http://www.theledger.com/article/20160126/NEWSCHIEF/160129547


University of South Florida releases final report on 55 unmarked graves at former Dozier School for Boys

By Kevin Bouffard
The Ledger





















WINTER HAVEN — Days after release of the final report on a four-year investigation into the mysterious deaths of 51 people at the former Dozier School for Boys, legislation started moving Tuesday that would reimburse families up to
$7,500 for burial expenses for the identified remains uncovered in 55 unmarked graves.

The bills sponsored by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner and state Rep. Ed Narain, both Tampa Democrats, would also form a task force to create a memorial to former residents and preserve records of the University of South Florida and
other investigations of abusive practices at the school.

The Senate and House versions of the bill passed committees in both bodies Tuesday.

Former Gov. Bob Martinez, now a lobbyist with the law firm Holland & Knight, spoke to the committees in support of the bill. Martinez and the firm had lobbied earlier for state money to support the USF investigation headed up by Erin
Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist.

Kimmerle presented the report to the Florida Cabinet on Thursday.

“She (Kimmerle) has done incredible work,” Martinez told The Ledger from Tallahassee. “She found things that wouldn't have been found without her.”

The report also drew praise from local families with relatives identified from remains as well as a representative from the White House Boys Survivors Organization, a group of former residents abused during their stay there who pressed
for an official investigation.

“I can't find the words to say how grateful I am, because I tried for so many years to find out what happened to him,” said Ovell Krell, 87, of Lakeland, speaking of her brother, Owen Smith, who died in 1940 at age 14 while a resident at
the Marianna school for troubled boys. “The years were catching up with me, and I had promised my parents on their death beds that I would try to find out what happened to Owen.”

In 2014, Smith was the first person identified in the investigation of the unmarked graves at Dozier conducted by a team of researchers and law enforcement officials. One month later, the USF team announced the identification of two
more remains, both also with Polk connections.

Earl Wilson of Lakeland died in 1944 while in detention at Dozier.

“By identifying some of his remains, it ended a chapter in my life,” said his sister, Cherry Wilson, 77, of Lakeland, who, like Krell, did not believe the scant information Dozier officials released on their brothers' deaths. “I loved it (the USF
investigation). It really did bring me relief.”

Smith's and Wilson's remains were returned to their families shortly after the identification and buried at local cemeteries.

The third set of remains belonged to Thomas Varnadoe, who died in 1934 at age 13 just 34 days after he arrived at Dozier. His nephew, Glen Varnadoe of Lakeland, who helped finance the USF investigation, did not return a call from
The Ledger.

The juvenile facility opened in January 1900 as the Florida Industrial School for Boys and closed in 2011 as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the name of a former superintendent. Reports of abuse, including whippings and
chaining children to walls in irons, surfaced as early as 1901, the USF report states.

Calls for a Dozier investigation came in 2008 with the formation of the White House Boys group, named after a shack on the grounds where boys were taken to be whipped, often severely. Most members are older adults now.

State and Marianna officials initially balked at giving the Kimmerle team permission to probe into unexplained deaths and excavate the 1,400-acre Dozier property, particularly an area called Boot Hill that contained 55 unmarked
gravesites, but the Cabinet permitted the investigation in August 2013. Researchers had interviewed survivors and done other preliminary field work beginning in January 2012.

“I'm an admirer of Erin Kimmerle because she wouldn't stop when all the intimidation came,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who supported the investigation from the start, told The Ledger on Monday. “I supported it simply because if you try to
keep this thing invisible, sooner or later the truth will come out. This is a sad story in the history of Florida.”

The final USF investigation report revealed two new positive identifications of remains based on DNA matches with surviving relatives, such as Krell and Wilson.

They are Loyd Dutton of Lee County, who died at age 14 in 1918, and Grady Huff, who died at age 17 in 1935 of a kidney disease, according to contemporary records. Dutton's cause of death could not be determined, but it probably
resulted from the global Spanish flu epidemic that year.

The investigation found DNA identifications for only seven of the 51 remains. The other two were Sam Morgan, who died in his early 20s in 1918 after being “indentured” at a local farm, and Bennett Evans, a Dozier employee who died in
a 1914 dormitory fire that killed about 10 people.

The results of two DNA matching tests have not been completed.

The investigation also made “presumptive identifications” of 14 remains based on matches between school records and forensic evidence, such as age of death, location of burial and racial identity.

Also speaking at Thursday's Cabinet meeting was Robert Straley, 65, who was committed to Dozier at age 13 and a founder of the White House Boys.

Straley told The Ledger he was pleased with the final report, but that the group wanted a memorial to their experiences and the abusive practices at the school.

“A monument should be built as a place of reburial (for unidentified remains) with reverence, a place relatives living and those not yet born may come to honor these boys, a structure they may touch and interact with,” he said, according
to a copy of the speech Straley provided to The Ledger. “It is better to extend a hand than raise a fist; forgiveness is only for the strong.”
Crosses memorialize the boys who died the now-closed Arthur G.
Dozier School for Boys in Marianna in 2013. The juvenile facility
opened in January 1900 as the Florida Industrial School for Boys and
closed in 2011 as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the name of
a former superintendent. Reports of abuse, including whippings and
chaining children to walls in irons, surfaced as early as 1901, a report
by USF researchers found.
WINTER HAVEN — Days after release of the final report on a four-year investigation into the mysterious deaths of 51 people at the former Dozier
School for Boys, legislation started moving Tuesday that would reimburse families up to $7,500 for burial expenses for the identified remains uncovered
in 55 unmarked graves.

The bills sponsored by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner and state Rep. Ed Narain, both Tampa Democrats, would also form a task force to create a memorial
to former residents and preserve records of the University of South Florida and other investigations of abusive practices at the school.

The Senate and House versions of the bill passed committees in both bodies Tuesday.

Former Gov. Bob Martinez, now a lobbyist with the law firm Holland & Knight, spoke to the committees in support of the bill. Martinez and the firm had
lobbied earlier for state money to support the USF investigation headed up by Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist.

Kimmerle presented the report to the Florida Cabinet on Thursday.

“She (Kimmerle) has done incredible work,” Martinez told The Ledger from Tallahassee. “She found things that wouldn't have been found without her.”

The report also drew praise from local families with relatives identified from remains as well as a representative from the White House Boys Survivors
Organization, a group of former residents abused during their stay there who pressed for an official investigation.