Nineteen more bodies.
A team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida has discovered another 19 bodies dumped into the unmarked graves that pock the abandoned campus of the Dozier School for Boys.
Those 19 bodies, consigned to oblivion by school authorities, had somehow escaped the attention of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement back in 2010, when it investigated criminal allegations associated with the infamous juvenile lock-up in Marianna.
FDLE had concluded that, over the years, 29 children and two adults had been buried in a 40 feet by 40 feet cemetery, marked only by a random cluster of crude white crosses fashioned out of metal piping. FDLE decided there was no indication of secret burials at the school. No unaccounted deaths. And no indication of past criminal doings at the school. Or at least of homicides. Other possible crimes, like the reported horrible and systematic beatings of the boys, or allegations of sodomized children — well, sorry, but those old stories have been rendered irrelevant by Florida’s statute of limitations.
So that was that. Or would have been if the USF anthropologists had not come nosing around last summer, using ground penetrating radar, soil sample analysis and forensic pathology, along with the school archives and other historic records. The USF researchers released a preliminary report last week that documented the additional graves. Add the boys whose bodies were claimed by the parents, there were at least 98 deaths of kids at the school. But only 47 death certificates.
Of course, the FDLE could have uncovered this same ghastly information in 2010, had the agency been a bit more motivated.
The additional graves add credence to the awful remembrances of former wards at Dozier, who have told of seeing unruly boys taken away by guards to the "White House," an outbuilding where guards beat their young prisoners bloody. Some, they claimed, never returned. Family members, those who inquired, were told the boys had died of sudden illnesses.
"No, I wasn’t surprised that they found more graves," said Robert Staley, who had been sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1963 at age 13 as an habitual runaway. "We knew that there were other boys buried there."
And Staley is sure more graves yet are secreted on those kudzu-choked grounds, which was finally closed last year after 111 scandal-laden years of operation. The cemetery examined by the USF researchers was located on the "colored" side of a 1,400-acre campus in rural North Florida where, for most of its history, race separation was sacrosanct. "The white graveyard is still missing," Staley insisted. "The school was segregated. They wouldn’t feed us together. They certainly wouldn’t have buried us together."
Staley was among some aging former inmates who sued the state in 2010, claiming they had been abused as child prisoners at Dozier. They dubbed themselves "the White House Boys," after the notorious white-washed outbuilding where the beatings were administered. Or where kids were locked in isolation. (The suit was dismissed. Their allegations, too, had been overtaken by the statute of limitations.)
Staley remembered his own excursion into that barbarous place after he and a few other wards were accused of plotting an escape. He was forced to wait in an outer room as the boys in the front of the line were taken into a room he called the dungeon. As he waited, in growing horror, he could hear the screams and the snapping retorts of a whip on flesh. "It was not like anything I had ever heard before," he said. "It was like they used on slaves in the 1800s. A heavy leather strap, four feet long, weighted with metal slugs. It weighed as much as a baseball bat. You wouldn’t be allowed to use something like that on farm animals."