Miss Margaret Beck: The Other Girl Scout Murder

The Girl Scouts began in 1912 with the dream of creating confidence and character in its members that would enable them to meet their world head on. Juliette Gordon Low and the 18 young girls she assembled at her home on that fateful day didn’t know they were creating a movement that would last into the next century. But in spite of the millions of young girls who have benefited from the incredible organization, there remain those whose fates were ultimately sealed the moment they became a member. Most true and unsolved crime fans are familiar with the 1977 Oklahoma Girl Scout murders, but few know the story of Margaret Beck, the “original” Girl Scout Murder.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

Lori Farmer, Michelle Guse and Doris Milner were all sexually assaulted and murdered at Camp Scott, Mayes County, Oklahoma, on June 13, 1977. Their lifeless bodies would be discovered by a camp counselor around 6 am on June 14th, roughly 12 hours after they took shelter from a storm in Tent 8. All three girls were sexually assaulted. Doris Milner had been strangled and the other two girls were bludgeoned to death, their killer leaving their bodies about 450 feet from their tent in their sleeping bags. In spite of numerous tips and false hopes the 1977 Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders remain unsolved.

The Mile-Hi Ruffit Camp

Margaret Elizabeth Beck, affectionately known as Peggy, was 16 years old when she ventured into the Pike National Forest near Deckers, Colorado. Peggy, along with 27 other people, made camp at the Flying G Ranch on August 13, 1963, just northwest of Cheesman Lake for the Mile-Hi Girl Scout’s “Ruffit Camp”. She was a senior at North Denver High School that year and had returned to the camp as a counselor. After a day full of activities the members gathered around a campfire and sang together until almost midnight, after which Beck retired to her tent. She was alone that night, her roommate, Claudia Shride, having come down with a cold and deciding to sleep in the infirmary instead.

Unknown Homicide

The morning of Sunday, August 18, 1963, Claudia Shride left the infirmary and returned to the tent she shared with Beck. It was the last day of the camp and everyone was preparing to return home. Upon reaching the tent she discovered Peggy, dead and still in her sleeping bag. There was no sign of disturbance or struggle in Peggy’s tent, and since there was no apparent physical damage to her body the death was assumed to be from natural causes. However several hours later five finger marks appeared on Beck’s throat and the coroner ruled the death a homicide by strangulation. Skin particles were found under her fingernails, and her underwear and leotard had been torn partly off. Margaret’s things had been packed up and others had cleaned up her camping area prior to the medical examiner’s discovery, thus contaminating the crime scene and destroying valuable evidence.

Beck had been sexually assaulted and her killer strangled her to death before leaving her body in her zipped up sleeping bag and walking away. There were more than 25 people sleeping near Peggy’s tent that night, but because the closest was almost 10 yards away none of the other girls or adults recalled hearing or seeing anything that was out of place. It was not announced publicly whether or not she had been raped, although investigators confirmed she was sexually assaulted.

Slim Sherwood

On Tuesday, August 20th, the caretaker of the Girl Scout camp volunteered to take a polygraph test regarding the murder of Margaret Beck. Alvin Sherwood, known as Slim, was 67 years old at the time and was the only male allowed at the camp at the time of Peggy’s death. Jefferson county Sherriff Harold Bray was heading the investigation at the time and felt the test was necessary to both protect Sherwood and confirm that he was not involved in Beck’s death. Sherwood passed and was eliminated as a suspect.

That same day an article in the Des Moines Tribune stated that investigators were now searching for a man they suspected would have severe scratching on his face. It appeared that the young girl had fought viciously with her attacker prior to being killed. On Monday, August 26th, employees at a bus station in Canon City, Colorado, called investigators with a possible suspect, a man at the station with severe facial scratches. The man was questioned but was released, although it is unknown if he is still considered a suspect.

A Confession

On September 6th Ancel Teague Jr was involved in a minor traffic accident in Denver. During their investigation, patrolmen J. Goff and R. Johnson were surprised to receive a confession from Teague in the slaying of Peggy Beck. Ancel was a 32 year old former mental patient, and was arrested when he confessed that he had strangled the counselor while hunting rabbits near the camp. However upon questioning Teague’s statements were inconsistent and he knew nothing about the murder that was not public knowledge, so his confession as discounted and he was released.

Larry Perry, a real estate venture, put up a $600 reward 10 days after Peggy’s death for information leading to the arrest of her murderer. He expected for the reward to grow to at least $1,000 within a few days and he was right. By September 7th $1,300 had been raised by family friends and business owners to fund reward money for the case. Margaret Beck had no known enemies, nor did her three sisters or mother. Her father, Vincent Beck, worked for the National Bureau of Standards as an administration officer in Boulder, Colorado.

A New Lead

At the end of October, 1963, it was announced that convicted murderer and absconder James Sherbondy was a suspect in Beck’s murder. Sherbondy, who was 43, was in the Woodstock, Illinois, jail on charges that he had robbed a grocery store when authorities received a tip that he may have been involved in the homicide. Another man, Kurth Jack Kelm, was charged in the same robbery and was arrested with Sherbondy on October 21 after Sherbondy failed to report to his Golden, Colorado, parole officer. He had just finished serving 25 years on a life sentence the previous December in the murder of an Eagle County deputy sheriff. Sherbondy was eliminated as a suspect after questioning produced no results, the sheriff stating that he was extremely cooperative with authorities. Another man, Ervin Faye Stewart, was questioned and eliminated as a suspect in the case nearly a year later in April, 1964.

Unanswered Questions

Several events took place that seem to leave more questions than they’ve answered. On August 22nd a posse of men rode through the area where Margaret Beck had been killed on reports that a mysterious prowler was in the area. Earlier in the week a woman reported that she had been walking her dogs near the campground Peggy was killed in when she noticed an unscrupulous character following her. The woman said that she got to her car and the man attempted to enter her car while she was leaving. While police were unable to locate the woman who made the report, Deputy Sheriff Bob Perkins followed footprints near the Wigwam Campground for nearly three hours searching for the prowler. At this time Wigwam Campground was located approximately 3.5 miles east of where Beck’s murder took place. There had been a recent rash of break-ins in the areas campgrounds.

The Murders of Joan D'Allessandro and Marcia Trimble

In April, 1973, 7 year old Joan D’Allessandro, a Brownie Girl Scout left her Hillsdale, New Jersey, home to sell cookies door to door. Although she was only going down the street, Joan never returned. Joan’s nude body was found four days later off a highway about 15 miles from her home. Teacher Joseph McGowan, who lived within a block of Joan’s home, was charged with and ultimately pled guilty to her murder. Joan had been sexually assaulted the night she went missing and the coroner determined that she had died from asphyxiation and being beaten. Multiple head injuries also attributed to her death. Joan’s clothing was discovered in a bag about 30 yards away, others being found in a parking spot several miles from where her body was discovered.

Another Girl Scout, 9 year old Marcia Trimble of Nashville, Tennesee, was found dead on Easter Sunday, 1975. Marcia had been delivering cookies to a neighbor when she disappeared more than a month before her body was found, and police believed she may have been kept alive up to two weeks by her captor. However, in this case authorities believed the motive to be robbery, as Marcia had between $10 and $12 with her when she went missing on February 25, 1975. Marcia’s 10th birthday would have been on Good Friday had her body not been found in a garage approximately 600 feet east of her house that had been searched previously that month. Trimble had a cut on her head that was apparently unrelated to the strangulation that caused her death, and her killer had covered her body with a plastic swimming pool.

"It depends on what you would call an incident"

Then in June, 1977, just after the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders took place, a Girl Scout official in Colorado stated that no notable incidents had taken place at the Flying G Ranch since 1963, when Margaret Elizabeth Beck was found murdered. A few days later another official confirmed that a second girl had indeed been attacked at the camp since Peggy Beck’s 1963 murder. When asked about the first officials response, the second official stated that "it would depend on what you would call an incident". As was camp policy at the time, no details were publicized regarding the incident and the public was not made aware of the incident until nearly a year later. In July, 1976, another young girl was sleeping in her tent at the Flying G Ranch with her two female roommates. Someone began choking her, and upon waking she began to fight back, waking one of her tent-mates in the process. The girl turned on her flashlight and the unknown assailant fled.

It is unknown if the 1963 slaying of Margaret Beck, the 1977 Oklahoma Girl Scout murders and the 1976 attack on the Colorado Girl Scout are related. Investigators hope that new technology that wasn't available when the murders took place will lead to the identification of the perpetrator.

Unsolved Agency Contacts

If you believe you have information that is not listed in this case please contact us. Anyone with information regarding the murder of Margaret “Peggy” Elizabeth Beck is urged to contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at (303) 277-0211.

Reminder: Please DO NOT contact anyone except the police or your local law enforcement agency with tips regarding missing/unidentified persons and unsolved cases to prevent breakdowns of communication that could potentially make the case/investigating the information harder. ONLY contact a law enforcement agency with important information.

Sources

Colorado Bureau of Investigations - Margaret Beck (photo)
FindAGrave - Margaret Elizabeth Beck
Chicago Tribune
– 20 Aug 1963 – Girl Scout, 16, Strangled in Sleeping Bag
Greeley Daily Tribune
– 19 Aug 1963 – Girl Killed At Summer Scout Camp
- 28 Aug 1963 – AP News (Denver)
- 7 Sep 1963 – Reward Money Grows In Hunt For Girl-Killer
- 27 Aug 1963 – Police Release Man After Quiz On Girl’s Death
- 6 Sept 1963 – Police Discount Confession Of Scout Slaying
- 31 Oct 1963 – Sherbondy Suspect In Girl Killing
- 14 Dec 1963 – Sherbondy Not Linked To Death Of Girl Scout
- 2 Apr 1964 – Lie Detector Clears Suspect In 2 Slayings
- 16 Jun 1977 – Slaying Of 3 Girl Scouts Recalls Jeffco Murder
Deadwood Pioneer Times
– 21 Aug 1963 – Expect Break In Scout Case
Des Moines Tribune
– 20 Aug 1963 – Slain
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
- 6 Sep 1963 – Former Mental Patient Admits Killing Girl
- 22 Aug 1963 – Prowler Reports Stir Search Of Camp Area
- 19 Jun 1977 – Denver Girl Scout Official Says Girl Was Attacked
The News Messenger
- 22 Aug 1963 – Girl Scout Camp Aide Is Murdered
The Crowley Post-Signal
- 23 Apr 1973 – Brownie Girl Scout Murdered
The Salt Lake Tribune
- 31 Mar 1975 – Missing Girl Scout, 9 Found Murdered