Bones unearthed in search at former Florida boys reform school
Sunday 01 September 2013
Teams of searchers recovered human bones from the sands of Florida Panhandle woodlands on Saturday in a “boot hill” graveyard where juveniles who disappeared from a notorious Old South reform school more than a half-century ago are believed to have been secretly buried.
"We have found evidence of burial hardware - hinges on coffins," said Dr. Christian Wells, an anthropologist from the University of South Florida, in a briefing about a mile from the closed excavation site near the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
"There appear to be a few pieces associated with burial shrouds, and there are pins consistent with the 1920s and 1930s, - based on the style of the pins - and they appear to be brass," he said.
Some "large-bone fragments" were found on the first day of digging, Wells said. They were human bones, he added, but it was impossible to know if they came from any of the teenaged boys who were housed at Dozier during its infamous 111-year existence. The school was closed in mid-2011.
The bones will be examined in laboratories at the University of South Florida and the University of North Texas, as part of a programme funded by the US Department of Justice and state of Florida.
After forensic investigators, using ground-piercing radar and old public records, detected 31 spots showing possible human remains, researchers planted crude white crosses on a nearby hillside to commemorate the unaccounted-for boys.
Some former residents of Dozier, now in their 60s and 70s, have told of brutal beatings and boys - mostly black juveniles - disappearing without explanation more than 50 years ago. Blood relatives of some of the boys have given DNA samples, to be matched against evidence taken from the skeletal remains.
Earlier on Saturday, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist from USF, met with some family members and survivors.
"We're approaching it much like you would an archaeological excavation," Kimmerle said. "It's all done carefully and by hand."
Tananarive Due, who came to the dig with some family members, said her great-uncle, Robert Stephens, died at the school in 1937.
"The story was ... he tried to run away at one point," she said. "The official cause of death was a stabbing by another inmate, that's what it was listed as. But with so many of these boys, who knows how they died? Their families never had a chance to say 'good-bye' to their loved ones."
Johnny Lee Gaddy, 67, said he was locked up from 1957 to 1961 for truancy. He said he was severely beaten, but in his teens became a good farm worker, hoping to get released.
Gaddy said he had heard of teens disappearing without explanation.
"I know some they said went home, but they hadn't been here long enough to go home," said Gaddy. "They said some others ran away or were transferred to other places. We never saw any bodies or funerals."
John Due, father of Tananarive, said descendants and civil-rights activists who pressed the state for disclosure of what happened to the young men ran into rigid resistance from authorities for decades.
"People didn't want to talk about it, and we found that particularly among black families," he said. "That's what racism does. It beats you down and you think you don't matter, so you won't speak up."
The forensic teams will work through Tuesday. Remains that can be identified will be re-interred at family plots and any unidentified remains will be numbered and buried - with records kept for later return to families, if any come forward.
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Tories suspend candidate who said she would never support 'the Jew' Ed Miliband
Bali Nine executions: Indonesia confirms killings of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will go ahead
The four utterly contradictory polls that tell the story of this election and why it is pointless trying to predict the outcome
General Election 2015: Prospect of Labour-SNP coalition makes one in four voters less likely to support Ed Miliband, says survey
Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler is requi...
£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...