Dozier students who were tortured, raped, may finally get compensation after years of coverups



Florida — Former students, now grown men, may finally get compensation for the years of physical and mental torture including sexual abuse that they endured while at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Dozier School for Boys is a former reform school in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna which shut down in 2011 for alleged budgetary reasons.

On February 27, the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee signed off on a proposal (SB 24). The bill will create a compensation program and steer $20 million to former reform school students.


The victims, known as the “White House Boys,” have been seeking justice for 16 years.

70-year-old Cecil Gardner was one of those victims. When he was just 14, he was beaten so badly by one of the men at the school that the flesh was torn from Gardner’s body. Later that same week that same man took Gardner down to the “White House” and raped him.

In 2013, the University of South Florida began the excavation of what could be hundreds of unmarked graves at the site of a former Florida school for boys.

The school had gained a heavy reputation over its 111-year history for horrific beatings, rape, torture, and even murder of young inmates by staff.

The digging began in September 2013. USF forensics anthropologist, Erin Kimmerle, led the project.

The reasoning behind the excavation was to hopefully learn the identities of the buried boys and possibly how they died.

Kimmerle, said, “In these historic cases, it’s really about having an accurate record and finding out what happened and knowing the truth about what happened.”

Robert Straley, a former inmate of the reform school says they used to segregate the whites from the blacks and the remains are buried where they housed the black inmates. He said he believes there may be a white cemetery that has yet to be discovered.

“I think there are at least 100 more bodies up there. At some point they are going to find more bodies, I’m dead certain of that. There has to be a white graveyard on the white side,” said Straley.

The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification analyzed DNA collected from the site where in 2016, they announced 55 bodies had been recovered. Historical records show that nearly 100 boys ages 6 to 18 died at the school between 1900 and 1973. Many are not identified and were buried in unmarked locations.

Ten families provided researchers with their DNA hoping a positive match could be made. If matches are made, the remains will then be returned to families.

Kimmerle said, “They want to bury them in family plots and next to the boys’ mothers and things like that. Anyone whose remains are unidentified will be re-entered here at Boot Hill.”

The DNA will be recorded and the grave will be marked for any remains found but not identified.

A final report was released in 2016. It states that 13 of the graves were located in the school’s cemetery. However, the rest of the graves were outside the cemetery area in the woods, including under a roadway, brush, and a large mulberry tree.

The researchers stated that seven positive DNA matches and 14 presumptive identifications had been made.

Victims say the incompetence of law enforcement involved has been disheartening.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviewed the White House Boys and former staff but said it couldn’t find enough evidence to support the allegations and no charges were ever filed.

The coverup was so widespread that even state officials attempted to block the forensics team from searching for the bodies.

Kimmerle, said, “Why are there no records of where any of the boys who died at the school are buried?”

Kimmerle said the lack of records was suspicious.

Local law enforcement knew about the school. There had been many allegations over the 111 years of torture, but authorities always turned a blind eye to the beatings, rape, and mental anguish.

The victims said they are just glad that the case is moving forward and getting the attention it desperately needs.