News 2008-10





READ A WEBSITE ABOUT GLENN HESS AND WHITE HOUSE BOYS DEATHS AT DOZIER (Note: the content on the Glenn Hess website was not written by the Official White House Boys.  The info on the Hess website was gathered by an outside source)



For their own good: a St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse at the Florida School for Boys
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers
Ben MontgomeryWaveney Ann MooreTampa Bay Times In Print: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate 31 graves near the school. “Please determine whether any crimes were committed and, if possible, the perpetrators of these crimes,’’ Crist wrote.  
A St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse at the Florida School for Boys. (This is the most thorough report on the White House Boys)   CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE STORY

Florida juvenile justice: The dead at Dozier
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers
In Print: Sunday, December 20, 2009

Metal crosses line a hilltop where some of the children who died at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are buried.

MARIANNA — Boys are buried on the little hilltop. That much is certain.

Thirty-one metal crosses stand in a clearing in the woods near the campus of the 109-year-old Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, and they're said to mark the final resting place of troubled kids who came here to be reformed.

But no one really knows how many graves are here, or where they are, or who is in them, or how they died.

Dozier has such a long and ugly history of violence and secrets that the governor last year ordered an investigation into the graveyard, to identify the dead and determine whether any crimes were committed. The state can now match names to the 31 crosses on the hill.

But those bodies may not be the only ones buried at Dozier. The St. Petersburg Times has interviewed three former inmates who say they unearthed bones in other parts of the campus. Another man who was in search of his uncle's grave in the early 1990s says a staffer at the school showed him two separate burial grounds. And according to the school's records, at least 50 more boys who died here remain unaccounted for.

About a year ago, former wards of the school who had found each other online started telling stories of awful beatings, of missing boys. The men, who call themselves the White House Boys, filed suit against the state and held a news conference. Reporters rediscovered Marianna and its tiny graveyard.

In December 2008, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the investigation. In May, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced it had found records that showed 29 boys and two men had been buried on the campus since the school opened in 1900.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the School or its staff made any attempts to conceal and/or contributed to the deaths of these individuals," the report said.

Thirty-one crosses. Thirty-one names. Case closed.

• • •

Thomas Varnadoe was 13 when he was sent to the school, then called the Florida School for Boys. He never came home. The mystery surrounding his death and burial has disturbed his family for 75 years.

Thomas was sent to Marianna in 1934 with his brother, Hubert. Hubert's son Glen has heard that the Brooksville boys were convicted of malicious trespassing. He knew his father was released in 1935, and that until the day he died he was deathly afraid of authority. He took literally the Do Not Remove tag on mattresses.

Glen, the CEO of a chemical company in Mulberry, often wondered about his father's experience, the impact it had on his life, and about what happened to his uncle. Why wasn't Thomas Varnadoe buried in the family plot in Hernando County? In the early 1990s, Glen paid a visit to the school looking for answers. He drove onto the campus and explained who he was and what he wanted. After some haggling, a staffer opened a big bound ledger. He ran down the pages of boy after boy until he finally found his father's name, and a notation that he was received on Sept. 22, 1934, and paroled July 29, 1935. He copied the entries on a sheet of paper.

Beside his uncle's name was this: Deceased after an illness of pneumonia. 10/26/34. Thomas Varnadoe was dead a month after he was admitted? Glen didn't believe that a sturdy 13-year-old got sick and died so quickly. Glen asked to see his uncle's grave. A man — Glen can't remember his name or what position he held — drove him across the highway, down a dirt road, to the hilltop cemetery.

There's been a lot of kids buried up here, he remembers the man saying. The man seemed embarrassed about the poor condition of the cemetery. They looked around for a minute, then climbed back into the pickup, drove a short distance, and stopped at another clearing.

We believe there's six or seven other graves over here, Glen remembers him saying.

• • •

In its investigation, the FDLE relied heavily on the school's own records, many of which are faded, damaged or incomplete. Investigators looked through deteriorating ledgers, student record books, old issues of the school paper, the Yellow Jacket. Some documents had been stored in buildings so dilapidated that the records were lost to the elements.

They checked the state archives and aerial photographs and ordered death certificates from the Florida Department of Health. Last December, they visited the cemetery. They took measurements and counted the crosses and combed the nearby woods for disturbed ground or boy-sized indentations. They tried to put together a history of the cemetery. The FDLE interviewed Lennox Williams, the superintendent at the school from 1966 to the mid-'80s, who still lives

in Marianna. Williams said he had found the cemetery overgrown in the early '60s, and he felt like the dead deserved better. So he ordered a Boy Scout troop to clean up and erect 31 concrete markers. He said the number of crosses was based on word of mouth and visible indentations in the ground. Years later, another superintendent, Danny Pate, had new crosses made. Pate still lives in Marianna. He says he went to the cemetery one day around 1996 to have a look around and the place was a mess. Trees had fallen on some of the cement crosses. He ordered new metal crosses. The staff didn't know where the crosses should go, so they guessed, driving them into the ground in four crooked rows.

The FDLE did not use ground-penetrating radar to see where remains were buried, believing it would not be useful because the ground and the bodies were likely too damaged.  "There were too many variables," said Mark Perez, FDLE's chief of executive investigations. The FDLE used school records to try to create a roster of the dead.

The school's Biennial Report for 1911 and 1912 lists one death, the first on record, but no name, and no burial information. Two guards and eight boys died in a dormitory fire in 1914. A telegram to a dead boy's mother said: "Bodies charred beyond recognition. Will be buried here. Greatest sympathy to family."

Three more boys, all black, died in 1915, but there was no cause of death or location of burial. Three more black boys died in 1916. No information besides names and "deceased." Nine more died in 1918, five white and four black, but no other information was given. And on it went, until the last recorded death, a drowning in the Chipola River in 1973. 

In the end, the FDLE determined that 81 people died there, but the official records placed just 31 in the cemetery on the hill.

Where are the other 50? The FDLE tried to track them to hometown cemeteries across Florida, but could not.

• • •

Charles Jones got a letter from the Times at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, where he's serving time for stealing a car and running from police. He says he has tried for 20 years to put the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys out of his mind, but the letter brought back painful memories.

One day in 1988, when he was about 16, he was on a work crew clearing land north of the campus. It was hot and nasty work. Then suddenly it stopped. One of the boys had unearthed what looked like human bones. The others gathered around, Jones remembered. The guard noticed and walked over.

What are you boys doing?

When he got close enough to see what they were staring at, he ordered them back into the van. Jones and the others did as they were told. And Jones remembers the guard on the way back to campus saying this: Y'all didn't see anything.

"I know what I saw," Jones said, 21 years later. "I can't forget it."

Asked if there's anybody who can verify his account, Jones doesn't hesitate.

"Jared Hunt," he said. "He was there. He'll remember."

The Times wrote Hunt, also serving time at Union Correctional Institution. He got caught fleeing a law enforcement officer at high speeds and driving with a canceled or suspended license. "We were in ISP work crew," Hunt wrote back. "We discovered what appeared to be human bones in the woods."

• • •

In 1963, Horace Bouler escaped from the school, he said, but he didn't leave the campus. The kid who grew up in the swamps in Winter Garden hid out in the woods on the school's 1,400 acres for weeks. A friendly cook on the black side of campus left food out for him once in a while. One afternoon, he said, he stumbled onto a large graveyard on the property. The graves were unmarked, but there were smallish square indentations in rows. Curious, he dug into the ground with a stick. He found a collar bone, he said, then a skull.

"You go past the cemetery and there's a wooded lot and that's where they buried all the boys," said Bouler, 62 now and living in Oklahoma. "You go straight north like you're going to Alabama, about 500 yards, and you'll find some graves that are unmarked."

• • •

Seventy five years have passed since the sheriff took Richard Varnadoe's brothers away. He's 80 now, retired. He lives in Salt Springs, 25 miles outside Ocala. The sheriff accused his brothers of stealing a typewriter from a woman down the street and nobody listened as his parents swore their sons' innocence. It wasn't long before the judge shipped the two boys to Marianna.

A letter came a month later, Richard remembers. Thomas, 13, was dead. "Everybody was devastated," he said. "It changed everybody. It has always been a cloud over our heads.''  His older brother Hubert came home from Marianna subdued and scared, almost to the point of being cowardly, he said. Stranger still, he wouldn't talk about what had happened to Thomas. "I tried and tried and tried to get him to say something about it," Richard Varnadoe said. "He lived to be 72 and he never said anything about it. He was obviously afraid.'' 

Did Thomas Varnadoe die from pneumonia? Or something else?

What about the others, the ones whose cause of death was cancer or heart attack? The boy who died during a tonsillectomy? What about Billey Jackson, whose official cause of death was Pyelonephritis, a kidney infection? Woodrow Williams, 67, of Lakeland, remembers attending Jackson's funeral at the school. He said the boys all knew he had been hit in the stomach during a beating.

What about George Owen Smith, whom the Times wrote about in May? His remains were found under a house in Marianna in 1941, his cause of death could not be determined, and his sister remembers a boy telling her family that the last time he saw George he was running across a field and a man was firing a rifle at him.

What about the stories from the former wards? Troy Warren claimed guards made him and another boy dig child-sized holes. Dick Colon claimed he had seen a boy in a tumble dryer. Jerry Cooper said he knew for a fact that a boy with a heart condition dropped dead during an intense workout in the gymnasium. The staff wouldn't let him take a break.

Many of them were orphans or runaways, like Alvin Curtis Laster. He's a minister and motivational speaker in Connecticut now, but in 1966 he had no family, no guardians. "If that kind of a kid were to be never heard from again," he said, "nobody would be there to question it." For him and the other White House Boys, the investigation won't be over until all the bodies are accounted for. As boys they were told not to question authority. Now they won't stop.

But is any of that true? And how do you verify stories a half-century old?

• • •

Now the FDLE says its investigation into the cemetery is not over, and it will check out any new leads. "We didn't say it was absolutely closed," said Perez, of the FDLE. "This case is a 50- or 60-year-old case. We can't expect it to be closed in a few months."

For 60 years, the school had a black campus and a white campus. In the first half of the last century, it was uncommon for blacks and whites to be buried together. But FDLE found no records to suggest there was more than one cemetery. "We're basing our findings on records, family members, former students themselves," Perez said. "Without the evidence to support it, we just don't know."

Without a way to see underground, without proper headstones or a reliable body count, there is only speculation. Perez said the FDLE published the names of the other 50 boys in hopes of generating clues about their whereabouts. Maybe a relative would remember something. Maybe a nephew or a niece or brother would step forward with a shred of evidence.

Richard Varnadoe had only this to offer. "I would just like to have some closure," he said, "and I'd like if someone could find his remains and dig him up and get him down here where we could give him a proper funeral and bury him close to family.''

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

To view the story on-line, along with all the comments, click here -

MAY 15, 2009 

FDLE says Dozier school can account for all 31 bodies

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced its findings into the unmarked graves at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna Friday and concluded that there were 31 bodies buried there between 1914 and 1952, and each of the deaths were attributable to a known cause.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the school or the staff made any attempt to conceal any other deaths,'' said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey at a press conference Friday.

Although the investigation into the alleged abuses is active and ongoing, FDLE said it was releasing the report about the graves sites to start answering questions of families of former students.

"We found no student who had specific knowledge of any unexplained death or burial at this site,'' said Bailey said. "We found no evidence to suggest that this was a secret or hidden cemetery. In our quest to determine the identify of the individuals buried at the grave site we conducted an extensive and exhaustive review of available records.''

Using official records of the school,death certificates, news reports and obituaries, aerial photographs and interviews with more than 100 former students and staff of the school, FDLE determined that the official record is clear and all suspected bodies are accounted for.

But investigators didn't exhume the bodies or do an analysis of the site to determine if there were more than 31 bodies buried there, said Mark Perez, FDLE chief of executive investigations. 

And when asked why they relied on official documents when there are allegations that school officials may have tried to hide beating death of a student by failing to record it on official documents, Perez said: "There is nothing to refute the information that is provided in that information.''
.Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 2:29:21 pm on May 15, 2009



A Times Editorial
FDLE investigation of Dozier School for Boys fails to find truth
In Print: Sunday, May 24, 2009 

Gov. Charlie Crist's reaction to allegations of decades-old child abuse at the former Florida School for Boys (now the Arther G. Dozier School for Boys) followed a familiar pattern. The stories were told, the public responded and the governor ordered an investigation. But the result so far, little more than a glorified audit of records pertaining to the school's cemetery by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has been an utter disappointment. Thursday's deposition of one of the school's alleged former abusers was a reminder, once again, that Florida still hasn't determined the full truth about what happened at the isolated campus where the state warehoused wayward boys for the last century. Crist has a moral obligation to continue to respond to that challenge, be it through FDLE or some other means.

It was a band of former residents from 50 years ago, now calling themselves "The White House Boys," who pressed Crist to act in December. More than 200 former residents have signed on to sue the state — prompting Thursday's deposition of former houseparent Troy Tidwell. A recent investigation by the St. Petersburg Times found that individually and collectively, former residents' stories strike similarly horrible and chilling themes of physical abuse and possible death.

Grown men, many of whom have struggled to build a life in the wake of Dozier, told reporters life at the North Florida school could include strap whippings in a low concrete white building that left blood on the walls, and sexual abuse in an underground "rape room." Their accounts included witnessing boys trapped inside running clothes dryers, orders to dig child-size graves and friends who disappeared after being hauled off to the "white house."

But FDLE steered clear of much of that emotional testimony — and did not interview one of the key leaders of the White House Boys group. The agency took the most literal interpretation of Crist's charge to investigate the school's unmarked graves. Using official records and newspaper reports, which the agency conceded were incomplete and deteriorated, investigators said it appears that 31 people are buried there, all 31 appear accounted for in written records and no deaths appear to be suspicious.

But the agency didn't exhume any bodies nor utilize ground-penetrating radar to discern if more could be buried there. And while the agency acknowledges the written records made it impossible to ascertain the location of burial sites, it appears little weight was given to the fact that the official records would have been maintained by the alleged torturers themselves. The result is a report that reads more like a possible defense argument for the state than an investigation that considered alternative outcomes.

FDLE said it will continue to investigate allegations of abuse at the school. Crist should make it clear that the agency has broad discretion to take its investigation wherever it may lead. Individual testimonies make it clear that bad things happened at Dozier to many boys. Unfortunately, the FDLE's first report suggests the state needs to dig harder to uncover the truth.


No Evidence Of Criminality In Dozier School Deaths
By North Country Gazette On March 12, 2010 · 

MARIANNA, FLA—In an unsurprising decision, State Attorney Glenn Hess of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit says there’s insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges in the deaths of individuals buried in more than 30 unidentified graves sites at the state operated Dozier School for Boys in Marianna (Bay County).

Hess based his decision on investigative findings provided to him by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing.

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The 13-page report of the FDLE concludes that  “with the passage of over 50 years, “no tangible physical evidence was found to either support or refute the allegations of physical or sexual abuse.”

On Dec. 9, 2008, Governor Charlie Crist directed the FDLE to investigate the unidentified graves at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, including the location of the graves and the entity that owned or operated the property at the time the graves were placed; identification, where possible, of the remains of those buried on the site; and if any crimes were committed, and if possible, the perpetrators of those crimes.

On May 15, 2009, FDLE released a comprehensive report detailing the findings of the first two items.

On Jan. 29, FDLE concluded its investigation into the third item: allegations surrounding criminal abuse of students at the school.  During the course of this portion of the investigation, FDLE interviewed six former staff members and more than 100 former students and their relatives regarding beatings, methods of discipline and sexual abuse alleged to have taken place at the school.  FDLE also conducted a forensic examination of the White House building, which is the location discipline was typically administered to students.

Those findings were then provided Hess.

The FDLE concluded that 24 of the individuals died as a result of illness or accident. Of the 24, eight students and two staff members were killed in a dormitory fire in 1914.  Twelve students perished as a result of influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other medical conditions.  Two students died of accidental deaths: one drowned and another fell from a mule and ruptured a lung, Bailey said.

In 1944, one student was murdered by four other students who were planning an escape.  Accounts indicate the victim was killed because of his knowledge of the escape plans.  The four involved were charged in the death.

In September 1940, an individual ran away from the school and was later found deceased four months later under a Marianna residence.  Records reflect a coroner’s inquest but determination of death could not be made due to decomposition.

Five individuals, all of whom were buried from 1919 – 1925, had no listed cause of death. The only notation found in records indicated that they were buried in the cemetery.

In addition to identifying the 31 individuals buried at the ceremony, the investigation documented 50 student deaths that occurred from 1911 to the last known death at the school in 1973. These deaths were mostly accidental or illness-related and their circumstances are documented in school records and death certificates.  Two of these deaths are cases in which students murdered other students.  In one case, an escapee from the school was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy.  The records available document all of these student deaths.  There is no information indicating burial in was the cemetery.

The investigation found no evidence that the school or the staff caused, or contributed to, any of these deaths, according to the FDLE.  The investigation found no evidence that the school or its staff made any attempts to conceal the deaths of any students at the school. In all cases, the deceased were accounted for in official records, according to the FDLE.

In conducting the investigation, FDLE interviewed former students and staff and reviewed records from school ledgers, student record books, the school’s newspaper (The Yellow Jacket), local and national newspapers, the Florida Department of State Library and Archives and the Florida Department of Health’s Division of Vital Statistics.  The Department of Juvenile Justice cooperated fully in the investigation and provided FDLE with access to all available records, files and documentation.

FDLE’s investigation also found that during the time the graves were placed (1914 – 1952), the school was owned or operated by the Governor Appointed Commissioners and the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions.

FDLE’s investigation began Dec. 9, 2008 at the direction of Governor Charlie Crist.  Governor Crist charged FDLE with determining the entity that owned or operated the property at the time the graves were placed;  identification, where possible, of the remains of those buried on the site; and if any crimes were committed, and if so, the perpetrators of those crimes.

 Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys currently serves as a DJJ-operated High Risk Residential Commitment Facility for male youth 13 to 21 years of age who have been committed by the Court.

Allegations had been made that black students were physically and sexually abused at the facility in the 1950s and ‘60s, then a reform school for blacks.  Four men, former inmates who say they were beaten while at the facility, have asked for an investigation. Several individuals claim that they witnessed black students being killed.

One former resident at the school, Donald Stratton, now 63, says that twice a week, children aged 9 to 16 were taken into a room a beaten. Stratton himself says he was beaten three times.

Another former student who says that he worked in the school’s laundry room, said he found a young child had been placed in a clothes dryer and that the child died as a result but he doesn’t know what happened to the body.

 The graves are marked only by white metal crosses and the former inmates allege that the graves contain the bodies of former residents at the school who were beaten to death by the state.  3-12-10

Florida Freedom Newspapers

State authorities announced Friday that this grave site located on the grounds of the former Florida Industrial School for Boys does not contain the bodies of abused victims connected to the "White House Boys" case.

Read more:

UPDATE: FDLE rules no abuse victims buried at reform school (see REPORT)
Plaintiffs in ‘White House Boys' case alleged beating victims were buried at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys
May 15, 2009 06:00:50 PM 
By ANDREW GANT / Florida Freedom Newspapers
MARIANNA — State investigators said 31 graves at a reform school in Marianna belong to victims of disease, accidents, fire and, in one case, murder — but not abuse.

In a report released Friday regarding what is now known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found "no evidence to suggest that the school or its staff made any attempts to conceal and/or contributed to the deaths of these individuals."

The investigation began in December after former students made public allegations of abuse at the school, once known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys. Gov. Charlie Crist asked for identities of those buried at the school and whether their deaths involved foul play.

Named after a cinder-block building on school grounds, the "White House Boys" still claim they were abused and that others were beaten to death. More than 200 men have joined a class-action lawsuit against the state.

"I honestly did not believe for a single moment that they would come out and say there were deaths attributed to staff members," Bryant Middleton, a Fort Walton Beach war veteran and one of four named plaintiffs in the case, said Friday.

"If they would actually provide information of boys that were ... beaten and killed by staff members, I don't believe for a moment that the FDLE would release that information in any type of conference," Middleton added.

Of the 31 dead, eight students and two staff members died in a fire in 1914, FDLE investigators said in the report. Twelve more died of influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria or other diseases. One drowned, and another fell off a mule and ruptured his lung.

Another boy was killed by four students who were planning an escape, and still another was found dead under a house months after his own escape, according to the report.

There are five bodies in the cemetery with unknown causes of death, and at least 50 other boys who weren't buried on site died at the school between 1911 and 1973.

There still is no evidence to suggest foul play by staff, the report said.

Several men interviewed said they heard of boys who disappeared or saw dead bodies. Some heard staff tell boys they woud be killed by "boy hunters" or taken into snake-infested fields if they tried to escape. Others heard escapees were killed by local farmers and tilled into the soil.

One student who fled the school in 1961 was shot in the back of the head by a sheriff's deputy. But the FDLE characterized the other accounts as folklore.
In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, much of the school's discipline occurred in the "White House," where Middleton claims lashings with a large, metal-reinforced leather strap were brutal and common. Officials have acknowledged some beatings occurred. The school remains open, but the White House is sealed.

Attorneys have scheduled a deposition next week with Troy Tidwell, a former cottage father who Middleton says administered several beatings. Tidwell has said the allegations are exaggerated.

The FDLE will issue a separate report on abuse at the school.

Read more:


FDLE investigation into Florida School for Boys cemetery is over, but mystery lingers

By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers
In Print: Saturday, May 16, 2009

 George Owen Smith, shown in what his sister says is one of the last photos of him alive, makes a face for the camera in an undated photo. Smith died at age 14 under murky circumstances at the Florida School for Boys in 1941.   [Family photo]


Ovell Krell does not know what killed her brother Owen almost 70 years ago. Officials back then told her family he crawled under a house and died. She was only 12, but

it sounded like lies. Her family has always believed Owen, 14, was killed by staff at the Florida School for Boys.

Now she's 80, and a state investigation and a glossy report offer no comfort and no new answers. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded an investigation Friday into a cemetery at the Marianna school, now called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

Its report identifies 31 people buried beneath white metal crosses on the campus, and finds no evidence that the school or the staff contributed to their deaths. But investigators also admit:

• They relied heavily — at times exclusively — on incomplete and deteriorated records kept by the school.

• They don't know the exact whereabouts of any of the remains because the graves were unmarked for years, until a superintendent ordered Boy Scouts to make markers.

The same man supplied the number of graves — 31 — based on an educated guess. Some 20 years later, part of the cemetery was destroyed by prisoners farming the land.

Another superintendent ordered pipe crosses erected, but workers had no reference point and placed them based on "how they thought they should be arranged."

• They did not exhume remains or use ground penetrating radar to determine how many bodies are in the ground or where they are placed.

Last month, the state-run reform school was the subject of a St. Petersburg Times special report, "For Their Own Good," about dozens of men who said they were severely beaten there as boys in the 1950s and '60s in a cinder block building called the White House.

In recent weeks the Times has also spoken with two men who say they were forced as boys to dig child-sized holes on the campus. These men, suspicious of authority, would not cooperate with investigators, fearing they would destroy evidence.

Mark Perez, FDLE chief of executive investigations, said "hundreds" of witnesses "did not provide any first-hand knowledge . . . that would refute the information provided in these records."

But investigators did not talk to several people who claim to have knowledge of suspicious deaths. They did not talk to Roger Kiser, a founder of the White House Boys,

the group featured in the Times report. They didn't talk to Johnnie Walthour, a 73-year-old Jacksonville man who told the Florida Times-Union a friend died after a beating in the early 1950s.

And they did not talk to Ovell Krell.

• • •

Owen and Ovell. They weren't angels, but they sang like them. Brother and sister, listening through the scrub for the Saturday night sounds that wafted out of the juke joint. Singing, heads to the heavens, to the South Florida Ramblers.

Owen made his first guitar out of a cigar box because his daddy couldn't pack oranges fast enough to buy the real thing. The Depression strangled Central Florida, but Owen tried to sing it away.

He had a rambling spirit. He would split for Gasparilla Island, without telling a soul, and come back with stories about fishing the gulf with his grandpa.

Then, in 1940, when George Owen Smith was 14, he left and didn't come back.

His parents got word he was behind bars in Tavares. Auto theft, even if he didn't know how to drive. The sheriff shipped him off to the state's only reform school, a mean place called the Florida Industrial School for Boys.

Owen sent a letter home to let them know he was fine. Then the weeks went by with no word.

The next they heard he was in Bartow, not far from Auburndale, caught running from reform school. He had almost made it home.

Then came the letter from Marianna. "I got what was coming to me," the boy wrote.

After that, the letters stopped, no matter how many stamps his mother licked.

Frances Smith wrote to the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson, in December of 1940, asking about her son. Davidson wrote back saying no one knew where Owen was.

"So far we have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts,'' said his letter, dated Jan. 1, 1941.

She wrote back, telling him she would be at the school in two days to search for her son.

That letter apparently arrived in Marianna around Jan. 23, 1941. That's when the Smiths heard the news from an Episcopal priest in Auburndale. He was apologetic. Said the school had found Owen.

A friend drove them to Marianna. The school's superintendent told the family that Owen's remains were found under a house in Marianna. They identified him by his dental records and the markings on his laundry.

The superintendent led the family through the woods to a clearing, to a patch of fresh-turned earth.

Even at 12, Owen's sister knew something wasn't right. Her brother goes missing. Then just before the family arrives to help look, he's found under a house, and buried before his own parents can pay their respects?

The family met with another boy in the presence of the superintendent. The boy told them he and Owen had escaped. They were walking toward town when the headlights hit them. The boy stood still. Owen split. The last time the boy saw Owen, he told the family, he was running across an open field. Men were shooting at him.

• • • 

Ovell Smith is Ovell Krell now. She was a Lakeland police officer for two decades, one of the first female officers in Florida. She still doesn't understand what happened to her brother. Why would he crawl under a house? Why would he not come out, even if he were starving or ill? Why would a 14-year-old boy just lay down and die?

Maybe that's why she has kept those letters for all these years.

Her mother was never the same. For 40 years, she spent every day in bed, and every night on the porch, listening for Owen to come whistling home.

Early this month, Krell wrote a letter to the FDLE describing the family's account. She got no response.

"I think they should dig further," she said. "I stake my life that there was a conspiracy."

According to the report released Friday, George Owen Smith "escaped from the school in September of 1940 and his remains were found in January 1941 under the Marianna residence of Ms. Ella Pierce. After a coroner's inquest, no cause of death could be determined due to the extreme decomposition of the body."

The report says he is buried with 28 children who died from fire, pneumonia, drowning, acute nephritis, tuberculosis, a ruptured lung, homicide, all while in state custody. He is one of five children whose death certificate lists no known cause of death.

Case closed.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at (727) 893-8650 Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or

Sister still wants answers

At, you can:

• Read the entire FDLE report.

• See video of Ovell Krell talking about her
brother's death.

• Read "For Their Own Good," a special report on abuse at the Florida School for Boys.

 Who is buried in the cemetery?

• Ten students and two staff members who died in a dormitory fire Nov. 18, 1914:

Bennett Evans, carpentry teacher; Charles Evans, guard; Joe Wetherbee, Walter Fisher, Clarence Parrott, Louis Fernandez, Harry Wells, Earl E. Morris, Waldo Drew, and Clifford Jeffords, 15, of Clearwater

• Leonard Simmons, May 9, 1919, no cause of death

• Nathaniel Sawyer, Dec. 12, 1920, no cause of death

• Arthur Williams, Feb. 26, 1921, no cause of death

• Schley Hunter, April 15, 1922, pneumonia

• Calvin Williams, Dec. 31, 1922, no cause of death

• Charlie Overstreet, Aug. 19, 1924, died during tonsillectomy

• Edward Fonders, May 18, 1925, drowned

• Walter Askew, Dec. 18, 1925

• Nollie Davis, Feb, 8, 1926, pneumonia

• Robert Rhoden, of St. Petersburg, May 8, 1929, pneumonia

• Samuel Bethel, Oct. 15, 1929, tuberculosis

• Lee Smith, Jan. 5, 1932, influenza

• Joe Stephens, May 9, 1932, fell from mule

• Thomas Varnadoe, Oct. 26, 1934, pneumonia

• Richard Nelson, Feb. 23, 1935, pneumonia

• Robert Cato, Feb. 24, 1935, pneumonia

• Grady Huff, March 4, 1935, acute nephritis (kidney disorder)

• James (Joseph) Hammond, May 2, 1936, tuberculosis

• George Owen Smith, Jan. 24, 1941. Runaway found under a house, death certificate indicates no cause

• Earl Wilson, Aug. 31, 1944, strangled and beaten by four fellow students

• Billey Jackson, Oct. 7, 1952, kidney infection

• Two dogs, details uncertain.

• Sue the peacock, Dec 27, 1947. According to her obituary: "An elaborate funeral service was held and several of the students were present to pay full respects to her remains."

As seen in: 

Florida Boys School - Nightmare Continues

Story Summary: The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap. They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they'd never walk out. For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they needed to be reformed. It was for their own good

Photos are credited to ©
 Edmund D. Fountain/St. Petersburg Times/ZUMA.
EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN, is a Florida-based (U.S.) photojournalist specializing in documentary photography, portraiture and reportage. His work is represented by ZUMA and has been honored multiple times by the National Press Photographers Association, The Society for News Design,The Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar and the Florida Society of News Editors. (Credit Image: ©   



FDLE Concludes Investigation into Past Abuses at Dozier School for Boys 
State Attorney says there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges
Posted: 1:55 PM Mar 11, 2010
Reporter: Press Release 
On Dec. 9, 2008, Governor Charlie Crist directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate 32 unidentified graves at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Governor Crist charged FDLE with investigating:

1) The location of the graves and the entity that owned or operated the property at the time the graves were placed;

2) Identification, where possible, of the remains of those buried on the site; and

3) If any crimes were committed, and if possible, the perpetrators of those crimes.

On May 15, 2009, FDLE released a comprehensive report detailing the findings of the first two items.

On Jan. 29, FDLE concluded its investigation into the third item: allegations surrounding criminal abuse of students at the school.

During the course of this portion of the investigation, FDLE interviewed six former staff members and more than 100 former students and their relatives regarding beatings, methods of discipline and sexual abuse alleged to have taken place at the school.

FDLE also conducted a forensic examination of the White House building, which is the location discipline was typically administered to students.

The investigative findings were provided to State Attorney Glenn Hess of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit.

On Feb. 25, State Attorney Hess advised there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.



Thursday, May 21, 2009
FDLE Confirms: No “Mystery Graves” at Dozier 
By Times Staff

Marianna – As the Jackson County Times has reported for some time, there are no "mystery graves" at Dozier School in Marianna.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released the results of its investigation into nearly 100 years of deaths at the Marianna facility, confirming reports by the Jackson County Times and the previous findings of Jackson County historian Dale Cox that there are no suspicious graves and no missing youths at Dozier.

The investigation was launched by order of Governor Charlie Crist after former students of the school alleged that students had "disappeared" while at Dozier and that some were buried at the little historic cemetery on the hill behind today’s Jackson County Correctional Facility. Television stations in the area even showed images of former Dozier students standing in the cemetery and crying for boys they said had been beaten to death and buried there.

Local historian Dale Cox quickly refuted the allegations of "mystery graves" almost as quickly as they surfaced. Cox indicated that his research into the history of the Dozier cemetery indicated that most of the 31 graves there dated prior to 1920. Cox told the Jackson County Times and other media outlets that 22 of the graves date from a fire in 1914 and the influenza epidemic in 1918. The rest, he said, explainable. To bolster his statements, Cox produced a 1940 aerial photograph two weeks ago that shows the cemetery.

It turns out the historian got it right. The report released by FDLE on Friday confirmed his findings on the history of the Dozier Cemetery and indicates that all of the graves there had been identified and almost all of them dated before 1940. None of the people buried there died as a result of staff abuse.

As Cox had earlier indicated, FDLE discovered that 22 of the graves dated from a fire at the school in 1914 and the Spanish flu epidemic 4 years later. Five other individuals were buried at the school prior to 1925. Of the remaining four graves, one is of a student who was killed by a mule, another contains the victim of an accidental drowning and one holds a student who died after running away in 1940. The last one contains a student who was murdered by four other students in 1944. His murderers were charged and tried.

The FDLE is continuing its investigation into claims of abuse at the school, but has completed its study of student deaths there without finding any evidence of either missing students or students who died from alleged staff abuse.

The announcement received limited media attention, nothing like the earlier stories when reporters flooded to Marianna in search of sensational headlines and "mystery graves." Historian Cox lambasted the media for the way it had covered the story and treated the community in general. "There were some good reporters who came here," he said, "but there are quite a few reporters and media organizations that owe Marianna and Jackson County an apology for the way they covered this story. They printed wild accusations of murders and secret graves with no supporting evidence. Now they should make up for it."


Boys school probe stirs painful memories
December 15, 2008|By Rich Phillips CNN Senior Producer

Leaning against his cane, Bryant Middleton shuffled toward the makeshift cemetery. Tears welled in his eyes as he leaned down to touch one of the crosses.

"This shouldn't be," he said. "This shouldn't be."

Thirty-one crosses made of tubular steel and painted white line up unevenly in the grass and weeds of what used to be the grounds of a reform school in Marianna, Florida. The anonymous crosses are rusting away but their secrets may soon be exposed.

When boys disappeared from the school, administrators explained it away, said former student Roger Kiser.

They'd say, "Well, he ran away and the swamp got him," Kiser recalled. Or, "The gators got him." Or, 'Water moccasins got him."

Kiser and other former students believe authorities will soon find the remains of children and teens sent to the Florida School for Boys half a century ago.

On the orders of Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement last week opened an investigation to determine if anyone is buried here, whether crimes were committed, and if so, who was responsible.

A group of men in their 60s, who once attended the school, have told investigators they believe the bodies are classmates who disappeared after being savagely beaten by administrators and workers.

The FDLE is just beginning its investigation, so there is no way to know if there is any truth to the allegations. The investigation will be challenging. Finding records and witnesses from nearly half a century ago will be difficult if not impossible. Many of the administrators and employees of the reform school are dead. Read more about the investigation

Middleton is 64 now, a former Army Ranger. He was 14 then, a wayward boy. He was sent to the Florida School for Boys for breaking and entering.

He recently accompanied CNN to the school grounds.

"This is a travesty against mankind and the state of Florida should be ashamed of themselves," he said, choking back tears.

"It's as if they were tossed out here like they were nothing but garbage. And it's just downright criminal. Somebody needs to be accountable for this."

A single-story, nondescript building anchors the other side of the property. The white cinder block structure looks so simple, so bland, that it is difficult to imagine the pain, terror and torture it conjures up in the men who say their childhoods were ravaged within its four walls.








No surprises as FDLE identifies remains in graves at Florida School for Boys

- (May 15, 2009)

FDLE Identifies Unmarked Graves at Dozier School for Boys  (PDF) 

 Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida also known as the Florida State Reform School, questions still remain about individuals buried at the Dozier “Boot Hill” Cemetery, herein referred to as the “School Cemetery,” on the North Side or “Number 2” side and was there a second Cemetery on the South Side or “Number 1″? 



Re: Florida Industrial/Reform School

By karen slater April 30, 2003 at 01:15:41

Maybe the following will help as well as be interesting.

Sunday, October 3, 1999

Few envisioned
controversies of Dozier School
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two articles on Arthur G.
Dozier School, Florida's oldest training facility, located in Marianna.)

Contributing Writer
A century ago when Marianna residents built the Florida Industrial School for Boys, which later became Dozier School, few envisioned the numerous controversies the institution would experience or the many secrets the grounds would hold.

The concept of a reformatory for juvenile delinquents was a new idea in 1847 when Henry Hayes Lewis, a freshman in the Florida Legislature, introduced a bill to establish this type school for both "white and colored boys" in Marianna.

As early as 1825, New York City founded a "house of refuge," the predecessor of this country's reform schools. Other large cities such as Boston and Philadelphia soon followed. All were supported through private donations and rehabilitation was attempted through education and work.

But it remained for England to pass the Reformatory Schools Act in 1854, demonstrating the success of separate institutional treatment facilities for juveniles, for the idea to spread in the United States. These training facilities became known as state industrial schools.

Determining the age when teen-agers should be sentenced as youthful offenders or adults continued to be the issue, however. The courts finally decided to attempt reform with those who appeared not to be unduly vicious on the presumption that they had acted without exercising clear judgement. Those the court deemed incapable of reform were sent to ordinary prisons.


Marianna had a population of approximately 2,000 at the turn of the century. Surrounded by numerous farms that had once been huge antebellum plantations, this prosperous town of the Old South had yet to construct electrical lighting, a sewerage system, a public waterworks, telephone lines or an ice plant. Cotton ranked as Jackson County's number one crop with bales of cotton often lining Marianna's streets.

Houses were built on large lots with room for horses, chickens and spacious gardens. Hogs and cows roamed free and often slept on the wooden sidewalks at night.

Meat sold for 5 cents per pound and syrup at 20 cents per gallon. In the cooler winter months, fish peddlers drove wooden covered wagons up from St. Andrew Bay to sell salt fish and oysters in a vacant lot near Green Street. Trains on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad stopped at the depot as they had since 1882 when the tracks were first constructed through town.

In Marianna the jail remained a major concern. Although the town had the only secure jail west of the Apalachicola River through the 1850s, Jackson County grand jurors recommended the facility's windows be enlarged to admit more pure air into the dank hollow that bred disease just prior to the Civil War. After the war numerous jailbreaks occurred. But in 1899, Marianna proudly boasted a new secure jail, and townspeople breathed a sigh of relief.

Citizens gave the 1,200 acres, covered by rolling hills, for the site southwest of town, along with $1,400 to help start the reform school. The Legislature appropriated $10,000 for the construction of the two reformatory buildings to segregate the black and white inmates, but not funds for fencing.

The training school was built at a time when conditions at the adult prisons and convict-leasing stockades were still cruel and inhumane in Florida. Prisoners frequently worked from sunup to sundown, 12 to 15 hours per day. Food was poor, housing often filthy, sanitary conditions vile and medical care inadequate.

Guards inflicted corporal punishment for the slightest infractions or disobedience with 10 lashes at the whipping post considered mild treatment. Some of these policies, especially the work system, became part of the program at the Marianna Industrial School in the beginning until changes occurred in the juvenile and adult penal systems.


In her book Our Yesterdays, J.S. Rhyne tells of the first years at the reform school when inmates "worked in fields with their feet shackled by chains."

During that time, the management was under constant pressure to turn out "enough bundles of hay and bushels of corn, peanuts and other products" to justify the amount the state paid for fertilizer for the farm.

The superintendent answered the complaints in 1913 by reminding the legislative committee reviewing the school's proceeds that "with the work done by the boys, some little and 'very bad boys' at that, the show in produce compares favorably with that of other farms."

He called their attention to the fact that this was not only a farm, "but a home and a reformatory where boys also received an education."

Marianna State Reform School, as the facility was commonly called, accepted boys of all ages. On Aug. 28, 1913, the Panama City Pilot listed 9-year-old Robert C. Mitchell as "unmanageable." His mother appeared before Judge D.K. Middleton and gave her story. After Middleton committed Mitchell to the institution, Sheriff W.A. Brown escorted him to Marianna.

One year later on Nov. 17, 1914, the school experienced one of its worst scandals. The headlines of the Times Courier of Marianna reported: "TEN LIVES LOST IN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL FIRE - White School Building No. 1 Destroyed - Victims of Death on Second Floor - Fire Escapes Could Not be Opened. THOUGHT TO BE INCENDIARY."

The burned building was designed to house 100 boys. It was built of brick with much interior woodwork, which made it a veritable firetrap. It had, however, recently been equipped with fire escapes, and the institution had a fire-fighting organization, but not adequate water supply.

The newspaper reports stated that "not one body could be identified in the fire. Flames spread while all slept except two inmates, detailed as guards, who rushed upstairs to fire escapes that have never been opened and screaming for help, "were soon mercifully smothered to unconsciousness."

I.A. Hutchison, Panama City's representative in management at the reform school, left immediately for Marianna. He attempted to clear up some of the conflicting stories. Later, he reported "the horrible holocaust" was sensationalized by false accounts "of locked doors and keys that could not be reached."

Although evidence was circumstantial, Walton County Sheriff Murdock Bell arrested George Caldwell of Laurel Hill for setting the fire. Earlier that year Caldwell's son Bill ha been convicted in criminal court of aggravated assault for cutting another boy with a knife. In May 1914 Bill had been sent to the Marianna reform school while his attorney appealed his case to the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision of the lower court.

Next week: More about the Caldwell case, the flu epidemic and improvements at the school.


© The News Herald
Copyright Notice

Out of the Past
Dozier remains a
residential facility that incarcerates
juvenile felons from all over Florida
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of two articles on Arthur G. Dozier School, Florida's oldest training facility for youth, located in Marianna.)

Contributing Writer
After the great fire of Nov. 17, 1914, that claimed the lives of 10 boys in Dormitory No. 1 at the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, George Caldwell of Laurel Hill was arrested for setting the blaze.

According to the Defuniak Springs Breeze of Dec. 3, 1914, the elder Caldwell remained "very much wrought up over his son's commitment to the reform school." After all efforts failed to get him released, Caldwell threatened to "blow the damn thing up with dynamite but that he could get his boy out."

Some reports stated that Caldwell had been at the reform school the day of the fire to visit his son, Bill, who had been sent to Marianna on a charge of cutting another boy with a knife. That day Bill escaped. One person reported seeing the elder Caldwell run around the corner of the building just before the discovery of the fire.

Now the "boy must not only answer the charge of escaping but is charged with his father being responsible for the fire," reported the Breeze.

But later that month, the grand jury of Jackson County exonerated Caldwell and recommended that his son be pardoned. They determined that Caldwell had been made a scapegoat.

An investigation revealed that "officials higher up" had neglected their responsibilities. Those in immediate charge were found to be "frequenters of houses of ill fame" while on duty. Several others reported absent from work, grossly neglecting the care of the boys.

In 1915, a second investigation committee, appointed by the state to ascertain the cause of the fire, blamed management. Then, according to the Panama City Pilot, instead of confining themselves to the issue, the committee and candidates for public office turned the fire into a political issue.

They recommended the removal of the facility to some point in Central or South Florida. "Why should West Florida be the seat of any of the state's institutions," queried other newspapers, echoing the comments of downstate politicians.

But in an allocation lost to passerby on the grounds, a small wire-fenced cemetery, marked with white crosses, remains from the big fire in 1914.

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