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Survivor of ‘White House Boys’ recalls tales that reform school burned bodies

One of the survivors of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys alleges that not only did staff brutally beat, rape, and murder children, but that during his stay at the school, he heard tales that some of the children’s bodies were put in an incinerator to cover-up the crimes. The now defunct Dozier School for Boys (formerly known as the Florida Reform School, Florida Industrial School for Boys, Florida School for Boys and the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) closed on June 30, 2011, amidst abuse investigations, and is now the subject of exhumations from the University of South Florida’s (USF’s) anthropological team.

USF anthropologists excavate the Dozier School for Boys ground, exhume 55 children's bodies
USF anthropologists excavate the Dozier School for Boys ground, exhume 55 children's bodiesKaty Hennig, USF

In Jan. 2014, forensic anthropologist lead researcher Erin Kimmerle announced the exhumation of 55 children’s bodies had been completed and further exhumations on the property were planned. The number of bodies found were 24 more than the state of Florida accounted for and has led many to believe that mass graves are located on the site with more than 100 children’s bodies buried. The exact figure of how many children were court ordered to Dozier in its 111 year history and how many were accounted for as leaving the facility living and breathing will never be known due to poor record keeping and a fire that destroyed school records during the early 20th century. According to the account provided by Roger Dean Kiser, author and “White House Boys” survivor, he heard stories that murdered children’s bodies were burned in an incinerator.

Kiser states on his website, “After a vicious and brutal bloody beating at the White House; I swore that I would one day expose what was happening at the facility. And that I did. Some fifty years later I wrote the book “The White House Boys-An American Tragedy” which, with the help of other men who were abused at the school, closed down the campus for good. The University of South Florida is now on the grounds hunting for the bodies of boys who were killed, buried or simply dumped in the North Florida swamps.

“At present 96 bodies have been located. If the USF investigation is allowed to continue; many additional bodies will be found on both the North and South sides of the campus as well as in the garbage dump. This will not include the many bodies that were taken into the swampland areas and dumped and possibly eaten by alligators. There were stories of boys being beaten to death at the White House Torture Chamber then their bodies taken to the incinerator and burned with the daily trash. The ashes were then cleaned out and taken “to the peanut field and used as fertilizer.”

“The few employees who did have the guts and fortitude to come forward (after all these years) called the beatings cruel, brutal, totally inhumane and criminal in nature. I guess one had to actually be there to see the boy’s Levis split at the seams after 20 or thirty swats with the heavy weighted leather and metal strap. I guess you had to be there at the hospital to see the boys’ underwear which had been beaten into their skin and then surgically removed by the school’s nurse and the aging physician. Yes, one would have to have been there to really understand the horror, the cruelty and the brutality of it all.”

It’s accounts such as Kiser’s that led Florida governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to move in favor of answering the question that has perplexed Floridians for over 100 years: What happened to the boys (and girls when the school opened) who were court ordered to Dozier?

Will there be mass graves of children unaccounted for and will those bodies reveal signs of traumatic injury? Will “White House Boys” survivors like Roger Dean Kiser and the many others who have come forward finally receive vindication that they have told the truth all along? Will there be justice for the children who many believe were victimized through brutal beatings, emotional, and sexual abuse? Will the detractors who say that there was never evidence showing abuse at Florida’s oldest reform school be justified and will former guards like Troy Tidwell the “One Armed Man” be exhonerated in the public’s eye? Just as there are many who have come forward to retell their stories of abuse at Dozier, others have come forward to stand up for the staff members accused of inflicting torturous and sometimes deadly punishments.

Now that 55 children’s bodies have been exhumed, answers can finally be obtained. USF reports there will be summary reports completed for each child’s body exhumed and those left behind can only hope there will be concrete evidence showing how these children died.

Click here to watch a video report regarding a possible second cemetery located at the now defunct Dozier School for Boys.

White House Boys: Videos

Charisse Van Horn is the owner of the Crime and Courts blog. You may read her work there or visit on Facebook.

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