Former resident recalls beatings
At a Friday media event Robert Straley stands in front of the
building that is known as the white house at the Arthur G
Dozier School for Boys.
By By KATE McCARDELL Floridan Staff Writer
There's no denying that child abuse took place at what is now
called Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement acknowledges
the 108-year-old reform school's dark past on a plaque at the
But what of the 31 graves that some speculate mark the
resting places of boys killed by violence at the hands of
If there was such abuse, one would expect more than 31
graves on the premises over the last 108 years. And if boys
there were murdered, would their killers really mark so
obviously where their victims were buried?
One of the former residents who alleges there was abuse
believes the bodies of those victims would probably not be
marked at all.
Robert Straley suggested people do some math.
If, for argument's sake, at least two young men were killed at the school
each year over the last 108 years, then there could be scores of bodies out
in the woods by the school's old campus, he said.
Straley is a member of The White House Boys, a group of former residents of
the school in the 1950s and 60s, when it was a segregated facility called
the Florida Industrial School for Boys.
The group of men say they were severely beaten while incarcerated at the
Straley said he ended up at the school for being "an incorrigible runaway."
His first beating happened on his first night there.
"I got 40 lashes because they said we were talking about running," Straley
Most of the adults working at the reform school were good people, Straley
"But there were six of them. They'd come at night, like wolves, looking for
some nightly entertainment," Straley said.
One night, Straley recalled, he was approached in his bed by a man who
accused him of smoking.
"He said, 'You was smoking and if you say you weren't, you've got it
coming,'" Straley said.
The man who accused him of smoking, along with another man, escorted
Straley to the White House. He was lashed about 25 times with a leather
and metal strap, he said.
"Those two men walking me out in the middle of the night was the scariest
moment of my life," Straley said.
It's the memory of the man coming to his bed, he said, that prompted him to
come forward decades later.
"I was having this recurring nightmare," Straley said. "Someone sitting
down on the edge of my bed and grabbing my arm, saying, 'You're coming with
Straley often wondered if he'd ever make it out of the reform school,
unlike the boys who might be buried under those white crosses in the
He said had never actually seen the gravesites until recently. He had only
heard rumors that graves of victims were on school grounds.
That's assuming that the location of the graves is, or ever was, a part of
the boys school property.
FDLE investigators and the Department of Juvenile Justice are trying to
trace back ownership and the boundaries of the property. So far they
haven't determined anything, DJJ spokesman Frank Penela said.
According to Penela, DJJ didn't own the school until 1984. Records aren't
clear on who did own it before that date, and it is also unclear who
Despite speculation that the graves could belong to victims of a fire
and/or a flu epidemic, Straley said the FDLE investigation of the graves is
"Certainly it's not pointless. They might be able to get some DNA, find out
their names," he said. "There could be some families out there who wonder
'Whatever happened to my boy?"
Straley thinks, no matter what results come from the investigation, FDLE
should search the entire premises for buried victims.
"They'd be crazy if they didn't," he said.
The FDLE is asking anyone who may have information about possible abuse at
the school to call (850) 410-8240, or e-mail