The Death of Martin Tabert
(An Excerpt From The Martin Tabert Story, Front Page)
Compare the testimony of T.W. Higginbotham to that of Troy Tidwell...They
both swear to only giving....... "gentle blows"..... "ten blows" as said by both
men under oath........ Scroll down to Troy Tidwell's Statement
Martin Tabert's fellow prisoners testified before the grand jury,
describing the events that led up to his death. They said Tabert, strong
and sturdy when he first entered the camp, weighed only 125 pounds at the
time of the whipping. They explained that Tabert suffered with frequent
headaches and his feet were badly swollen and covered with boils.
Several prisoners reported that they lined up, waiting for the guards to
count them, on the night of Martin Tabert's whipping. T. W. Higginbotham,
head guard and "Whipping Boss" of the camp, first called three men out of
the line and beat them. When he finished with those men, he called for
Martin Tabert. Higginbotham did not hear Tabert's answer and became angry.
Tabert, the prisoners agreed, was weak from his illness. He spoke softly
and moved slowly. Higginbotham was so angry that he grabbed him and ripped
off his undershirt. Then he began to whip Tabert. Glen Thompson reported
that Higginbotham "whipped Martin about thirty-five to fifty licks." He
described the lash Higginbotham used as a "four inch strap, five feet long,
with three-ply leather at the handle, two-ply half way down." Another
prisoner reported he counted eighty lashes in all.
A third prisoner testified that Higginbotham told Tabert to get up when he
stopped hitting him, but the man was too weak to stand. This angered
Higginbotham further and he said, "haven't you had enough?" and started
whipping Tabert again. Several prisoners testified that this second
whipping lasted as long as the first and Higginbotham placed one of his
feet on Tabert's neck throughout the beating.
Another prisoner testified that when Higginbotham finished beating Tabert
he hit him over the head with the butt end of the whip and continued
striking him with the whip until he was back in line. Several prisoners
reported that when they got Tabert in the sleeping shack and removed his
clothes his "skin was all off his back in one chunk from his shoulders to his
knees." Another witness said the doctor did not come to see Tabert and
they "dared not ask for one" although they knew he was dying.
This whipping took place on a Friday and Tabert died the following
Higginbotham refuted the prisoners' testimony, swearing he had only given
Tabert ten "gentle" blows with the whip because he refused to do his work
properly. He denied putting his foot on Tabert's neck during the whipping
and claimed that he sent for the doctor as soon as he heard the man was ill.
Higginbotham's lawyer argued that the Putnam Lumber Company employed him to
discipline the prisoners and he had not broken any law because corporal
punishment was legal in Florida. The court indicted Higginbotham for the
murder of Martin Tabert. He denied the charge, saying he did not deny
whipping Tabert and others, but the whipping he gave Tabert was light
and according to law.
MARIANNA | They say Troy Tidwell drew blood. They say he dragged the boys to a tiny building on the campus of
the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, made them bite a pillow and hit them so hard with a leather strap that they
feel it 50 years later.
They say he enjoyed it.
More than 200 former students of the state-run reform school, now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, accuse Tidwell in a
class-action lawsuit of abuse. They tell of picking underwear from their lacerations and being black and blue from
their thighs to their backs. For the first time since the men told their stories publicly in October, Tidwell was made to
face the allegations.
He called it 'spanking,' according to those at his deposition here Thursday. He said it was
state-sanctioned discipline, punishment for kids who tried to run away or got caught smoking. He said
he hit kids eight to 10 times per infraction with a thick leather strap, but never hard enough to harm
He said he never made a boy bleed.
He said he never raised the whip over his head
Note: 12/04/09 There are now almost 600 former students of FSB that have joined the lawsuite.