Dozier School, Dead Boys, and Forensic Setting to Rights

At least 81 boys died. Their remains lie in unmarked graves spread over the shuttered campus of the Florida Reform School for Boys. Located in Marianna, Florida, this brutal reform school – also known as the Dozier School for Boys – spread death and damage among the thousands of boys who came through its gates over a period of 111 years.

Now my University of South Florida colleague Erin Kimmerle is heading a multi-disciplinary team to find the boys’ graves and lead a humanitarian effort to bring some closure and healing to the boys’ families.

As recounted in the recent Tampa Bay Times article, USF team looks for lost graves at closed Dozier School for Boys, the project “aims to preserve the records, inventory historic buildings, find the graves, identify the forgotten remains, protect the historic cemetery and open it to families.”

Working in collaboration with USF archaeologist Richard Estabrook, Kimmerle and her team have begun to use ground-penetrating radar in the search.

Estabrook went to work with the GPR, which he named Matilda, pushing the device back and forth along the lines, like mowing a lawn. The GPR recorded 250 subsurface samples every 2 centimeters, and Estabrook watched the monitor, noting places where the radar picked up an anomaly, a spot where the subsurface density changes.

Ethnography, biological samples, excavations, and more will follow. But for now, using the radar, “We’re finding graves throughout this whole area.”

None of this will come as a surprise to boys who came through the Dozier School. A previous St Pete/Tampa Bay Times article “For Their Own Good” covered the horrific beatings they endured during the 1950s and 1960s:

The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement produced a 2010 executive report of investigations on “The White House Boys,” the main site where the whippings occurred. As one former boy put it: “he was spanked with such force that his buttocks were ‘black and blue and bloody’ and that his underwear was imbedded into his skin.”

In the video accompanying “For Their Own Good,” one man says of the White House, “As soon as they opened the door, it smelled like death.”

But some boys can no longer speak, and Kimmerle is using her skills as an applied biological anthropologist to find remains and document stories around the world. This is work she has done for years. In 2001 Kimmerle served as chief anthropologist for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Kimmerle now heads up USF’s International Consortium for Forensics, Anthropology, and Human Rights, which includes the USF Forensic Anthropology Lab. The Lab offers “human identification, facial imaging, living person age estimation, clandestine grave search and recovery, grave excavation, trauma analysis and expert testimony.”

In addition to her work on the Dozier School, Kimmerle is collaborating with local medical examiners and law enforcement agencies in Tampa to solve cold cases. Four cases have been solved; twelve more cases are featured on the Tampa Bay Cold Case Project site. Each case provides a detailed description, including facial and clothing reconstructions, and asks for information to help identify the deceased.

Photo Credit for the Dozier School graves: Edmund Fountain, St. Pete/Tampa Bay Times; original found here

Photo Credit for Ground Penetrating Radar: Katy Hennig, University of South Florida

Link to USF Team Looks for Lost Graves at Closed Dozier School for Boys

Link to the University of South Florida’s coverage, Lost in the Woods, which includes a photo essay and a 6 minute video that describes the research

Link to For Their Own Good site on abuse at Dozier School

Link to Dr. Erin Kimmerle’s website

Link to USF’s International Consortium for Forensics, Anthropology, and Human Rights

Lost in the Woods Video:

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12 Responses to Dozier School, Dead Boys, and Forensic Setting to Rights

  1. Birgit says:

    People in authority should never be allowed to do this .This is the type of thing that makes me grateful for modern technology . They should have cameras in classrooms, so teachers are monitored and that goes for homes,,old age homes orhanges etc. Anywhere where peole are vulnerable to abuse.

  2. State Attorney Glenn Hess, Panama City, Bay County, 14th Judicial Circuit, has jurisdiction over murders of children in Jackson County.

    He has been a major driving force in the cover up of the childrens’ deaths at Dozier. Thank God that where he has been systemically malfeasant, negligent, and corrupt in office (see e.g. ), Dr. Erin Kimmerle has stepped in to do what Glenn Hess should have done.

    After Hess covered up the matter, with FDLE, the feds stepped in and exposed the history of abuse and torture and deaths of children at Dozier.

    Hess, as lead prosecutor for murders at Dozier, even if cold cases, should be embarrassed enough and work closely with Dr. Kimmerle. I doubt that he will since he is a short-timer with the election coming up and with the publication of to expose him for the crook he is and in particuar:

    His farewell speech, “I am a crook, I am a crook.”

    CROOK: “”One who makes a living by dishonest methods.”:

  3. Jon says:

    I agree with you Birgit. We should have technology in place that can help minimize these incidents from ever happening.

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  5. Mike Adams says:

    Dr. Kimmerle is performing some wonderful work here. Thank you so very much.

    I am sick of the double standard that has existed in this country between the elected officials and the people that elected them. In this case if public officials were involved in a coverup of the murders at this institution of horror then they need to be charged with murder. If a 18 year old black kid in NYC can be charged with murder just for being in the car with crazy person kills somone else then certainly we can charge somone who had knowledge of multiple murders and did not act.

    Go get ’em Dr. Kimmerle .

  6. I’m authoring a web page that addresses Dozier and Dr. Kimmerle. It also has a picture of Dr. Kimmerle if you’re interested. You will find this website of interest and get to know country star Jerry Cooper a little better and you can listen to his song “Code of Honor” by clicking on his picture. Jerry was one of those tortured at Dozier as a child. I’ve become close friends with Jerry.

    PS: If anyone knows how to get in touch with Dr. Kimmerle please have her contact me to do a phone interview for the web page about her progress and background on the project. 850-785-3768

  7. Nicole says:

    I lived in that shadow slip of a town as a kid for 2 years. It was way after this had taken place, but it’s echoes could still be felt in the isolation that is the panhandle of Florida.. Let’s not Ever forget the hypocrisy and abuse that comes with power and isolation.

  8. Shirley Tougas says:

    I am sickened beyond belief that we as a human race can visit these horrors upon or children. Children are ours to protect and teach not abuse.
    I as a Canadian have the shame of what occured in the Residential Schools to our Aboriginal peoples. They were innocents torn from there families in the mistaken hope of making then “white”. The horrors that happened to them were by the clergy and others that worked in the schools.
    I hope that we will learn from these very real cases that we must protect “all of our children”.

  9. I was at this place in 1974-1975 my cottage was Friendship .The F.B.I. interviewed me I`m the person that told investigators the location of the White cemetary nobody believed me including my own,The Whitehouse Boys now Jerry and Robert want to claim the credit for my information after USF professor Erin Kimmerle found info thru areial photo`s 1940~s .I have been exploited for my story by the whitehouse boys to write books and make money from my story and info.Law inforcement exploited me for my info for Charlie Crist white wash of murdered children from Dozier.The whole story has been one white wash joke of blaytant greed and cover=up…………..And you people go to Church every Sunday and raise their hands to God and on Monday they are back at raping the public again & again.Shame On All Of You..Shame,Shame ,Shame psalms 91 your day of judgement is at hand

    • B Berry says:

      Do you remember a Hispanic kid my the name of Ricardo Noir from Miami and another one, I forget his first name the but last name was Rodriquez from Sanford, Florida? what ever happen to them? they were there around the same time as you.

  10. Where is the NAACP when you need them?? To many Black students in the Boot Hill #2 The Feds knew about this info long before Charlie Crist started any investigation they have been watching you and waiting, for the right time.That is my profile of the F.B.I. and how public corruption is investigated from the top down.The Whitehouse Boys never knew they had a C.I. onboard I have been spilling my guts to the Feds for five=years now and have been A Fed. C. I. for over 25 years now.See my story in the Gene Holloway Story Cigar City Magazine Tampa.

  11. Bryan Taylor says:

    I turned 18 there in 1974 (reality house)
    The beatings had stopped by then.
    The “White house” was referred to as the “I scream house”. It sat next the mess hall on the right. We had to walk by it going to our cottage.
    Our punishment for infractions was, to be made to sit on a telephone pole (horizontal) for hours.