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Possible Second Burial Site at Dozier School

Jul 10, 2013

USF researchers investigating grave sites at the former Dozier School for Boys have submitted more information to the state. They're hoping to look into a long-rumored second unmarked cemetery at the site.

Map of the state owned property around Dozier School for Boys. The Boot Hill Cemetery is inside the large yellow patch at top, "Lease 3447 to PRIDE (Dept. of Corrections)." The property that USF investigators just found out is also owned by the state that may contain an additional burial site is inside the small black square attached to its top right half, "Lease 2771 to Department of Juvenile Justice."
Credit USF Dept. of Anthropology

Earlier this year, USF researchers investigating the Boot Hill cemetery on the grounds of the former reform school in Marianna submitted a request to the state to dig up suspected graveshafts to see if any of the young men who died under mysterious circumstances between 1911 and 1973 are buried there.

Last month, the state sent back a request for more information, and Tuesday, the researchers submitted a 15-page reply. Included in that reply was a request for access to a piece of land that could be a second burial site.

USF Associate Professor of Anthropology Christian Wells says it's property that researchers didn't  know was owned by the state until they were told about it in an email from the Division of Public Lands a few weeks ago.

"It's an area that is separated from the current parcel that has the Boot Hill cemetery by a historical garbage dump, essentially," said Wells. "And so we've walked through the area of the garbage dump, but we haven't yet had an opportunity to do ground-penetrating radar or any other kind of search on this new parcel of land."

Wells says they'll ask the state for access to the property to begin searching there.

He adds that, even after investigating Dozier for over a year, it's not a surprise to keep getting new information from the state.

"It's certainly a process we've gone through the past few years," he says. "It depends on which office you ask and which person is in the office that day, you get some additional information, and so it's really just a long-term process and we're familiar with this through other investigations, but you just have to keep asking and keep sorting through the new information."

The reform school, also known as the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, closed in 2011 amid suspicions of abuse and murder that took place for more than a century. Last year, the investigators, led by USF Assistant Professor of Anthropology Erin Kimmerle found nearly 50 unmarked graveshafts in the Boot Hill Cemetery, 19 more than state law enforcement discovered in a previous investigation.

As far as the excavation permit for Boot Hill, the state now has 14 days to look over the team's responses. At that point, officials can either issue the permit, deny it or ask the researchers for additional information.

Even if researchers aren't given permission for the exhumation, Wells says they plan to return to Marianna next month to continue their investigation. In addition to continuing to collect DNA from family members of the young men possibly buried there, they'll speak to local residents, including a former student who attended the school in the 1940's--the longest surviving student they've talked to.

"Ultimately, the objective of all of this," Wells says, "is simply the identification of those individuals that are buried at Boot Hill and returning them to their families."