First Remains Identified From Dozier Boys School In Marianna

August 8, 2014

University of South Florida researchers on Thursday announced they had identified the first set of remains exhumed from 55 unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a now-closed Panhandle reform school in Marianna.

The remains of George Owen Smith, who went to Dozier at age 14 in 1940 and was never seen by his family again, were matched with DNA collected from his sister, Ovell Krell of Polk County.

Smith’s remains, which were found wrapped only in a burial shroud, will be returned to his family.

“We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was,” Erin Kimmerle, a USF anthropologist who is one of the leaders of the excavation, said in a statement. “But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers.”

Smith’s mother, Frances, wrote to Dozier superintendent Millard Davidson in December 1940, asking about her son, according to the university. She received a letter saying no one knew where he was. In January 1941, the family was told Smith had been found dead under a house after escaping from the school. Family members traveled to Marianna to claim his body, but when they arrived, they were led to a freshly covered grave with no marker.

Krell said her mother never accepted that her son was dead and spent the rest of her life waiting for him to come home.

“So that brings closure to one family,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who helped get U.S. Department of Justice funding for the DNA research. “But think about all the other families that still don’t know.”

University researchers began digging for remains last year at the site of the former reform school, which operated for decades in the Jackson County community of Marianna. Questions have arisen about whether boys who reportedly died of pneumonia and other natural causes were killed at the school.

Nelson told reporters in Tallahassee that the family members of Dozier boys had flown in from all over the country to give DNA samples to the researchers.

“This dirty little secret has been covered up for a better part of a century,” Nelson said. “It’s finally coming out.”

The state hopes to sell the 1,400-acre Dozier site eventually, a move that has been put on hold by the investigation. In September, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet gave the research team a one-year window to search the school’s 1,400 acres for more unaccounted-for bodies.

State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater will work with the researchers to develop reburial plans if and when more bodies are identified. Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam released statements of support following Thursday’s announcement.

“The University of South Florida has made great progress in answering a number of questions about the dark history of the Dozier School for Boys,” Putnam said. “In order to bring resolution to the community and the families, the USF researchers should quickly and thoroughly complete the work that they have begun. The victims’ families and the people of Florida deserve to have the best answers that science can provide.”

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida

Pictured top: A trench dug in the search for human remains at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Pictured below: Mapping the graves. Pictured inset: The remains of George Owen Smith have been positively identified. Courtesy photos for, click to enlarge.


11 Responses to “First Remains Identified From Dozier Boys School In Marianna”

  1. Dennis HE Wiggins on August 12th, 2014 11:48 am

    While I am glad there is now closure for the Smith family, I think there should be a re-ordering of priorities here. I do not have the information on Florida – it may may be in better standing chronologically – but Alabama is about 2 years backlogged in DNA tests for rape victims. (I would presume murder, also.) How is it that the Federal government can spend all this money to identify remains of people who have been dead for YEARS in such a short period of time – and yes, in this field, at this time, one year is a short period – while making LIVING victims wait twice as long to see their violators brought to justice?

  2. Reality Check on August 11th, 2014 9:47 am

    That, Governor Scott, is why the state of Florida needs Anthropologists. I am glad to see closure for these families.

  3. 429SCJ on August 10th, 2014 8:11 am

    There is no statute of limitations on murder. If any of these monsters walk the earth they should be hunted down and prosecuted for these crimes against humanity.

    Were the lives of these boys just an unfortunate circumstance, to be swept from memory, or did they matter as much as you or me?

    When we fail to pursue justice, our culpability exceeds that of the perpetrators.

  4. Doug Brown on August 9th, 2014 12:22 pm

    Even today we don’t hold government officials accountable. How many children have been abused, lost, raped, murdered or otherwise permanently damaged while under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families or the Department of Juvenile Justice?

  5. Mexican Bob on August 9th, 2014 9:52 am

    If the public really knew what happened within the system I would hope there would be mass protests for change. Our nation tauts itself as above many other nations as to due process but in some areas we are no better than many other third world countries.

  6. Who Knew? on August 8th, 2014 10:50 pm

    Growing up in Panama City, in the 50’s,’ the”reform school” was the boogie man. It was always the ultimate punishment for straying from the “straight and narrow.” Ironically, the Boy Scouts and other organizations were allowed to tour the campus. Every year the Dozier School, had a real neat Christmas decoration display, and was enjoyed by many. Little did we know the hideous secrets hiding behind those walls. God bless those kids.

  7. Saddened heart on August 8th, 2014 4:12 pm

    I hate this for the boys and their families. Truth is even today, there is dirty business in some of the correction facilities. I knew someone, now passed, who made the mistake of wounding someone in his own defense instead of finishing him off and then took a plea for 5 years instead of possible 20 years, 3 months later, the castle law and he would have been ok, but he went on to do his time, things were looking up for him, then he had a major heart attack, was sent to their hospital near Jacksonville and witnessed many things…people would be ok one day, then they would disappear…something strange happened to them and they were dead. And at some point they began pressuring him and his mom to sign a paper that should he die, to save money, they would have him cremated~ hello! to get rid of evidence! Well, he later had a major stroke and his mom had him moved to Panama City to a hospital there and he was after a verrry long time and much legal stuff allowed to come home to live out his months there…much longer story, but everything that glitters is not gold! And things are still going on that’s not right! Just saying~

  8. melodies4us on August 8th, 2014 3:56 pm

    That “school” was hell on earth. It is so horrible and sad for the 1000s of boys that were sent there. Parents, let this be a lesson to you: Don’t expect someone else to raise your kid. Spend alot of quality time with them. Raise them with love and expect their obedience. It makes me sick to think that this could happen to children anywhere in this world. We fought WW2 because of a place like this. I am so glad the nightmare is over.

  9. John Bonner on August 8th, 2014 3:35 pm

    I am John Bonner who is a former abused boy from Dozier. As Vice-President of ” Black Boys At Dozier Reform School, I’d like to first, thank GOD for making this happen for,the Krell family. We are happy for you Ovell Krell, You can now rest in peace, because you have succeeded in your quest to find Owen.I know your parents in Heaven is watching it all, and now can rest in peace themselves. Our struggle and fight for justice is not over. We still have a long ways to go, but a short time to get there. Perhaps thousands of boys have yet to be found and identified. I will continue this fight until it’s over or I am dead.

  10. Michelle on August 8th, 2014 10:04 am

    This is heartbreaking. I hope this brings some closure to all the families involved. I’m sorry this ever happened to them.

  11. Doc on August 8th, 2014 1:29 am

    It’s a shame the persons responsible for this childs disappearance will never have to explain what happened to him and many other boys who were buried in these unmarked graves. The very people charged with protecting these boys abused them and discarded them like trash. Many of the boys sent to this facility tried to raise the alarm about what was going on there, but thier pleas fell on deaf ears. I can only hope that those responsible for the deaths of these children are being punished in the afterlife.