Additional Graves Located at Former Reform School

A report by USF researchers notes 19 additional grave sites and discrepancies in records on how some youths died.

Video: Katy Hennig | USF News


From USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 10, 2012) – A team of University of South Florida anthropologists and archaeologists have found at least 19 more graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla., than has been officially reported.


Once the largest reform school in the nation, the century-old institution has been the subject of numerous investigations into abuse allegations and suspicious deaths of children held there.


The USF research team led by Erin Kimmerle, Richard Estabrook, Christian Wells, and Antoinette Jackson released its interim findings Monday as it delivered to state officials a lengthy report detailing the number and location of graves at the school’s Boot Hill Cemetery and surrounding wooded area.


**** Read the report. Click here. ****

**** Prior coverage: Lost in the Woods ****


In several months of field work, scientific analysis and ethnographic research, the team’s research shows an estimated minimum of 50 grave shafts in the area of the cemetery and surrounding wooded area. Previous investigations and records had reported that 31 boys were buried on school grounds.


Very little documentation about the history of the cemetery or who is buried there exists, nor was the exact locations of individual burials documented.  Previous records indicate 81 deaths were reported at the school; however USF researchers compiled records of 98 deaths which occurred between 1914 and 1973 in historical documents of boys aged 6 to 18 and two adult staff members.

"We found nearly twice as many burials as were thought to exist," Kimmerle said, "but many of them had been lost in the woods under brush and trees."

Kimmerle’s team also identified discrepancies in records of the cause and manner of death reported for several boys. A high number of boys – 20 individuals - died within the first three months of being remanded to the school and the researchers found inconsistency among those who were issued death certificates.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, also known as the Florida State Reform School or the Florida Industrial School for Boys, has been the subject of investigations and lawsuits over the treatment of boys during its long history. The USF researchers work focused on deaths at the school from 1900 to 1960.

"No understanding of the Florida State Reform School over the course of its history can be understood without consideration of the impact and implications of segregation, particularly those relating to criminal justice," Kimmerle said. "The majority of boys committed to the school and that died there were African American."

USF researchers have spent months mapping the school’s cemetery and using ground-penetrating radar and other methods to look at stratigraphy and soil chemistry to identify the numbers and location of graves in the school’s cemetery.

USF’s team was granted permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to access the historic land, and received a permit for archaeological research to locate and document graves associated with the Boot Hill Cemetery from the state Division of Historical Resources.

USF researchers concluded in their report that additional research and preservation of the site are needed to recognize the historical significance of human and civil rights issues in Florida in the area of juvenile justice and the rights of families to have accountability and transparency as important aspects of restorative justice.

Kimmerle is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology; Estabrook is the former Director of the Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archeology Network; Wells is an Associate Professor of Anthropology; and Jackson is an Associate Professor of Anthropology.

USF researchers, Erin Kimmerle, forensic anthropologist and assistant professor of Anthropology; Antoinette Jackson, associate professor of anthropology; and Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology, address media during a news conference Monday. Photo: Aimee Blodgett | USF News