University Beat
5:41 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Dozier Grave Mystery Deepens

Even as researchers unearth more information about what may lie under the ground of the Dozier School for Boys, the allegations of brutality that marked the reform school's history continue to also live on.

For months, a team of USF anthropologists and archeologists have been studying the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna - particularly the school’s Boot Hill Cemetery and surrounding woods. Now, with the release of its interim findings, Professor Erin Kimmerle says the question remains: just how many young men are buried on the reform school grounds.

Work with ground-penetrating radar and “ground-truthing,” digging trenches to look for more clues, turned up a minimum of 50 "graveshafts"--not necessarily bodies, but underground irregularities.  

"It's kind of like looking through a window with steam on it," said Kimmerle. "Without doing a full excavation, we can't say exactly what's there."

The ‘at least 50’ number raises the first red flag: only 31 crosses in the cemetery mark supposed graves, in line with an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records also show 81 deaths were reported at the school; USF researchers found 98 deaths occurred between 1914 and 1973.

"I want to see the Justice Department come in here," said Cooper. "I don't see the FDLE helping us at all, because they don't want to know what happened there."

In addition, researchers want to investigate the possibility of a second, more secret graveyard somewhere else on the site. While records don’t indicate its existence, at the time, it was custom for African-Americans and whites to be buried in separate locations.

Now while poor record-keeping isn’t a crime, some of the young men who served time at Dozier say what happened to them there was.  Jerry Cooper, 67, is a member of “the White House Boys,” a group named after the small building where they allege they were severely abused by school officials.

Newspaper and TV stories on the allegations from Cooper and other White House Boys led then-Gov. Charlie Crist to order an investigation in 2008. But the FDLE’s report basically denied the men’s claims, a statement repeated last month when USF’s initial findings were released. That, to Cooper, means it’s time for federal investigators to get involved. 

“I want to see the Justice Department come in here, that’s what I’m begging for, I’m begging ‘em to please come in here and get this squared away because from what I can understand, I don’t see the FDLE helping us at all, because they don’t want to know what happened there.”

Cooper might just get his wish--Sen. Bill Nelson has sent a formal request to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Justice Department to join in the search for more graves, as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes.