Searching for decades-old secrets - FOX 13 News

Searching for decades-old secrets

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Thirty-one white crosses may not even begin to tell the story of who is buried on the campus of a now-closed reform school.

In a mix of grass, dirt, and thick brush, a team of USF scientists and grad students have been busy working for months.

They are at the Dozier School for Boys, the former reform school in Marianna, Florida.

It's the same place where hundreds of now grown men say they were beaten as children.

"I think they will find a lot of bodies up there," said Robert Straley.

Straley is one of the first men who came out, detailing the horrific abuse at Dozier.

The men who are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s say they were beaten by guards at the school.

They call themselves The White House Boys, named after the building where the beatings took place.

The men also say they saw boys who were beaten, but then never saw them again.

Straley worked in the hospital, on campus.

"I saw a young boy, he was crying, his skin was ripped up from the beating. He cried and shook but never said a word for two days. And on the third day, I went in and he was gone. And I dared not ask about him," he said.

Forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and biologists from USF have been to the site four times now. They are working in an area where there's a known cemetery.

There are 31 crosses there, but school records show 81 students died while living on the campus, during the 111 years the school was open.

So where are the other 50 bodies? And are there even more bodies? Some of the men believe boys that were beaten to death are buried here.

"I think over the next few months, people are going to realize, yes, these vicious beatings did happen, they did beat some boys to death or kill them in some other manner," Straley said.

The USF team says they are there as a humanitarian effort. They are hoping to give families some answers as to where their loved ones are buried.

Rich Estabrook walks along with a ground-penetrating radar, looking for anomalies in the ground.

Each time they find a void underneath, orange flags are placed in the ground.

The data shows there are a number of anomalies in places other than the marked graves. It also shows they extend much further out than the cemetery—about 20 meters.

Straley says if they find more bodies, it will give truth to what he and the other White House Boys have been saying all along.

"Every one of us would feel vindicated, instead of being made out to be liars," he said.

Once the team has collected all the data, they will input it in their database back at USF. That will then give them a 3-D image of what they're actually seeing.

The team will not exhume any bodies. They would need a court order for that, requested by a family member of a missing boy.

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