1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

USF-led researchers to look for more graves at Florida reform school

University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle will be back at the former Dozier School for Boys on Monday.
University of South Florida Professor of Anthropology Dr. Erin Kimmerle walks the grounds of the Boot Hill Cemetery at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna on Aug. 30, 2013. (Times | 2013)
Published Jul. 15

A former Florida Panhandle reform school known for horrific abuse, where the remains of 55 people were unearthed after the state shut its doors, might have more grisly mysteries underneath its grounds.

University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle will be back at the former Dozier School for Boys on Monday, the same place where she spent four years researching and unearthing the remains of boys buried on the massive 1,400-acre site in Marianna, located about 60 miles northwest of Tallahassee.

She’ll lead a team on a mission to see if 27 anomalies discovered by a contractor using ground-penetrating radar on the site are likely to be human graves.

“At the end of a couple of weeks we’ll have a real good sense of what’s going on and hopefully that will provide some clarity. There are a lot of people really invested in that history and the men and boys who were there. It will be nice to give them some answers,” Kimmerle said in a phone interview Friday.

RELATED: Entire Dozier School campus will be searched for graves, state officials say

There could be a lot of explanations for the anomalies. During the four years of research of the school’s Boot Hill grave sites that ended in 2016, Kimmerle’s team identified what they thought were 50 human graves, and eventually found 55. But they unearthed a lot more than human remains.

“It could be tree roots, root balls or buried garbage, trash or animals,” she said. “Even what we found at Boot Hill with that burial ground, is there was still a lot of both historic and modern buried trash and syringes and buried animals. There was a lot of that mixed into the site. So that wouldn’t surprise me. I’m kind of expecting to find a mix of things.”

The anomalies were found just across a road from where the reform school had a barn and pasture as part of a working farm it operated decades ago, so there could be farm animals buried there, she said.

The reform school opened in 1900. It later became known for decades of abuse, including beatings, torture and rape, and the state opened an investigation into the facility’s past in 2009. The school was closed in 2011. The Legislature apologized for the abuse two years ago with many of the survivors gathered at the Capitol for the vote.

RELATED: More ‘possible graves’ found at Dozier School for Boys

Kimmerle’s team previously extended their search far beyond the Boot Hill graves, about 30 of which were marked with plain, white iron crosses with no explanation of who was buried beneath them. They examined historical photos to see what areas of the school now overgrown with trees and brush were once open fields. They researched records on deaths that occurred at the school. There were nearly 100. Records show that some of the boys’ bodies were shipped back home, but that wasn’t necessarily accurate.

Kimmerle noted that records show one boy was buried in Philadelphia, but when researches checked the grave there, it was empty.

If any of the newly discovered anomalies turn out to be human remains, Kimmerle said the pattern of where they are buried indicates that they were clandestine burials. In other words, whoever buried the bodies didn’t want anyone to find them.

That’s when the initial work would stop and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a medical examiner would be called. A full excavation of the site wouldn’t happen until authorities had a chance to investigate the findings.


  1. Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks Lev Parnas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando at the watch party for DeSantis. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO | TIMES CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    A Tampa Bay Times photograph and a video posted by a Reuters reporter shows Parnas smiling with DeSantis amid the chaos of the watch party.
  2. Andrew Gillum.
    Sharon Lettman-Hicks, one of Andrew Gillum’s closest advisers, helped the Florida Democratic Party register new voters.
  3. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. [DAVID SANTIAGO | Miami Herald]
    Scott’s received contributions from the two associates of Rudy Giuliani who were arrested last week.
  4. Emissions from cars and trucks are a major source of the greenhouse gases fueling climate change. An analysis by the New York Times found that air pollution from those sources has increased in the Tampa Bay area by 55 percent since 1990. [Times (2008)]
    Florida once had emissions inspections, but Jeb Bush ended them in 2000
  5. Trump National Doral resort in Doral. EMILY MICHOT  |  TNS
    Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was listed as a speaker Friday evening, appeared that night at the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County’s Lincoln Day Dinner, a well-attended gala also held at Trump National...
  6. Senator Wilton Simpson, R- Trilby, examines papers as he enter the Florida Capitol, Wednesday, May 1, 2019 during the last week of the sixty day legislative session. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The man once called “the Donald Trump of regional egg farmers" is in line to become leader of Florida’s Senate in 2020
  7. In this image from a telecast by The Florida Channel, Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to a Gainesville crowd that came to discuss revisions to the state's education standards this past week. “We’re going to end up with the world’s best standards,” Corcoran said. The Florida Channel
    The effort, ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, aims to transform the way students learn in public schools. A “listening session” is set for Tampa’s Jefferson High.
  8. The annual assault on Florida’s public records law begins anew today in the Legislature.
    “It’s pretty alarming what they’re doing here,” said a former Florida long-term care ombudsman who now runs an advocacy group for residents.
  9. Protestors gather in Turlington Plaza to practice the chant "No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA" prior to the speech of Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle at the University of Florida on October 10, 2019.  CHRIS DAY  |  Chris Day
    The president’s son was joined by former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, his girlfriend, who serves as an adviser for Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
  10. Republicans circle the wagons. Samantha J. Gross | Miami Herald
    Even this week’s revelations in Florida haven’t disrupted the state’s political dynamics. That means Republicans are firmly behind their leaders.