Bodies of Evidence: UNT Researchers ID School of Horror Remains

MARIANNA, FL —  The notorious Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida was accused of abusing, raping and torturing its students.

Finally, in 2011, it was closed.

That’s when a very curious Erin Kimmerle, a forensic Anthropologist and Associate Professor at the University of South Florida, put together a team to start investigating.

Before long, they located and excavated 55 unmarked grave sites with human remains.

The obvious question — who was buried in the school’s yard? Was it possible that young boys who were sent to the school to be disciplined had been killed?

“‘There`s definitely a back story to this whole situation and that`s very unfortunate,” Dixie Peters, UNT`s Technical Leader of the Missing Persons Unit, says.

That’s where the University of North Texas Health Science Center comes in. The human remains, which include teeth and bones, were sent to Fort Worth to use DNA analysis to identify the remains.

“All the cases we have received either complete or they are in process,” Peters explains.

Thursday, UNT Health Science Center announced it has made its first identification — a 14-year-old named George Owen Smith who attended the school back in 1940. His parents had received a letter from the school telling them their son was nowhere to be found.

A month later, an update. They told the family he died after escaping from the school.

But when the family came to retrieve his body, the school said he had been buried in an unmarked grave.

“We feel very privileged that we were able to make this association,” Peters says. “I think for the families this helps bring some resolution maybe some peace for them.”

Closure for one family, but that leaves more than 50 cases to solve.

UNT says the key to unlocking this mystery is getting family members to prove their DNA so they can make a match.

“The lynch pin in this whole project is actually getting more family reference samples because we can go through and process all these unidentified remains, but if we don`t get additional family reference samples to compare them to, we`re not going to be able to make additional associations,” Peters explains.

There’s no happy ending here folks. It sounds like this may have been a school of horror.

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