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Thread: Reform School Horrors Revealed at Unmarked Grave Site in Florida

  1. #1
    Elite Member WhateverLolaWants's Avatar
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    Default Reform School Horrors Revealed at Unmarked Grave Site in Florida

    Florida Graves Reveal Reform School Horrors, Recall Witnesses and Families of Missing Children - ABC News

    Robert Straley was 13 when he entered the Florida School for Boys in the early 1960s for running away from home. The 1,400-acre grounds in the city of Marianna looked like heaven compared to his troubled home, he said, but on his first day, he was beaten bloody 35 times with a three-foot leather whip with a sheet metal insert.

    Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA/Newscom|Courtesy Robert W. Straley

    "These were not spankings -- they were floggings," said Straley, 66 and now living in Clearwater, Fla.
    "It looked like a college campus, not a reform school," he said. "There were no fences, the cottages were surrounded by trimmed hedges and tall pines and oaks. There was a swimming pool and a chapel. It looked nice, but it was a beautiful hell."
    Straley was one of about 300 "white house boys," so named because they survived routine beatings in a white concrete block building that he called a "torture chamber."
    "You went to the left for the white boys' waiting room and right for the black boys' room," he recalled. "They turned on the big industrial fan, which made a large racket and muted the sounds of the screams and whips somewhat.
    "The first boy came out with his eyes red from crying and his hands were buried in his crotch. He was pale and shaking with blood on his pants."
    The school, later named the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, closed in 2011, but it left a legacy of segregation, forced labor and brutality that is only today being fully uncovered.
    Earlier this month, the Florida legislature approved the exhumation of 34 bodies known to be buried at the Dozier's Boot Hill Cemetery.
    Digging began Labor Day weekend and excavators unearthed the remains of two boys -- ages 10 and 13 -- and hope to find the remains of as many as 98 children who were reported missing in reform school records over its 111-year history.
    Many families who lost children or others who witnessed beatings still have questions about who is buried at Dozier and how they died.
    "We knew there were kids missing," said Straley. "I don't think every boy who came to the white house came out alive."
    Now researchers at the University of South Florida hope to match DNA in the remains with families who want answers about their missing relatives.
    The year-long project is headed up by USF anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who has previously worked on genocide cases, identifying remains in mass graves in the Balkans, Nigeria and Peru.
    "It's really about providing access to justice for families," said Kimmerle, 40, who applies science to civil rights.
    "This isn't a war. It's different," she said. "But there are brothers and sisters who for their whole lives have been asking questions."
    The USF investigation is funded by a $190,000 grant from the State of Florida and $423,000 from the U.S. Justice Department.
    The school was established in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School in the heart of Ku Klux Klan country and was renamed several times.
    At the start, children as young as 5 were sent there, at first for crimes of "theft and murder," but soon for lesser offenses, such as "incorrigibility, truancy or dependency," according to the 2012 interim report by the USF team. For some, the only crime was being an orphan.
    Children were segregated by gender and race -- "white and colored," according to the report. At one time, the facility housed as many as 800 children.
    But as early as 1901, reports circulated of children "being chained to walls in irons, brutal whippings and peonage [forced labor]" and the state was called in at least six times to investigate.
    In 2008, an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement revealed 34 had been buried at Boot Hill Cemetery on school grounds in unmarked graves and 22 were unaccounted for. But they couldn't find enough evidence to support the allegations.
    But USF did its own research of historical documents and found double the number of deaths, including boys aged 6 to 18 and two staff members. They worked for months to secure a permit to dig.
    "The records were very incomplete, full of errors and stopped in 1960," said Kimmerle.
    Much of the property is now grown over with woods and the land is used by different government agencies, but until now, it has been under tight security.
    "The big question is whether the burial area is segregated or not, as the campus certainly was," said Kimmerle.
    Most of the unmarked graves found so far are near where black children were housed, so many of the former residents say that white children were likely buried elsewhere.
    Straley describes a school that was deeply segregated and tied to a labor and criminal justice system in Florida that could force children to work. The school's presses did all the printing for the state in the 1930s and 40s.
    "The black boys did all the agriculture, the beef and chicken and cattle and grunt work," he said. "We had it better on our side -- radio, laundry and the printing job."
    Straley worked as a "hospital boy," mopping floors, collecting urine samples and even helping the "almost blind" doctor set broken bones and stitch wounds.
    Kimmerle used ground-penetrating radar to detect disturbances in the soil that revealed at least 50 burial shafts. She said her team can, depending how much of the skeletal remains are recovered, do a biological profile and learn more about a child's diet, disease and health indicators like illness or stress.
    "It's a pretty comprehensive method that tells you a lot about a person and their life and death," she said. "If there was a lot of labor or repetitive activity there are signs of wear on the bones and if there was trauma, whether a person in life healed, we see evidence of that."
    The coffins of the two boys found, one with decorative handles of the Art Deco period and the other closed shut with nails, provide clues to when they died.
    The remains will be sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for DNA testing to see if they match DNA donated by 10 families who have come forward in search of missing relatives.
    One woman, Ovell Krell of Lakeland, Fla., said her brother was buried somewhere on the school grounds. George Owen Smith was only 14.
    Krell, who is white, said that Owen was sent to the school when he ran away from home in 1940 to pursue musical talent in Nashville. Along the way, he met up with a 19-year-old and got into some trouble.
    "My parents weren't notified of any kind of a hearing, just a letter saying he was there," said Krell, now 84 and a retired police officer. "The next thing you know, we got a letter saying he'd escaped, but somehow he got returned to the school. [His mother] kept writing, but never heard anything."
    A letter from Owen eventually did arrive in October of that year. "The part that jumped off the page for me was, 'I got what was coming to me,'" said Krell. "After that, we never heard a single word."
    In December, the school wrote that Owen could not be located, so Krell's mother informed them she would be arriving in person to find her son.
    "The morning before she got there, they said his body had been located under a house in Marianna and he had died of pneumonia," she said. "His body was so badly decomposed they could only identify him by the numbers on his shirt collar."
    The family instructed the school to deliver the body to the nearest funeral home, but by the time they arrived on campus, Owen had been buried in an unmarked grave, roped off from access, said Krell, who was only 12 at the time. And because the terrain has changed, she cannot remember where.
    "They knew Mom was coming and cooked this story up," Krell said. "By the smell of him ... he had been dead a long time."
    Krell said that if her brother's remains are found, "I will be forever grateful and could with a peaceful mind. My mother never got over it."
    Straley and the other white house boys pushed for a state probe of the missing children, but it didn't happen until 2008, when the press launched their own investigations and families began to take notice.
    Krell said when she finally met the white house boys, her brother's death made some sense.
    "When they told their stories, I almost lost it," she said. "I could see someone doing that to my brother and it would have been enough to kill him."
    Straley said he had witnessed a 15-year-old after a 100-lash beating: "They whipped most of the skin off of him. The flesh on his back and upper legs were red, black and bloody like hamburger meat."
    After three days, Straley said he never saw the boy again. Children were too afraid to tell.
    "If anyone talked and it got out, they were down for a beating of their life, or they ended up dead," he said.
    Straley said the experience left him with a sense of helplessness and a "rage problem," and he turned to risk-taking activities "to prove I wasn't afraid."
    After many more brushes with the law, he ran a successful business manufacturing glow sticks for rock concerts. He married, had a daughter who died, and eventually wrote a book, "The Boys of the Dark," with journalist Michael McCarthy, who was also a resident at Dozier, and author Robin Gaby Fisher.
    Straley and others went back to the Dozier grounds last year to plant a tree in front of the notorious white house.
    "A Vietnam vet told me he would rather do another tour than go back to the white house," said Straley. "There wasn't one of them -- homeless people, drunks, rich people and business people -- who didn't break down and cry. I realized six months ago that you can never go back to Marianna as a man, you only go back as that little boy you were."

    There will be times you might leap before you look
    There'll be times you'll like the cover and that's precisely why you'll love the book
    Do it anyway

  2. #2
    Hit By Ban Bus! rockchick's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
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    Holy shit. I know these horrors happened back then, but it's still awful to be faced with man's inhumanity to man.

  3. #3
    Elite Member WhateverLolaWants's Avatar
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    We can't forget that things like this can happen in America. It is a very unpleasant story to read about, but we owe it to these kids to make sure that things like this don't go unnoticed.
    rollo likes this.
    There will be times you might leap before you look
    There'll be times you'll like the cover and that's precisely why you'll love the book
    Do it anyway

  4. #4
    Elite Member CornFlakegrl's Avatar
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    Hanging with the raisin girls


    Christ almighty we're savages.

  5. #5
    Elite Member WhateverLolaWants's Avatar
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    It makes me think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and what people justify to themselves in the name of control. My son, who had been having significant emotional and behavioral problems, is really improving lately and I was saying to a friend just last night, "I'm glad his school doesn't have the 'some kids are just bad kids' mentality."

    You know that the staff at these places were telling themselves that sort of bullshit. "These are just bad kids. They don't know anything but this" etc, etc.
    There will be times you might leap before you look
    There'll be times you'll like the cover and that's precisely why you'll love the book
    Do it anyway

  6. #6
    Elite Member Mel1973's Avatar
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    I think we're only fooling ourselves if we believe that this kind of shit isn't STILL going on. There are kids out there that people feel can be treated like this because they're "bad" or because "nobody cares about them" or any myriad of reason any asshole wants to give. Places like this probably don't start out like this but, as it begins to bring in money and profit, it becomes a prison/business that uses child labor to see that profit grow.

    My dad and several of my uncles were sent to reform school in Louisiana - Angola, I believe it was. It was something that stayed with all of them their whole lives.
    Kill him.
    Kill her.
    Kill It.
    Kill everything... that IS the solution!
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  7. #7
    Elite Member Air Quotes's Avatar
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    I realized six months ago that you can never go back to Marianna as a man, you only go back as that little boy you were.
    Fucking heartbreaking.
    Brookie and JerriBlank like this.
    "A true whore just loves her life." - Sluce

  8. #8
    Elite Member rollo's Avatar
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    Vile story. Those poor kids.

  9. #9
    Elite Member Karistiona's Avatar
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    What a horrendous story. There are similar stories cropping up fairly regularly here too, there was a recent documentary about a catholic boarding school for boys where abuse and paedophilia was rampant, and the poor men who had gone there as children were so broken by the experience that they could barely lead normal lives. Even back in the 60s here regular schools where the poor sent their children were awful, my dad left at 14 because the beatings were so bad he wasn't willing to put up with them any more, so he got himself an apprenticeship.

    I'd bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
    I smile because I have no idea what's going on

  10. #10
    Elite Member Kat Scorp's Avatar
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    Down Under in Boganville


    J fucking Christ I can't fathom people capable of this cruelty nor could I bear the pain if I was that mum. All I can think is yes - Hell is for children.

  11. #11
    Elite Member InigoMontoya's Avatar
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    Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity


    I have been following this story for months.

    Florida's Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story : NPR

    Florida's Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story


    October 15, 2012 6:10 PM

    7 min 49 sec

    Dick Colon, one of the White House Boys, walks through grave sites near the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. Several men who suffered abuse and severe beatings believe the crosses mark the graves of boys who were killed at the school, victims of punishments that went too far.

    Phil Coale/AP
    Over the past decade, hundreds of men have come forward to tell gruesome stories of abuse and terrible beatings they suffered at Florida's Dozier School for Boys, a notorious, state-run institution that closed last year after more than a century.
    Known as the "White House Boys," these 300-some men were sent as boys to the reform school in the small panhandle town of Mariana in the 1950s and 1960s. They have joined together over the years to tell their stories of the violence administered in a small building on the school's grounds they knew as the White House.
    Some 81 boys are known to have died there, but where their remains are buried is a mystery that researchers are now trying to solve.
    "You didn't know when it was coming," says Jerry Cooper, who was sent to the school when he was 16. "These were not spankings. These were beatings, brutal beatings."
    Cooper is 67 now. He was sent to what at the time was called the Florida School for Boys in 1961. He'd been running away from home and hitchhiking when he was picked up by an AWOL Marine driving a stolen car.
    A county judge charged him with car theft and sent him to the school. Some of the kids like him were charged with crimes. Cooper says others were there for running away from home or because they didn't have families.

    Jerry Cooper, now 67, was 16 years old in 1961 when he was sent to what at the time was called the Florida School for Boys. He witnessed and received brutal beatings by the administration there.

    Greg Allen/NPR
    "A lot of orphans were there that did not have places at times and they were sent to Marianna. They weren't there for any crime whatsoever," Cooper says. "But we had many, many boys who was there for smoking in school, that were incorrigible. We weren't bad kids. We might have needed help in some respect. But that wasn't the place to find it, I'll tell you that right now."
    A History Of Brutality
    The Dozier School for Boys has been known by several names. It opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School on 1,400 acres west of Tallahassee. Throughout its history, the school was known for its harsh conditions and brutal treatment. Over the years, a succession of reports and commissions called for reforms, but little changed.
    Cooper says he did his best to stay out of trouble, but after several weeks, he learned about the beatings firsthand. School staff got him out of bed at 2 a.m. one day and took him to the White House where he says they threw him on a bed, tied his feet and began beating him with a leather strap.
    "The first blow lifted me a foot and a half off that bed," Cooper recalls. "And every time that strap would come down, you could hear the shuffle on the concrete because their shoes would slide. And you could hear the shoosh, shoosh, bam."
    Cooper passed out, but a boy in the next room later told him he counted 135 lashes.
    We weren't bad kids. We might have needed help in some respect. But that wasn't the place to find it, I'll tell you that right now.

    - Jerry Cooper

    As incredible as it may sound, Cooper's story is not uncommon. There are dozens of White House Boys with similar tales of beatings they received at the school in the 1950s and '60s. Several years ago, they began telling their stories in newspaper accounts and TV reports.
    Florida's former Gov. Charlie Crist ordered a state investigation into the allegations of abuse, torture and deaths alleged at the school. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviewed the White House Boys and former staff but said it couldn't find enough evidence to support the allegations.
    "It all boils down to civil liability," says Roger Kiser, a White House Boy who helped form the group and who has written about his experiences at the school in the late 1950s. "They do not want anybody to be able to have factual evidence that would make them pay for these what I consider to be crimes."
    The state report also found no evidence indicating a staff member was responsible for any student deaths. Kiser doesn't accept the state's conclusion.
    "There's just too many stories," Kiser says. "I know of one that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death. I thought he'd been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that. There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers."
    State investigators said that using school records, they were able to identify 31 former students interred in the school cemetery. Records show 50 other boys also died at the school, with no indication of where most are buried.

    Using ground penetrating radar, archaeologist Richard Estabrook has identified dozens of previously unknown graves at the school's cemetery.

    Greg Allen/NPR
    But in recent months, researchers from the University of South Florida have been spending time on the school grounds, working to answer some of those questions.
    Searching For Unmarked Graves
    Like a farmer driving a high-tech plow, archaeologist Richard Estabrook pushes cart-mounted ground penetrating radar equipment over an area near the school's old cemetery. Instead of crops, Estabrook is plowing for data information that identifies gravesites.
    He stops pushing for a moment to show what appears as wavy lines on his equipments' screen signs he's found another grave.
    "This sort of disturbance as it goes down there?" Estabrook says, pointing to the monitor. "That's the classic indication of a grave shaft."
    Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle is leading the research at the Dozier school. She's an associate professor at the University of South Florida who became interested in the case after hearing the White House Boys' stories.
    At the cemetery just a clearing in the woods near the school there are 31 crosses to mark those buried here. But in that section and in surrounding areas, Kimmerle has already identified 49 grave sites. Some, she says, may contain more than one person.
    Kimmerle says one question remains hard to answer: Why are there no records of where any of the boys who died at the school are buried?
    "When you look at the state hospital, the state prisons, the other state institutions at the time, there are very meticulous plat maps you can reference," Kimmerle says. "Or if you are a family member today, you can say, 'Where is my great-aunt buried?' and they can show you exactly where. So, why that didn't happen here, I don't know. But that does stand out."
    Kimmerle says identifying who's buried in the graves would require exhuming the bodies something that can be done only if a family member of one of the deceased requests it.
    That's where Glen Varnadoe comes into the story.

    In their search for graves, Estabrook and forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle lay out a grid at the school cemetery.

    Greg Allen/NPR
    Laying An Uncle To Rest, A Century Later
    Varnadoe is a businessman from Central Florida whose uncle, Thomas, was sent to the school in the 1930s, when he was 13 years old. A month later, he was dead.
    Varnadoe wants to exhume his uncle's remains and bring them back for burial in his family's graveyard. He's hoping Kimmerle's research will make that possible. But he believes the cemetery where she's been working isn't the only one on the school grounds.
    In the 1990s, Varnadoe visited the school at that time still open and asked to see his uncle's grave. He says a school staffer directed him, not to the cemetery where Kimmerle is working, but to another location.
    "He took me to a second place and said, "Here's where we think the five kids that died in the fire in 1914 are buried ... your uncle could be buried here."
    Varnadoe isn't sure where that second cemetery is located. Kimmerle and many of the White House Boys believe it's on a section of school grounds that's up for sale.
    That sale, though, is now on hold. Last week, Varnadoe went to court and secured a temporary injunction that halts the sale until his uncle's remains are found.
    "There is absolutely no question and no doubt that people that worked at that facility during the late '80s and early '90s knew then and know now that there are other places on the grounds of that school where children are buried."
    After blocking them for months, the state now has agreed to allow Kimmerle and her team access to the rest of the school grounds.
    The White House Boys believe Kimmerle's work will help uncover the truth about what happened at the school. Eventually, they hope to receive an apology and compensation from the state of Florida for the abuse they suffered there.

  12. #12
    Elite Member darksithbunny's Avatar
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    Those people are fucking assholes. Those poor kids. Just heartbreaking. Every child deserves to be loved, be safe, and grow become an adult. Pisses me off that they never got the chance.

  13. #13
    Elite Member MmeVertigina's Avatar
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    Jul 2012
    Your inner ear


    How truly horrid.

  14. #14
    Elite Member MsDark's Avatar
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    Northwest MS/Memphis TN


    My dad and his siblings went to state school for awhile when their parents divorced. I really believe this is one reason he's so damaged. He was the one who worked his ass off, graduated with honors and got a scholarship to college.

    My grandparents had gotten back together by the time I was born. But I think my dad always harbored a grudge against his father for having endured those years at state school. At least he was a bit older when they went. My dad's youngest brother was a little kid. And to hear him describe it, you got your ass beat on pretty much a daily basis. If not by adults, then other kids. And there was no such thing as older, bigger kids not picking on younger ones. My uncle competed in boxing and martial arts as an older teen and adult and could outlast most anyone if a fight went on long enough. He used to say that growing up in state school was where he learned to take a beating.

    Fucked up, huh?
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  15. #15
    Elite Member InigoMontoya's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity


    Yes; the Marianna school and the fact that it goes on much more than we know. Have you read this? Carcaterra's gotten some blow-back about the facts, but stands by his story.

    Sleepers: Lorenzo Carcaterra: 9780345404114: Books

    And then, there is this:

    Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.6 Million Kickback Scheme: William Ecenbarger: 9781595586841: Books

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