Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF researchers expected to be allowed to excavate bodies at Dozier

After months of struggle, University of South Florida researchers may finally be able to continue their efforts to find and exhume bodies at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Formal approval could come as soon as Tuesday, when Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will vote on whether to permit the excavation on the former Dozier campus. According to the agenda, approval is recommended.

Several families of boys who lived — and died — at what was once the nation's largest reform school are anxiously awaiting the decision.

Ovell Krell, 84, a former police officer from Lakeland, hopes to recover the body of her brother, George Owen Smith, who died in Marianna in 1941. In June, she joined two other families who gave DNA samples to help identify the remains of their relatives if they are found.

"Through all of this, our governor has not shown any interest at all," Krell said. "I am very, very pleased if they get permission. I hope and pray every day that they get the permission."

Officials at the reform school told her family that her brother had run away and that his body was discovered under a house in Marianna. He was 14 and buried before his parents could claim him.

Krell said she hopes to see where her brother is buried: "I would love to go up there and to be able to walk and see it myself."

If USF's request to find and identify bodies at the now-closed Dozier campus is approved, it will mark the end of months of legal and political wrangling where different courts and state agencies said they didn't have the power to allow the excavations.

The decision ultimately fell to the Cabinet, sitting as the state's Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which has power over public lands.

At Tuesday's meeting, the group will vote on a joint land-use agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection to allow the excavations at Dozier.

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement Wednesday saying that she "remains supportive" of the work to return human remains to the boys' families.

Richard Varnadoe, now 84, hopes to retrieve his brother's body and lay it to rest in a cemetery in Hernando County. He and his nephew, Glenn Varnadoe, have been pushing the USF effort.

The family issued a statement through Tampa lawyer Robert S. Bolt on Wednesday.

"The Varnadoe family is focused on finding and repatriating the remains of Thomas Varnadoe and it supports and appreciates whatever others, including USF and the Florida Cabinet (acting as Trustees), actually accomplish in that regard."

USF associate professor of anthropology Erin Kimmerle, who has led the work to find the graves, said the team hopes to begin work again this month.

Using ground-penetrating radar, the USF team already had found 50 graves in an area referred to as Boot Hill, on what was the designated black side of the campus during segregation.

"I'm saying that there are 200-plus or even more buried around that place," said Robert Straley, a 66-year-old Clearwater man who was one of the school's White House Boys, so called because of the small building where they were flogged. "I don't think they will ever find all the bodies that are there."

USF researchers expected to be allowed to excavate bodies at Dozier 07/31/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 11, 2014 5:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Mexico anxiously awaits the fate of a 12-year-old schoolgirl after deadly earthquake


    MEXICO CITY — A sprawling earthquake recovery effort spanning several states turned intensely personal Thursday as Mexicans were riveted by an effort to save a 12-year-old girl who was pinned in the rubble of her elementary school.

    Search and rescue efforts continue at the Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City, Mexico, Thursday. Tuesday's magnitude 7.1 earthquake has stunned central Mexico, killing more than 200 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. ]AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell]
  2. 'What Happened'? Clinton memoir sold 300,000 copies in first week


    Despite being met with decidedly mixed reviews, What Happened, Hillary Clinton's new memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, sold a whopping 300,000 copies in its first week.

    The new memoir by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sold 300,000 copies in its first week.
  3. After Irma topples tree, home sale may be gone with the wind

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.

    Hurricane Irma's winds recently blew over a large ficus tree, left, in the yard of a home at 3601Alabama Ave NE, right, in Shore Acres which is owned by Brett Schroder who is trying to sell the house.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Bucs' Josh Robinson excited for return to Vikings


    For much of Josh Robinson's four seasons with the Vikings, there was excitement leading up to the arrival of the $1.1-billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened last season, just as Robinson signed with the …

    Josh Robinson (26) tackles Chicago punt returner Eddie Royal (19) during a game between the Bucs and Bears in 2016. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. For starters: Rays at Orioles, meeting up with ex-mate Tim Beckham


    The Rays open their final roadtrip of the season tonight in Baltimore, and - continuing the theme of the week - willl cross paths with another familiar face, INF Tim Beckham.

    Tim Beckham made a smashing debut with the Orioles, hitting .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs in August.