Dozier School for Boys survivor Captain Bill Nelson speaks out for first time
Captain Bill Nelson says he was beaten, assaulted
By: Carson Chambers
MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. - Bill Nelson has been a boat captain most of his life. "I made a good life for myself. I picked myself up and kept on going," he said.
He's also a survivor of Florida's dark past. "It's wrong what they did to us up there," he said.
Nelson is speaking out for the first time about the two-and-a-half years he spent at the Dozier School for Boys. Just a skinny 11-year old, he was sent away for a crime
he was later exonerated of.
"I was raped over there as a kid, and there were several boys raped. Anything we spoke out about, we went to the White House," he said.
It's a story many Dozier boys never lived to tell.
"A lot of boys didn't make it. They weren't strong enough to make it," said Nelson.
This week, we were given rare access to the Dozier property in Marianna, Florida.
We walked inside what's known as the White House.
"Sometimes at night you could hear the screams," said Nelson.
It’s a small building where the temperature drops inside and paint peels off the walls and where Nelson remembers being tortured.
"Sometimes you stayed two or three days in chains and they beat you and you know, some of them made it. Some of them didn't," he said.
What do you think happened to them? "Well," said Nelson, "they were beaten to death.
Soon the Dozier graveyard, known as Boot Hill, may become a crime scene.
"We'll work together with the Medical Examiner and do skeletal autopsies basically, which then allows for identification through DNA,” said USF’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle.
USF scientists are preparing for a massive exhumation. They've discovered nearly 50 unmarked graves in the woods using ground-penetrating radar.
"Some of the children here were unnamed. They were unnamed in the records. They will remain unknown," said Dr. Kimmerle.
The state shut down the institution for wayward boys in 2011 after allegations of abuse and suspicious deaths.
Bunk beds and moldy mattresses still haunt empty buildings, just like the past the Captain sailed away from for 30 years.
"I didn't want to say anything because it's personal. But with all the boys that died up there, somebody needs to speak up for them," he said.