The battle over bodies at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna is not over.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a petition to allow Dr. Michael Hunter, the Medical Examiner in Panama City, to exhume human remains for up to one year. If the court order is approved, the dig would concentrate on “Boot Hill Cemetery” and surrounding areas, where it is believed there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted bodies of boys who died at the school between 1900 and 1952.
“The deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna are cloaked in mystery, and the surviving family members deserve a thorough examination of the site,” stated Bondi. “I am committed to doing everything within my power to support investigative efforts to help resolve unanswered questions and bring closure to the families who lost loved ones.”
If any unidentified graves and human remains are located, autopsies would be done to determine the cause of death.
“This is a critical step forward to bring closure to the families,” said Senator Bill Nelson. “I commend Attorney General Pam Bondi.”
A Lakeland, Florida man sent Nelson a letter in October claiming his uncle died at the school years ago under mysterious circumstances. The man, Glen Varnadoe, wants to now find and exhume his uncle’s body.
In January, Nelson announced University of South Florida researchers have received permission to carry-on their investigation of gravesites
The researchers have examined historical documents, used ground-penetrating radar, analyzed soil samples and performed excavations at the site to uncover the 50 unmarked gravesites. That is 19 more than identified in a previous investigation by the FDLE. The researchers also found that more deaths occurred at the school than previously known. They uncovered 98 deaths of boys between ages 6-18 in the years from 1914 through 1973.
A group of former students, who call themselves the White House Boys, say school officials tortured and killed boys in the 1950's and 60's, then buried them in unmarked graves. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the claims several years ago, before the state closed the school for budgetary reasons. But USF researchers say they found more graves than the FDLE during their research last year.
The relative of a student, who died mysteriously at Dozier is suing the state, to prevent the sale of the property.