Dozier School Dig Unearths Bodies of at Least 55 Boys

Three years after it was finally closed, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys continues to belch up its foul secrets. The infamous Panhandle reform school was shut in 2011 after more than a century of shocking stories, including the deaths of dozens of black youths and the abuse of Miami teens.

But yesterday authorities announced they had unearthed 55 bodies -- more than twice the official tally -- from behind the cursed institution.

See also: No Budget for Sadism: Arthur G. Dozier Boys' School to Close

Even before the school closed, state officials began looking into the small bodies buried behind Dozier. In 2010, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced there were 31 official gravesites at the "reform school" near the Alabama-Georgia border.

The University of South Florida was commissioned to lead an excavation, with remains sent to Texas for DNA testing, Reuters reported.

The bodies were found in the woods across a busy highway from the school. Officials are now focused on another nearby area nicknamed "Boot Hill."

The school has a long history of abuse, dating back to its opening in 1900. Most of the bodies are believed to belong to black children who died early in the 20th Century.

In 1903, investigators found children shackled like prisoners, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Decades later, boys were still being beaten bloody with leather straps. And in the 1980s, "investigators found that boys were being hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time."

See also: Free Justin! Despite well-documented injustice, a Pembroke Pines boy remains in jail

In 2007, New Times wrote about the case of Justin Caldwell, a Miami boy who was nearly beaten to death by Dozier guards but remained locked up there.

In 2008, a group of former inmates calling themselves the White House Boys persuaded the state to conduct an investigation into the deaths of Dozier inmates, whose graves were marked by nothing more than white crosses among the tall pines.

Officials hope that unearthing the graves will allow them to identify the boys' bodies and finally bury some of Dozier's many ghosts.

"Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team," USF professor Erin Kimmerle told Reuters. "All of the analyses needed to answer these important questions are yet to be done, but it is our intention to answer as many of these questions as possible."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.