FDLE urged to launch new investigation into Dozier remains

Published Feb. 20, 2015

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement wrapped up its investigation into a burial ground at the Dozier School for Boys in 2009, saying records showed 31 people were buried on the campus of the state's oldest reformatory.

But the discovery of 20 unaccounted-for dead boys prompted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to call on the FDLE to take another look.

In a letter Wednesday to new FDLE chief Rick Swearingen, Putnam says the discovery by University of South Florida anthropologists of 20 more remains than the FDLE found in 2009 should be investigated.

"Given the new information . . . I am requesting that FDLE evaluate the new findings reported by USF to determine whether or not there is new evidence that would otherwise warrant additional investigation," Putnam wrote. He asked that findings be reported to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet.

The FDLE found records of 31 burials at the school in the Panhandle town of Marianna that closed in 2011, but USF later unearthed remains of 51 individuals from 55 graves. Nearly 100 boys are known to have died in custody between 1900, when the school opened, and 1960, the last year for which records are publicly available.

In an update to the Cabinet in January, USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle urged law enforcement to get involved, mainly because "the investigation of abuse, sexual assault and rape is beyond our expertise and may have criminal or other civil consequences."

USF says several men who were imprisoned at Dozier as boys 50 years ago were younger than 12 when they were raped, qualifying as capital rape, for which there is no statute of limitations. And at least one of the named perpetrators is reportedly still living.

But several former wards said Thursday they wouldn't trust the FDLE to investigate again. They've been critical for years of the FDLE's earlier investigation.

"We don't trust them to do this," said Jerry Cooper, 70, of Cape Coral, president of a group of former wards called the Official White House Boys. "If they're going to reopen this and they can't get the feds in here, they need to use an independent outfit to investigate this."

USF researchers have identified five sets of remains they exhumed from what was called the Boot Hill cemetery. They've also uncovered a handful of suspicious and violent deaths, and found a small, round piece of metal consistent with buckshot among one set of remains. They believe that as many as seven victims of a 1914 dormitory fire are still missing.

One problem they've had in identifying the boys, besides the deteriorated condition of the remains, is that school records turned up just 43 names. And excluding the fire victims, USF has 48 sets of remains — more skeletons than names.

Researchers will continue field work at the shuttered school until August. They plan to excavate the burned dormitory structure to search for the missing remains.

Contact Ben Montgomery at or (727) 893-8650.