuffed inside sleeping bags outside their tent at 6 a.m. June 13, 1977.

Camp Scott closed the day after the murders, never to reopen again.

A convicted rapist and escapee from the Mayes County jail, Hart was charged with the murders on June 20, 1977.

After the largest manhunt in state history, Hart was arrested by the OSBI 10 months later on April 6, 1978, in a remote house in the Cookson Hills, 50 miles from the camp.

Opening statements in Hart's emotionally charged trial began on March 19, 1979. After nine long days of testimony, he was acquitted of murder. But he was returned to prison to finish the 305 years left on his previous convictions of burglary and raping two pregnant women.

Hart, 35, died of a heart attack on June 4, 1979, while jogging inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Officers gather near Locust Grove while searching for a suspect in the Camp Scott girl scout murders. From negative envelope dated June 20th through the 27th, 1977. Staff Photo by Paul Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Officers gather near Locust Grove while searching for a suspect in the Camp Scott girl scout murders. From negative envelope dated June 20th through the 27th, 1977. Staff Photo by Paul Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Kirstin Chenoweth says series' goal is 'to find answers once and for all'

The Girl Scout Murders took place nearly a decade before authorities began using DNA testing in forensic science.

In 1989, DNA testing linked Hart to the murders, but could not conclusively determine whether he was the killer.

By the time the case had marked its 40th anniversary in 2017, Reed, the Mayes County sheriff, had set out to have more DNA testing done. After funding from a federal grant for testing ran out, Reed and one of his officers raised about $30,000 from private donations.

Although still officially inconclusive, Reed recently told the Tulsa World that the latest DNA testing strongly points to Hart’s involvement and eliminates several other possible suspects.

“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," he told the Tulsa World.

In the "Keeper of the Ashes" trailer, Chenoweth, who was recently named Oklahoma Cultural Ambassador, says finding answers motivated her to return to her home state and be involved in the docuseries.

"This happened. There's no closure. There's no pretty red bow at the end," she says. "When I think of those three girls, I wonder what's the best way to honor them. That's why I've come back home: to find answers once and for all."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Kristin Chenoweth reveals connection to Girl Scout Murders in Hulu doc