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Erin Kimmerle

State of Florida

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is asking the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to evaluate new findings in the history of students at the former Arthur G. Dozier school for boys.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Putnam — who is one of three members of the Florida Cabinet — cited a recent report by researchers at the University of South Florida.

Daylina Miller / WUSF News

2/21 1:30 p.m. 2nd paragraph corrected to indicate location of possible projectile found in one grave

Two more sets of remains were identified today from the Dozier School for Boys.

Lucielle Salomon / WUSF

For years, claims of abuse, beatings, rapes and murder of students by staff have come from those who survived the Dozier School for Boys,  the now-closed state-run reform school in the Florida Panhandle.

Many families are still wondering what happened to their loved ones, and some are getting answers as researchers from the University of South Florida identify remains that have been exhumed from the grounds of Dozier.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

"They brought him here today to be with his brother."

Those were the words of Richard Varnadoe, 86, who was at last able to put his brother Thomas in his final resting place alongside a third sibling, Hubert, at a service at Hopewell Memorial Gardens in Plant City last week.

Hubert Varnadoe's son, Gene, told a small crowd of family and friends, including University of South Florida anthropologists, that it was fitting to place Thomas alongside Hubert for eternity.

Wetherbee family, courtesy USF Dept. of Anthropology

On November 18, 1914, a fire in a dormitory at what was then the Florida Industrial School for Boys is believed to have killed eight students and two staff members.

It turns out that those were among the first of an untold number of deaths at what became the Dozier School for Boys.

The reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna was finally closed in 2011 after decades of alleged abuse and violence perpetrated against students.

University of South Florida researchers have been trying to identify a number of students buried in unmarked graves on the site.

And now, USF will host a conference Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the fire, which was one of the earliest signs of trouble at Dozier.

Katy Hennig/University of South Florida

Both the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Times are reporting that USF researchers sent to exhume the body of a boy who was killed at the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and buried in a Pennsylvania cemetery found nothing when they opened the casket.

Nothing, except for a few pieces of wood.

Here's what the Times wrote:

In 1934, 13-year-old Thomas Varnadoe and his brother, Hubert, were sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys for allegedly stealing a typewriter.

In 1944, 12-year-old Earl Wilson went to the reform school in the panhandle town of Marianna, Florida, for allegedly riding in a car a friend stole.

Neither Thomas nor Earl ever returned home -- until now. Science and perseverance are finally giving their families some peace.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

Ovell Krell was only 12 years old when her brother died -- but what she remembers most about him was his musical ability.

"He could walk into a music store and pick up any instrument they've ever made and within two minutes, he could play it," she said.


USF Dept. of Anthropology

In April 2013, the decomposed remains of a woman were discovered behind a truck stop at I-75 and State Road 44 in Sumter County. Authorities there weren’t able to identify her, so they turned to Dr. Erin Kimmerle and the USF Forensic Anthropology Laboratory for help.

Combining a three-dimensional scan of the woman’s skull with photos from the scene and other details, Kimmerle says they were able to use Photoshop and put together a composite image of what the woman likely looked like.

"The more information that we can learn from the scene or autopsy helps inform us about those individual characteristics, for example, using her own glasses in the image," Kimmerle said at a press conference earlier this year. "But it’s really just based on skeletal anatomy and we hope that it will trigger someone's memory or bring new information to light."

USF Dept. of Anthropology

As is fitting for a case that dates back to the early 1900's, progress is slow in coming for researchers looking at the mysteries found on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys - but it is being made.

Credit Michael Spooneybarger / 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.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

A shirt button, a plaque saying “at rest” and a stone marble found in what’s believed to have been the coffin of a 6-year-old boy are just some of the almost ten thousand artifacts USF researchers have removed from 55 graves at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla.

Those items - along with hundreds of coffin nails also recovered there - might help investigators identify the bodies buried in the school’s mysterious Boot Hill cemetery and elsewhere on the site.

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

Researchers at the University of South Florida say they have 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.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

While staff and faculty at the University of South Florida have $8 million in raises to look forward to, the looming specter of a $12 million budget cutback is casting a pall on the school's outlook.

The two conflicting themes came out of Wednesday, when President Judy Genshaft made her annual Fall Address to the USF System before speaking to the Faculty Senate.

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

University of South Florida researchers unearthed the remains of two children buried at a former Panhandle reform school that had a history of extreme abuse, and the bones will be analyzed in hopes of identifying the children and determining how they died, the anthropologist leading the excavation said Tuesday.

Based on the size of the remains, the children probably were between the ages of 10 and 13 when they died, said Erin Kimmerle, the USF professor who is heading the project to exhume an estimated 50 graves.

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

Researchers have begun exhuming remains from unmarked graves at a now-closed Florida reform school. Former residents of the school say brutal beatings were routine, and they believe many boys died as a result. At least 50 grave sites have been identified, and it is believed that there may be many more. Several families of boys who died there are demanding answers. From Mariana, Florida, NPR's Greg Allen reports that researchers hope to determine how many boys are buried there in unmarked graves and how they died.

USF anthropology assistant professor Erin Kimmerle talked to reporters as exhumations began at the Boot Hill cemetery at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL Saturday. USF researchers are exhuming dozens of graves at the former Panhandle reform school in hopes of identifying the boys buried there and learning how they died.

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

On the second day of an excavation project, University of South Florida researchers worked Sunday on two graves at a former reform school in the Florida Panhandle where students say they were abused decades ago.

The researchers continued the slow, painstaking process of unearthing remains in the hopes of identifying those buried at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School in the Panhandle. The digging and work will go on through Tuesday.

Pool/Edmund D. Fountain / Tampa Bay Times

University of South Florida researchers began work to exhume dozens of graves Saturday at a former Panhandle reform school in hopes of identifying the boys buried there and learning how they died.

USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said in a message Saturday that the work had begun, with researcher measuring and marking the site. Researchers then will remove dirt with trowels and by hand to find the remains, which are believed to be 19 inches to 3-plus feet under the surface.

Mark Schreiner / WUSF

University of South Florida researchers are scheduled to begin exhuming human remains on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys this weekend. Now comes word that they'll be getting some assistance from federal authorities.

The U.S. Department of Justice is giving the researchers, led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, $423,528 in federal grant money to help conduct their search of unmarked graves in the now-closed reform school.

The funds come from a DOJ National Institute of Justice grant for universities and other non-profit organizations that use DNA technology to identify missing persons. The researchers have taken DNA samples from a number of living relatives of boys who died decades ago at Dozier, some under mysterious circumstances.

Credit Michael Spooneybarger / Reuters/Landov

University of South Florida researchers are expected to start digging for human remains buried on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys at the end of the week.

Several families have been waiting for years to get closure about their loved ones believed to have died from abuse at the now-closed reform school.

It could take awhile before the USF researchers find the remains of the boys on the grounds of the Marianna school, but they’re expected to start the exhumations during a four-day period this upcoming weekend.

Katy Hennig / USF News

The excavation will soon begin to unearth the remains of boys believed to have died from alleged abuse at the Dozier School for Boys.

The Florida Cabinet today approved the request of USF researchers to exhume the bodies at the now-closed Florida Panhandle reform school to provide closure for the boys’ loved ones.

For months, University of South Florida researchers have been trying to dig up the bodies at the Marianna school, but their request has been denied several times, twice by the state, which is why 66-year-old Robert Straley, a former Dozier resident, says he was happily shocked when Governor Rick Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet approved the researchers’ request Tuesday.

Jessica Palombo / Florida Public Radio

Several more men are telling stories of abuse they say they suffered at the infamous state-run Dozier Reform School in the Panhandle town of Marianna.  A  group calling themselves the Black Boys at Dozier gathered at the campus Saturday calling for Gov. Rick Scott to allow researchers to exhume bodies in unmarked graves on the property.

The men who shared their stories lived on the part of the campus where researchers are trying to exhume at least 100 bodies in unmarked graves. A road separates the area from the rest of the campus.

Researchers at the University of South Florida are fighting with the state over access to the grounds of a now-closed reform school.

For decades, the Dozier School for Boys was notorious for the harsh treatment boys received there. Now, a forensic anthropologist and her team want permission to exhume dozens of bodies they found in unmarked graves, but are meeting resistance from state officials.

White House Boys

Yoselis Ramos

The University of South Florida has sent a five-page, strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, asking him to reconsider his decision not to allow the school to exhume bodies at a former state reform school, the Dozier School for Boys.

Detzner denied the request because human bodies are not objects to be dug up for research.
 
The university's general counsel pointed out in a letter sent Monday that USF does not want to dig up the bodies for research, they just want to return the remains to their families.

Katy Hennig / USF News

On Monday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner turned down a request from USF researchers to conduct exhumations on possible graveshafts at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, leading Sen. Bill Nelson to "tweet" his disappointment with Detzner's boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson spoke out once again today, saying the buck stops with Scott.

"It clearly is, if not a direct attempt to sidestep, it is a lack of leadership," he said on a conference call from Washington, D.C.

"The people of Florida deserve the answers, the families deserve the answers - that's what leadership is all about and the Governor ought to step up and require this. He is the chief executive officer, he certainly can influence the Department of State.

Katy Hennig / USF News

The state has turned down a request by USF researchers to allow them to exhume bodies at the Boot Hill Cemetery at the former Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna.

In a letter (see slideshow above) sent to anthropologists Erin Kimmerle and Christian Wells today, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said that by requesting permission to conduct exhumations, the "inquiry diverged from its original objectives."

He added that the state's Bureau of Archeological Research doesn't have the authority to allow the exhumation of human remains, "absent a danger to the grave site that actually threatened the loss or damage of those remains."

USF Dept. of Anthropology

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.

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.

Dalia Colón / WUSF

The investigation continues into the dozens of unmarked grave sites at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, and for every question answered, another obstacle seems to pop up.

The reform school, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, closed in 2011, amid suspicions of abuse and murder that took place for more than a century.

Katy Hennig / USF News

UPDATED at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 29th:
1. WTSP reports USF researchers met with state officials, representatives from Sen. Bill Nelson's office and family members of "White House Boys" Tuesday afternoon.

USF officials issued a statement following the meeting:

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