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The Dozier saga

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The Lost Bones

A two-part series

A special report by Ben Montgomery

Photography by Edmund D. Fountain

Illustrations by Cameron Cottrill

Part 1

Ground Truth

Part 2

Puzzle Pieces

For more than a century, boys were sent to the Florida School for Boys reformatory in the north Florida town of Marianna. Many were beaten brutally and bear the physical and psychological scars to this day. Many boys, though, never came home. They died, some under mysterious circumstances. They were buried in unmarked graves and they were forgotten. Several years ago, a young anthropology professor from the University of South Florida decided she would try to answer the many questions about what happened to these boys and, if she could, return their remains to their families. To get to the truth she would have to fight.

The

Backstory

Dozier School for Boys

For their own good: a St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse at the Florida School for Boys

MARIANNA — The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blo ...

John Bennett, a former guard at Dozier

Florida juvenile justice: 100 years of hell at the Dozier School for Boys

MARIANNA The boys were watching. They had noticed the old men and the television trucks gathered at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. They were not allowed outside, but th ...

The

Victims

Related

Stories

  1. Two more sets of remains identified from Dozier reform school excavation

    State Roundup

    Some of the boys from the reform school use to take lunch down to the graveyard. They'd eat bologna sandwiches and wonder aloud about the boys buried beneath their feet. The dead boys' names were lost to time and neglect and, if you believe the men who made it out of Florida's oldest reform school alive, the callous …

    Anthropologists from the University of South Florida worked to exhume gravesites at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna in 2013. A total of 51 sets of remains were found on the campus. [Times files]
  2. Dozier investigation finds possible buckshot in boy's remains

    Crime

    TAMPA — The ongoing investigation into a burial ground at Florida's oldest reform school has turned up possible buckshot in the remains of a boy who died in state custody.

    The cemetery at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is seen at the end of exhumation work on Dec. 20, 2013 in Marianna. Researchers from the University of South Florida removed 55 sets of remains from the cemetery. [USF photo]
  3. Puzzle Pieces: Dozier's neglected cemetery yields more bodies than expected, but names are harder to find

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — There wasn't much left of the boys.

     University of South Florida assistant professor Dr. Erin Kimmerle watches over excavation efforts in the Boot Hill cemetery at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. on February 5, 2014. [EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN   |   Times]
  4. Ground Truth: In Dozier's neglected cemetery, a search for lost boys and the reasons why they died

    Human Interest

    MARIANNA — The darkness started to fall on the pines and the kudzu-covered fields and on the little cemetery when a thundercloud erupted in the distance, and everybody down in the graves stopped digging …

    The remains of a child, later identified as George Owen Smith, wait to be loaded into a van at the Boot Hill cemetery on the campus of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. [EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN   |   Times]
  5. New Dozier mystery: Investigators find dead boy's grave empty (w/video)

    Human Interest

    PHILADELPHIA

    Thomas Curry met his death by some railroad tracks near Chattahoochee in 1925, trying to run away from the Florida School for Boys. He'd served just 29 days for delinquency at the hellish reform school some 20 miles away in Marianna. The coroner who examined his body couldn't tell what killed him.

    USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle and Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Thomas McAndrew lift a casket panel Tuesday from a grave in Philadelphia’s Old Cathedral Cemetery where Thomas Curry was said to have been buried in 1925. 
  6. Maxwell: Growing up in the era of the Florida School for Boys

    Columns

    As researchers continue to unearth remains in Marianna at the closed Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, I'm transported back to the fear I experienced as a boy in Florida during Jim Crow.

    Emmett Till, shown with his mother, Mamie, was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi at age 14.
  7. Dozier graves yield more names, but how young boys died still a mystery

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — The red dirt outside the little Panhandle town of Marianna continues to give up its secrets.

    Dr. Erin Kimmerlee addresses reporters at USF on Thursday to announce the identities of the remains of two more boys unearthed from a graveyard at Florida's notorious reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  8. Two more sets of remains from Dozier reform school identified

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — University of South Florida researchers say they have identified two more sets of remains buried on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

  9. First remains from Dozier graves identified as 14-year-old boy (w/video)

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    George Owen Smith was afraid of the dark, so he'd whistle Gene Autry songs, like country music could keep the evil away. Every night for 40 years after he died, his mother, Frances, would sit on the stoop of her home in Auburndale, listening for her boy to come whistling through the woods.

    George Owen Smith, shown in what his sister calls one of the last photos of him alive, makes a funny face for the camera in an undated photo. Smith died at age 14 under murky circumstances at the Florida School for Boys in 1941. His sister, Ovell Smith Krell, left, has never believed the official story that he died from exposure hiding under a house. She thinks he was shot while attempting to run away. [Family photo]
  10. Early lab work suggests existence of undiscovered Dozier cemetery

    Crime

    TAMPA — Coffin nail by coffin nail and bone fragment by bone fragment, University of South Florida forensic anthropologists are learning more about the identities of remains exhumed months ago from a hidden cemetery at the state's longest-running and most criticized reform school.

    An artist’s rendering provided by USF shows what one of boys buried at the Dozier school may have looked like based on forensic evidence unearthed at the school.