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Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer

Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website Gangrey.com.

Montgomery grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University, where he played defensive back for the football team, the Wonder Boys. He worked for the Courier in Russellville, Ark., the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, the Times Herald-Record in New York's Hudson River Valley and the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2006.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Jennifer, and three children.

Email: bmontgomery@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Gangrey

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  1. 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.

    By the time she came for them and brought them up from the earth and spread them on tables in a basement lab on Maple Drive in Tampa, they were in hundreds of pieces, some as small as a fingernail. All that remained of some of them could fit inside a lunch box....

     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]
  2. 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 and looked up at the sky. "Was that thunder?" one of them asked. The last thing they needed was more rain, because more rain meant more mud and more mud would make it much more difficult to get the bones out of the ground intact and in time for the evening news....

    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]
  3. 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.

    "(C)ame to his death from a wound to the forehead, skull crushed from unknown cause," wrote Chattahoochee coroner L.H. Sanders on the boy's death certificate....

    Pennsylvania State Police troopers on Tuesday surround the burial shaft in Philadelphia's Old Cathedral Cemetery where Thomas Curry, a runaway from the Florida School for Boys, was said to have been buried in December 1925, as University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle searches for Curry's remains in the earth.
 [BEN MONTGOMERY  |  Times]
  4. 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.

    Researchers said Thursday they have identified the remains of two more boys unearthed from a graveyard at Florida's notorious reform school. The remains of Thomas Varnadoe and Earl Wilson, who both died under suspicious circumstances while in custody at the Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, will be returned to their families....

    Researchers have identified Thomas Varnadoe, the uncle of siblings Glen Varnadoe, left, and Barbara Caccamisi, as one of the boys unearthed from graves at the Florida School for Boys. 
  5. Military equipment wrong response, says ex-chief who handled St. Petersburg disturbances

    Nation

    When Darrel Stephens got word that one of his officers had shot dead an unarmed black teenager, he knew he'd better hit the streets. He'd been police chief just three years, but he had quickly learned that St. Petersburg was anything but sleepy, that racial tension surged through sections of the city.

    He bolted to the scene where a crowd, disenfranchised and enraged, was growing by the minute. As police took measurements and photographs, he walked among the residents, he recalls now, and was joined by City Council members and neighborhood leaders, all trying to keep the peace....

    Buildings were burned and bystanders attacked in St. Petersburg in 1996 after a grand jury decided that a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen had acted in self-defense. The racial unrest bears resemblance to the disturbances in Ferguson, Mo.
  6. 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.

    He was just 14 when he was sent to what was then the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, in late 1940, and he was there only a few months when his mother got word of his mysterious death. His body had been found under a house in Marianna, officials told her, and was so badly decomposed that they could identify him only by laundry marks on his clothes, dental records and the color of his scattered tufts of hair....

    Pat Brewer, from left, Jason Byrd and Larry Bedore, all with the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System, take remains from the Dozier School for Boys to a van last year.
  7. FBI closes book on Claude Neal's lynching without naming killers

    Human Interest

    MARIANNA

    Claude Neal couldn't read or write. He was short and scrawny, and scraped by, picking peas and cotton, mending fences and tending hogs, trying to provide for a wife and 3-year-old daughter against the tides of the Great Depression.

    He died on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, killed by six white men who felt the need to send a message. They lashed him to a tree with tractor chains, cut him with knives, burned his flesh, and when he was dead, they turned him over to a mob of thousands, who poked him with sharpened sticks and drove their cars over his corpse before hanging him from an oak tree that still stands in front of the courthouse here, 80 years later....

    The front-page story in the St. Petersburg Times on Oct. 27, 1934 about the lynching of Claude Neal.
  8. Fans of Chalet Suzanne savor iconic restaurant, but can't save it

    Human Interest

    LAKE WALES

    Nowadays, the weathered roadside sign seems to beg for attention, but narrow your eyes and you can see better days. Better days, when Duncan Hines found Chalet Suzanne in the Florida hills and told all his friends. When Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore dropped by, when Robert Redford and Johnny Carson and Kevin Costner and Don Johnson clinked mismatched glasses and dragged their forks across secondhand china. And no wonder they came. Thirty Golden Spoons from Florida Trend hang outside the dining room, a testament to doing things right and long. For 83 years, Chalet Suzanne has kept the doors open. That's no small task in a state that's always in flux. Alas, things change, and Chalet Suzanne is closing its doors for good Aug. 10....

    WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.  (07/31/14 LAKE WALES) Christopher Slater, (cq) left holds hands with Sueann Mosley, (cq) right during a sunset on the deck at historic Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Country Inn in Lake Wales.  (WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.)
  9. Revive, don't raze, Tampa's Riverfront Park

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — This past Christmas we bought for my middle child something called a Spooner Board, which is marketed as a toy for gifted children but is really just a sort of a curved plastic skateboard without wheels. She dragged it to the front yard and tried to scoot around, and was bored in about two minutes.

    "We need a hill," she said.

    "Get in the car," I said. To save Christmas, we drove downtown, to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, home to the only hills I could think of....

    Children play one night last month at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, where few vestiges remain of the park designed by architect Richard Dattner. He was hired by the city of Tampa after designing an acclaimed adventure park in New York City’s Central Park in the 1960s.
  10. Face time, no Facebook, at remote, rustic Hike Inn in north Georgia

    Travel

    DAWSONVILLE, Ga.

    A few years ago, Travel + Leisure magazine predicted that the "greatest luxury of the 21st century will be dropping off the grid," and that the future of travel would be so-called black-hole resorts, desirable for their total absence of the Internet and cellphone connections. I found this hard to believe at the time, in light of the modern tendency to document every turn of a family vacation on Facebook....

    Asher, Morissey and Bey Montgomery play board games in the Sunrise Room at the Hike Inn, a cell phone-free hotel in north Georgia.
  11. St. Pete native quitting as voice of Thomas the Tank Engine

    The Feed

    All is not peachy on the Island of Sodor.

    Martin T. Sherman, the St. Petersburg native who has voiced the lovable engines Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and Diesel for U.S. audiences, broke the news softly a few days ago on one of the more popular Thomas & Friends fansites.

    "Unfortunately," he wrote, "I must now quit the show. It is embarrassing but the reason is that they are paying a very low wage. The terms they are offering are so poor, and this with the immense success of Thomas, that the only right thing for me to do is walk away."...

    Martin Sherman, 43, grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated from Gibbs High.
  12. Sheriff investigates claims of 'torture,' killings at Okeechobee reform school

    Human Interest

    OKEECHOBEE — The sheriff's deputies saw blood on the back of Joseph Johnson's shirt. He was 12, in 1959, walking down a Sarasota street after another beating from his stepmother.

    There's no way this is going to happen to you again, one of the deputies told him.

    They sent him to live at the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, a brand-new state-run facility for troubled kids and orphans and wards of the state, where that deputy's promise fell apart....

    Formerly known as the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, the Okeechobee Youth Development Center and Intensive Halfway House is run by private contractor G4S.
  13. Chelsea Baker's path to mound at Trop as unpredictable as her signature pitch

    Human Interest

    Chelsea Baker was nervous.

    So much could go wrong. She could hit Evan Longoria's sweet face with a pitch. She could end David Price's elbow. She could come out and throw like 50 Cent.

    And everybody would be watching — her friends and teammates, the gaggle of reporters, Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon.

    She never expected any of this. A female baseball player, a 17-year-old female baseball player, throwing batting practice — knuckleballs, no less — inside a for-real major league stadium to men who make millions of dollars....

    Chelsea Baker takes control of the mound as she starts for the Durant High School baseball team in Plant City on Thursday, March 20, 2014 against Middleton High. Baker is the only female varsity baseball player in Hillsborough County. Her signature pitch is the knuckleball, which she learned from former major-league pitcher Joe Niekro  . [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times]
  14. Spoiled by mobsters, Meyer Lansky's daughter recalls family men, not killers

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    The daughter sits on the front porch of a little bungalow in Seminole Heights, her new home since her husband died a few months ago down south. She misses him, but she's making do.

    At 76, she has her health, and friends. And her son, Gary. And she has the memories.

    Like the time Frank Sinatra came over to say hello to her father and spilled a champagne bucket of ice in her lap and looked as though he had made a fatal mistake. Or the time her father took her to the Majestic Theatre to see Carousel, the hottest ticket on Broadway, and he bought all the seats in front of them so their view was unimpeded. Or the time she went ice skating on the terrace of her family's 19th-floor apartment at the Beresford at 211 Central Park West. Or the time, later, when she made love to Dean Martin six times in one night....

    Willie Moretti’s bullet-ridden body lies on floor of restaurant in Cliffside Park, N.J., on Oct. 4, 1951.
  15. For Schenecker jury, a high-stakes course in the mysteries of mental illness

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Is she insane?

    Julie Shenecker, with 20 years of medical records that detail a struggle against a variety of severe mental illnesses, killed her own teen children. She shot them, as she wrote, in the "mouthy mouth," covered them with blankets, manipulated her daughter's lifeless lips into a smile. She wanted to protect them from molestation, and from inheriting her own debilitating brain disease. She wanted to kill herself, so they could live safely and eternally together in heaven....