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'What fear is like': The Legacy of Trauma, Safety, and Security after the 1977 Girl Scout Murders

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posted on 28.06.2013, 00:00 authored by Amy C. Sullivan
On June 13, 1977 at a Girl Scout camp near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, three young campers were raped and murdered on the first night of summer camp. Local and state authorities searched nine months for a local man, Gene Leroy Hart, a convicted rapist and jail escapee considered the most likely suspect. After his capture, he was acquitted of the charges and returned to prison, where he died unexpectedly of a heart attack two months later. Hart’s story symbolizes the complex intersection of race, class, and culture in a geographic location replete with issues of identity and belonging. The criminal case remains unsolved. The fifty-year old camp closed immediately following the murders and the Girl Scout council sold the property. They opened a new camp some years later with a secure, fenced-in sleeping area, partially funded by door-to-door donations for a barbed wire enclosure. A drawn-out civil suit brought by two of the three victims’ families against the Magic Empire Girl Scout Council finally came to trial in 1985. The jury’s verdict favored the council. But the Tulsa Girl Scouts’ decades-old educational model of independence and adventure—especially their understanding of and entitlement to autonomy in the wilderness, at camp, and in the world at large—changed forever as a result of the tragedy. Both an oral history and a microhistory, this project examines the immediate and long-term aftermath of the tragedy on child survivors, the Girl Scout council, and the community at large. Centered within the broader context of changing notions of safety and security in the United States between 1975-1985, this story parallels the rise of more visible security measures in American life, leading to the now common notion that physical security measures are a requirement for safety and feelings of safety. Narrative-driven and informed by interviews with survivors, staff, volunteers, attorneys, and investigators, this project tracks the arc of the event in the lives of survivors over the following thirty years.



Johnston, Robert D.



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

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Committee Member

Laird, Susan S. D'Emilio, John Hosmer, Brian Schultz, Kevin M.

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