Families of boys from Dozier school submit DNA
By: Carson Chambers
"It ruined all our lives because my mother just never got over it. Never," said Ovell Krell.
The bad news came in typewriter font, addressed to Mrs. George W. Smith, dated January 25, 1941, mailed to
"They found his body under a house in downtown Marianna, dead, very badly decomposed. Could only identify him
by the number in his shirt they wore at the prisons," explained Krell.
Krell was just 12 years old when she lost her brother, George. The 14-year-old died under suspicious
circumstances while in state custody at the Dozier School for Boys. School administrators claimed pneumonia killed
him but his family never had the chance to bring him home.
"They put him in a vehicle, his remains, took him back to the school and buried him that very day," said Krell.
Krell isn't the only local family member pushing for exhumations at the state reform school's cemetery. University of
South Florida scientists have discovered more than 50 unmarked graves on 'Boot Hill' using ground penetrating
Florida shut down Dozier in 2011 amid allegations of sexual abuse, severe beatings and stories about boys who just
"He was a young man maybe 20, 21 years old and he just came up missing and they didn't know, given the
information back then how it happened and I think it was like, 1937-1939, so the details were real sketchy at the
time," said Robert Stephens of Tampa.
Stephens is searching too. He's hoping DNA will help identify his uncle's remains. But scientists and families need a
state permit to unearth the graves and it hasn't been easy.
"Unfortunately, this Dozier project has gotten caught up in some political winds," said Glenn Varnadoe.
An email obtained by ABC Action News says the State Archaeology Board was going to deny the permit request.
Instead, on Friday, deadline day, it asked for more time to make a decision in a letter.
"I don't see how anybody in their right mind could think anybody buried there is at peace. I don't know how you'd be
at peace buried in a dump," said Varnadoe who is searching for his uncle's remains, Thomas.
This is why Krell won't give up. The single-spaced letter from 1941 was never any comfort.
Her brother's burial proper burial in Auburndale, next to their mother and father, would be.
"This is all we knew and ever since then, it's just been a question," she said.