MARIANNA — A spot of buried blood. A drop of subsurface semen. A bone fragment in the ground for decades.
Those are things cadaver dogs have been trained to smell, according to handlers from NecroSearch International, a nonprofit group enlisted to help find the bodies of boys who died in custody of the state's oldest reform school here on the outskirts of town.
The search continues this week for boys buried outside the known cemetery on the campus of the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys, known through the years as the Florida Industrial School and the Florida School for Boys.
Anthropologists from the University of South Florida are leading the search. They announced last week that they found remains of 55 people in and around a cemetery on campus known as Boot Hill, 24 more than a 2009 state investigation turned up.
They found one burial under a tree, several under a road and some near a more modern dumping ground.
There may be more. The school's records indicate more than 80 boys died in custody.
The teams of dogs from as far away as Utah and Massachusetts joined the search Monday. The specially trained dogs can pick up scent from human remains buried long ago and are often used to find lost burials.
The dogs combed the 1,400-acre campus Tuesday, sniffing through the thick Panhandle woodlands, soggy swamps and kudzu-covered fields. They alerted their handlers to a variety of spots that will be tested with ground-penetrating radar and an anthropological method known as ground-truthing to determine whether human remains have been buried there.
USF wants to identify all the remains and turn them over to families who want them.
Former wards of the scandalous school, which opened in 1900, have reported stumbling onto grave markers or burial depressions on the south side of campus. Family members of boys known to have died in custody have also told the Tampa Bay Times that they recall being shown a cemetery that is not Boot Hill.
"I just want to help find them and get them all," said Marian Beland, who brought her Portuguese water dog Tracer from Connecticut to help search. "And get them all out of there."