Decades-Old Coffin Found Empty in Dozier Case

By: Associated Press / Bill Nelson Press Office Email
By: Associated Press / Bill Nelson Press Office Email

News Release: Associated Press
October 8, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- University of South Florida forensic anthropologists investigating a now-closed reform school on Florida's Panhandle received permission to dig up a decades-old grave in Philadelphia in an attempt to determine how the boy died.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that when the researchers exhumed the grave recently, the coffin was empty.

The boy, Thomas Curry, died in 1925 from what a coroner said was a crushed skull after running away from the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

He was supposedly buried at a Catholic cemetery in Philadelphia. No one can say whether officials at the reform school shipped a box filled with wood to a grieving family in Philadelphia, or whether someone removed Curry's body when it arrived and held a funeral for a box with no body inside.


News Release: Associated Press
September 25, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Researchers say they have identified two more sets of remains buried on the grounds of a former Florida Panhandle reform school for over a half-century.

The University of South Florida team announced Thursday it has identified the remains of 13-year-old Thomas Varnadoe and 12-year-old Earl Wilson.

Varnadoe died in 1934, reportedly of pneumonia. Wilson was beaten to death in 1944, reportedly by four other boys.

In August, researchers said they had identified George Owen Smith as the first of 55 bodies they exhumed from the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

Students from the 1950s and 1960s have for at least a decade accused employees and guards of physical and sexual abuse. But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims.


News Release: Associated Press
September 25, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- University of South Florida researchers say they have identified two more sets of remains buried on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

A news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday.

In August, researchers said they had identified George Owen Smith as the first of 55 bodies they exhumed from the grounds of the renamed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, an institution with a troubled history where the facilities were often decrepit and guards were accused of brutality.

Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have for at least a decade accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims.


News Release: Associated Press
August 7, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- University of South Florida researchers say they have used DNA testing for the first time to identify the remains of a boy buried at an unmarked grave at a reform school 74 years ago.

Researchers said Thursday they identified the remains of George Owen Smith, who was 14 when he disappeared from the now-closed Dozier School for Boys in 1940. They couldn't say how he died.

The researchers spent four months last year excavating the Panhandle school's graveyard. Official records indicated 31 burials, but researchers found the remains of 55 people.

Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims.


News Release: Bill Nelson Press Office
August 7, 2014

TAMPA - A team of forensic researchers from the University of South Florida is scheduled to announce this afternoon significant findings from their DNA work on remains found at the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.

The team, led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, has spent more than a year unearthing dozens of unmarked graves on the grounds of the defunct reform school in Florida’s Panhandle.

The team is trying to identify the human remains they found buried in these graves by matching DNA samples to the living relatives of the boys.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) helped the university secure a federal grant from the Department of Justice.

Nelson first got involved when a Polk County man two years ago asked the lawmaker's office for help in locating his uncle's remains, known to be buried on the grounds of the reform school that was the subject of numerous abuse allegations before the state finally shut it down three years ago.

"USF and Dr. Kimmerle have done a heroic job in helping bring closure to the families for their loved ones of what happened up at the Dozier school," Nelson said. "And we’re not going to let this problem be ignored anymore. Thanks to USF, we are bringing this in for understanding and not letting this problem be ignored.

"And it’s important - it’s important for justice and it’s important for the loved ones of those missing," Nelson said.


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