Forensic Experts Have Found 55 Bodies Buried at Notorious Reform School

That’s more than twice as many as they expected to find

A vintage postcard presents a deceptively sunny view of the school Photo: State of Florida

In 1900, the Florida School for Boys (also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) began admitting juvenile boys with behavioral problems, including those who had committed violent acts or crimes. Almost immediately, the school gained a reputation for its own violent methods.

Two years ago, Erin Kimmerle, a forensics experts from the University of South Florida, began excavating the bodies buried around the former school. This week, she and her colleagues announced that the investigations have so far uncovered 55 bodies, or more than twice the number listed on the official school records as having been buried there, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Problems started at the school almost immediately after it was opened. 1903 inspector noted that many children were kept in leg irons. Rumors abound of beatings and even torture that would take place in "The White House," a concrete detention center on the campus, reserved for boys who acted out.

Although corporal punishment was banned at the school in 1968, in the 1980s, another inspection revealed that students were being hog-tied and sometimes sentenced to weeks-long stays in an isolation cell. Some also reported sexual abuse by staff members and other boys, and frequent, severe whippings. Despite the continued evidence and stories about the facility's violent practices, however, the school remained open until 2011, when it finally closed due to budget issues. 

In the 2000s, a group of former inmates calling themselves the White House Boys joined together in an effort to seek justice for the abuses they allegedly suffered. But they soon found that the statute of limitations for a potential law suit had already expired (they were incarcerated in the 50s and 60s). An investigation carried out by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement a few years later uncovered no evidence substantiating claims about extreme violence, sexual abuse or murder. 

But Kimmerle's work indicates that the case may be far from closed. What exactly happened at the school will likely never be definitively proven or disproven, but for now, Kimmerle and her team are continuing their excavations, examining the bodies in an attempt to determine cause of death and seeking out DNA samples from family members of the deceased boys so their remains can be identified and returned.  

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