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University Beat

USF to Announce Names of Two More Dozier Remains

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USF Dept. of Anthropology

University of South Florida researchers will announce Thursday afternoon that they've determined the identities of two more sets of remains buried on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

The Ledger and a release from Senator Bill Nelson's office say that one is Thomas Varnadoe, 13, who died in 1934, a month after arriving at Dozier.

Nelson says the second boy, Earl Wilson, 12, died in 1944 under circumstances that were never satisfactorily explained by Dozier officials.

USF officials won't confirm either name.

Varnadoe's nephew, Glen, has been pushing for two decades to find out what happened to his uncle and to other boys who died under mysterious circumstances at the now-closed reform school.

USF anthropologists have determined that dozens of bodies were buried in a Dozier cemetery, where they exhumed remains from 55 unmarked graves last year.

Glen Varnadoe told WUSF's Florida Matters in February 2013 that Thomas and his older brother Hubert were sent to Dozier in 1934 for allegedly stealing a typewriter from the home of a local teacher. Thomas died of pneumonia less than a month after arriving there.

Varnadoe said his family wasn't notified of Thomas' death until almost two weeks later. That, along with the fact he was buried in an unmarked grave, led them to long wonder what happened to Thomas.

"I think there's questions about records being destroyed and how many records were available and just total denial I think from the state's part of not embracing this and bringing closure to this horrible chapter in Florida's history," Glen said.

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Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
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WUSF 89.7 News
Joseph Varnadoe speaks to a reporter at a 2013 news conference where relatives of Dozier students gave USF researchers DNA samples to assist in identification of remains.

Glen's father, Hubert Varnadoe, returned home from Dozier after nine months. Hubert and Thomas' brother, Joseph, told WUSF's University Beat in December 2012 that Hubert never said anything about his time there.

“He would not speak to anybody about the conditions there or the people there or anything else. He was so traumatized by being there, to start with, and going through what they went through, that he would not talk about it," Hubert, then 83, said. 

Last month, USF researchers announced DNA testing helped them identify the first set of remains as George Owen Smith, 14, of Auburndale, who died in 1940, reportedly after running away from the school. Smith's sister, Ovell Krell, told The Ledger she recently buried her brother next to their parents.

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