USF Researchers Identify Two More Sets of Dozier Remains

Thomas Varnadoe, 13, and Earl Wilson, 12, will be the second and third children recovered from unmarked graves to be returned to family members.

Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of anthropology, updates the media on two additional DNA matches.          Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 25, 2014) – A research team from the University of South Florida announces the identification of two sets of remains recovered from unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys site in Marianna, Fla.

13 year-old Thomas Varnadoe and 12 year-old Earl Wilson are the second and third children positively identified through a DNA match.The identification of 14 year-old George Owen Smith was announced in August.Wilson marks the first African American student identified.

The positive identifications were made through DNA samples collected from family members and matched at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

“Our ability to provide answers and the physical remains of those who died to their brothers and sisters after more than 70 years is a remarkable privilege,” said Erin Kimmerle, lead researcher and USF associate professor of anthropology, “We recognize the need to help families and victims find resolution, no matter how many decades pass.”

In September 1934, 13 year-old Thomas Varnadoe was sent to the Dozier school with his older brother, Hubert.According to the death certificate, Thomas died of pneumonia 34 days after being admitted.

Thomas, whose body was found very close to George Owen Smith’s, was positively matched with DNA collected from his brother, Richard Varnadoe.

In August 1944, two months after being admitted to the Dozier school, 12 year-old Earl Wilson and eight other students were moved to a small confinement cottage on the property, known as a “sweat box.” Several days later, Wilson was killed by four of the students, according to court documents.During the trial, medical evidence presented listed the cause of death as blunt trauma to the head.

USF researchers found Wilson’s grave within the area of marked crosses on the Dozier property, which were only ceremoniously placed at the site in the 1990’s and didn’t accurately reflect the location of grave shafts or the total number of children buried there.He was positively matched with DNA collected from his sister, Cherry Wilson.

Since 2011, USF researchers have searched for records and the identities of scores of boys buried at the school.The remains have been excavated from 55 unmarked grave shafts at the site.

Researchers continue to work with the UNTHSC, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to locate possible next of kin to collect reference samples for identification.

Each set of remains recovered has been assigned a unique identification number so that in the event family members come forward in the future, a match can still be made. Families of boys believed to buried on school grounds should call HCSO Master Detective Greg Thomas at 813-247-8678.

Video clips from the press conference available here.

Additional articles and further information about the research at the former Dozier School for Boys:

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Images of posters displayed at June 14 news conference: