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USF Anthropologists Will Return To Infamous Dozier School, In Search Of Remains

Ryan Dailey

University of South Florida anthropologists are planning to take another look at the grounds of the infamous Dozier School for Boys. The move comes after a search for “anomalies” on the property turned up mostly tree roots.

USF’s lead anthropologist on the project, Erin Kimmerle, gave an update on the most recent search Monday.  

Kimmerle led the University’s team that discovered the remains of more than 50  boys six years ago – some of which were identified. But this last go-round in July didn’t produce remains.

“What we found, for the most part, were tree roots and stumps – root balls, basically, that were buried,” Kimmerle said to a panel that included Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee. “There was part of an old structure. It looks like a concrete slab, but that’s not to say it couldn’t have been dumped there as well.”

Ryan Dailey

The team is now planning to go back, to take another look. Kimmerle says her team is looking to start in September. And this time, they’ll be employing another method of surveying land for excavation.

“LIDAR … stands for light detection and ranging. So it’s another survey method, it’s one more tool to add to your toolkit, that helps recreate the surface structure. Another word for it would be 3D modeling, or 3D imaging,” Kimmerle said.

Using LIDAR does have one drawback – it doesn't work well in areas with tree cover. And that could be a challenge, because Kimmerle says the area is much more wooded today than it was when the school was in operation.

Roy Conerly attended the school for 11 months decades ago. He is one of the ‘White House Boys,’ named after the small building at Dozier where boys were given beatings. Conerly was in attendance Monday, and says he appreciates the work USF is doing but is 'disappointed' in the LIDAR tech.

“It only works in clearings. And most of the area that we’re talking about, for sure, is wooded,” Conerly told WFSU. “So the LIDAR is not going to be effective there.”

Conerly says he suspects there could still be bodies on the disgraced school’s grounds.

“There’s 183 that we have paperwork, that entered there,” Conerly said. “But those same 183, there’s no record of them leaving. So where did they go?”

Conerly also says he and others think Dozier, which was segregated until the late ‘60s, had a cemetery on its south side where the white students initially were housed. The unmarked graves USF researchers found in 2013 were on the north side, which was meant for black students.

“We have witnesses that says there was a cemetery on the white side. And I’m pretty convinced, because I knew the people that said it,” Conerly said. “They’re reliable.”

Kimmerle says she doesn’t know how long the next project will take, nor could she answer on Monday how large of an area will be surveyed.