In August 2013, anthropologists from the University of South Florida (USF) began exhuming the ground at the now defunct Dozier School for Boys seeking forensic evidence that would confirm or deny state records showing 31 children were buried in the area known as the “Boot Hill Cemetery.” On Jan. 28, 2014, lead anthropologist Erin Kimmerle updated media and announced they had exhumed 55 bodies, 24 more than state records showed would be buried there. The news leads to more questions; however, as researchers continue to seek DNA from family members of children who went to the school only to never be seen or heard from again throughout its troubled 111 year history.
Two dozen additional bodies that were unaccounted for may only be the beginning of what some Floridians are referring to as “mass graves” and the haphazard dumping of children’s bodies that allegedly met an untimely demise at the hands of sadistic staff members who executed torturous punishments in a building known as the “White House.” Though there have been hundreds of allegations of abuse that took place at Dozier (formerly known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys; Florida Reform School for Boys and the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) no staff member has ever been charged and convicted for abuse, let alone homicide. That isn’t to say the school has enjoyed a “squeaky clean” image. From its inception, state investigators determined that children were shackled in leg irons, kept in unsafe living conditions, and forced to perform manual labor. By the mid-60s, children who stayed at the school reported that children would be taken to the “White House” for beatings and would disappear. Hundreds of former students have come forward with horrific accounts of brutality, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Others have said they witnessed murder.
USF announced in a previous report that researchers believe there is a second cemetery located on school grounds. This cemetery would be undocumented and hidden from state records; but due to the practice of segregation that was prevalent during much of the school’s early pre-civil rights history, it is believed that white children would have been buried separate from black students. The “Boot Hill Cemetery” and surrounding area that was exhumed has been identified by school survivors as the place where the “coloreds” were buried.
USF plans to continue exhumations on the property and will search for additional bodies and the location of the second cemetery. Should another cemetery be unearthed, the amount of children who died and were unaccounted for at Dozier would increase dramatically.
The following announcement was released through an official USF press release from USF and Erin Kimmerle and describes some of the artifacts recovered during the exhumations, techniques used to help locate the remains, and the next steps in the excavation process.
“The team recovered bones, teeth, and numerous artifacts in every one of the 55 burials. The excavation work began in September 2013 and continued through December 2013.
“Researchers will continue searching for additional unmarked burials on the school grounds, both in the areas adjacent to Boot Hill and in other areas of the school grounds. Over the next few months fieldwork will resume - including additional excavations, ground-penetrating radar analysis and the use of specially-trained K9 teams to locate burials.
“Analysis of the excavated remains is underway. Through this process, a summary report will be written for each body, including all of the information learned from skeletal and dental remains, artifacts, and burial context. Bone and tooth samples will be submitted to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for DNA testing.
“Researchers continue to work with UNT, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to locate possible next of kin to collect reference samples for identification. At this point, 12 surviving families of former Dozier students have been located and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of collecting DNA samples from them. Researchers still hope to collect DNA from 42 more families.”
Surviving family members of children who were court ordered to Dozier and never heard from again, are asked to submit DNA samples or provide information regarding their children. You may contact Hillsborough County Sheriff Master Detective Greg Thomas at (813) 247-8678.
You may see a photo slideshow from USF showing the exhumation process and some of the artifacts recovered as well as a video news report above. Click the links below for back stories, photos, and videos regarding the Dozier School for Boys or “White House Boys.”
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