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Courts / Law

Dozier Exhumation Request Heads to Pennsylvania Governor

dozier.jpg
Credit Michael Spooneybarger
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Reuters/Landov

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, is asking the governor of Pennsylvania to have state police there work with a team of Florida researchers investigating the circumstances surrounding a young boy’s death at a now-shuttered reform school.

In January, researchers at the University of South Florida said they discovered the remains of 55 people buried at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. That's five more bodies than they expected - and 24 more burials than official records indicate should be there.

Now, those researchers want to exhume a former student’s skeletal remains buried in Pennsylvania.  The boy, 15-year-old Thomas Curry, was admitted to the reform school in 1925.  Nelson's request says he died "violently and mysteriously" one month after he was admitted.

"Some of these young boys died under suspicious or questionable circumstances, making it essential to also investigate the cause of their deaths. I'm sure you will agree that we should continue to do all we can to bring the families of these boys the closure they deserve." - Sen. Nelson's letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

The coroner’s report says the boy’s death was caused by “a wound to the forehead, skull crushed from unknown cause.”  The USF researchers are now trying to determine more about the nature and cause of his death.   

Former inmates at the reform school have detailed horrific beatings at the facility. A group of survivors who call themselves the "White House Boys" called for an investigation into the graves five years ago. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended an investigation and said it could not substantiate or refute claims that boys died at the hands of staff.

Nelson first got involved when a Polk County man asked the lawmaker's office for help in locating his uncle's remains, known to be buried on the grounds of the reform school. 

Thomas Curry was one of ten boys who turned up dead after reportedly running away from the reform school.  After his death, Curry’s body was shipped to Pennsylvania and buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia.  

The following is Nelson's letter to the governor of Pennsylvania:

April 1, 2014

The Honorable Tom Corbett

Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

225 Main Capitol Building

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120

Dear Governor Corbett:

Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida recently asked the Pennsylvania state police for their assistance in her efforts to find out what happened to boys who died under unusual and suspicious circumstances at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL.

With her team of forensic researchers, Dr. Kimmerle has spent more than a year unearthing dozens of unmarked graves they discovered on the grounds of the now-shuttered reform school in Florida’s Panhandle. 

Over the years, this school has been the subject of numerous investigations into allegations of abuse.  Florida officials eventually closed the school in 2011 following a state police probe into the most recent such allegations - a probe that found no evidence of such crimes.  

Last year, the university’s research team began exhuming human remains found in these newly discovered, unmarked graves and are now trying to identify the students buried there by matching DNA samples from the remains to the living relatives of the boys.

Some of these young boys died under suspicious or questionable circumstances, making it essential to also investigate the cause of their deaths. 

Ten boys died after running away from the school between 1906-1952.  One of this group was Thomas Curry, who was 15-years-old when he was admitted to the reform school in 1925.  He reportedly ran away 29 days later and was found lying alongside the railroad tracks at River Junction in Gadsden County, some 25 miles from the school, the following day.  

According to the death certificate, Curry was pronounced dead at a hospital in Chattahoochee as a result of a crushed skull.  After his death, Thomas Curry’s body was shipped to Pennsylvania and buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia.  

The USF research team is now working with the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s office and hoping to get permission from the appropriate authorities in your state to exhume his remains, perform a skeletal autopsy to try and determine more about the nature and cause of his death.   

As Dr. Kimmerle noted in her request, funding for this project is available from a Department of Justice grant awarded to USF last year.

I’m sure you will agree that we should continue to do all we can to bring the families of these boys the closure they deserve.  That said, if there is anything you can do to assist this USF research team with their request, it would be greatly appreciated.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Bill Nelson

CC: U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. 

U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey

Cpl. Thomas C. McAndrew