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Jan 29, 2014 08:34 AM EST

South Florida Researchers Discover Remains of 55 People at Dozier School (UPDATE)

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University of South Florida researchers have uncovered the remnants of 55 people from a graveyard at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys with a history of physical and sexual abuse. The excavations at the graveyard of the former reform school began in September and completed in December.

The researchers estimated that there were about 50 graves at the Marianna site, while the official records reported 31 burials.

Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and head of the investigation said that all the discovered bodies were buried sometime between the late 1920s and early 1950s.  Some of them were unearthed under roads or trees.

The north Florida reform school was established in 1900 and closed in 2011 due to financial reasons. Former inmates from the 1950s and 1960s have reported accounts of beatings and abuse.

At the north Florida site, the researchers excavated buttons, a stone marble from a pocket, hardware from coffins, thousands of nails and a brass plate probably from a coffin lid that read, 'At rest.'

The researchers will now send the remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for DNA analysis to identify the graves, the date of burials, and determine the cause of death.

"We know very little about those who are buried," Kimmerle said. "We want to help bring the facts to light," NY Daily News reports.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has dispatched a list of 41 names, alleged to have buried on the property, to help recognize the remains.

Ovell Krell of Auburndale hopes her brother's remains are among those found. George Owen Smith, at the age of 14, was sent to the northwest Florida school in 1941. After a few months, he was found dead and his family never recovered his body. If she finds the remains of her brother, Krell wishes to bury them with their parents at a family plot in central Florida.

"It's like buying a lottery ticket. I've got as good a chance as anybody. We are hoping for closure," Krell said, abc action news reports.

Kimmerle said that they will not stop with this exhumation. They plan to continue to search for other unmarked graves through radar techniques and with collaboration from the nearby residents.

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