An indie film produced by an ex-con seeking to solve the cold case of the 1977 murders of three Oklahoma Girl Scouts has divided the town of Tulsa, with locals scrambling for parts in the film and law enforcement officials wary.
Not only is the film “Candles" seeking to dramatize the horrific crime, but the filmmaker claims he knows who committed the murder and will reveal who it is in the film.
The triple homicide at Camp Scott remains one of the most ghastly cases in Oklahoma history. In 1977 three young Girl Scouts -- Lori Lee Farmer, 8, Michelle Guse, 9, and Doris Denise Milner, 10 -- all occupants of tent No. 8, were raped, bludgeoned and strangled on their first night at Camp Scott summer camp on June 12.
Their bodies were left in the woods bound in rope within their sleeping bags and discovered by a camp counselor the next morning. In 1979 police arrested Gene Leroy Hart, a local prison escapee with a history of violence. He stood trial for the crime and was acquitted, later dying in prison on unrelated charges. In 2007, authorities conducted new DNA testing, but the results proved inconclusive due to deteriorated crime scene evidence.
It’s a crime that's left an indelible mark on the community, and the camp has never been re-opened.
Filmmaker John Russell claims that he encountered the real murderer while he was in prison himself for check fraud in 1978. He told FoxNews.com that the killer confessed to the Girl Scout murders in addition to several other crimes. Russell also claims he felt his life was threatened because of his knowledge of the murders for the next three decades and that he was ignored by the authorities when he tried to release the information to them 30 years ago.
The man in charge of the area where the murders took place, Mayes County Sheriff Frank Cantey, said he can’t speak to what Russell may have said to police three decades ago, but he tells FoxNews.com he hasn’t been contacted by Russell and that he knows of no harassment the filmmaker has received from the police force with regards to his claims over the Camp Scott murders. The original police officers who investigated the crimes for Mayes County are no longer with the force, Cantey said.
“I have been sheriff for 11 years and I don’t know that I have ever talked to this guy,” Cantey said. He added that his office does follow up on any credible leads regarding the three decades-old murders that tend to surface from time to time.
The director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been in contact with Russell and is looking into whether his claim to know the murderer is credible.
“We are looking into it. We want to know if this guy had the means, motive and opportunity to do it. We always, in a situation like this, take every lead seriously,” said OSBI public information officer Jessica Brown.
Brown said she knows nothing about Russell previously coming forward with claims.
“I have no reason to believe that is true,” Brown told FoxNews.com.
Russell says he has reached out to all three of the victim’s families. Two of them, Guse’s and Milner’s, did not return his calls. The third, Shari Farmer, expressed a wariness over the film.
“Mrs. Farmer was very leery,” Russell said. “We spoke a month ago and I met with her right after the auditions last Sunday and her sentiment is that she would prefer a film not be made about it simply because she doesn’t like the idea of it. But she said if it was to help solve the murder and give her the truth of who did it she would be thankful."
The filmmaker says he will not be recreating the actual murders in the film out of respect for the families.
The Oklahoma Film and Music Office is among those concerned about the film and turned down a request from Russell to collaborate and share resources.
“We weren’t telling him he couldn’t do the movie. We did tell him we couldn’t support it,” Jill Simpson, the Director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office told FoxNews.com. Simpson said her office’s concern was that Russell said he does not have the blessing of the family and that he is unafraid of potential lawsuits.
“We couldn’t support it. We just saw too many red flags.”
But many Oklahoma residents are embracing the film. The production company held a casting call in Tulsa last weekend looking for its stars and extras and saw hundreds of eager locals. Interest in the casting was also high on the movie’s Facebook page, but the Oklahoma film office also expressed concerns over the production company’s practices at the casting.
“They charged $20 for photos at the casting. At any legitimate project you should not be charged,” Simpson told Fox News.com.
Russell rebutted these claims and said that his company brought in an outside photographer to take headshots for those who arrived without them. He said his production company received no profits from the photographs.
The Girl Scouts national office says they have had no contact with Russell and that they do not support his work on the film. In a statement to Fox411 Girl Scouts spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins expressed her sympathy for the families in their ongoing tragedy.
“To this day, the tragic murder of three Girl Scouts 30-plus years ago in Oklahoma continues to cause a lot of pain and suffering for the families and friends of the victims,” Tompkins said. “If any individual has evidence as to who is responsible for this heinous crime, they should turn that evidence over to investigators immediately so the case can be solved. We continue to extend our hearts and prayers to the families of these children.”