Dozier School families: More work needed - FOX 13 News

Dozier School families: More work needed

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Glen Varnadoe has spent years trying to find out the truth.

"All I want is my uncle. Put his body in a box and give him to me. I'm off to Brooksville, and that's it. It's that simple."

Varnadoe's uncle Thomas was sent to the Dozier School for Boys, a reform school, back in 1934. But 38 days later, he was dead.

He was only 13 years old.

The only information they have on Thomas' death and burial is a short account from Glen's father, Hubert. He was there when Thomas was buried and said it was just a pastor and the person who dug the grave.

But Hubert only gave that short account to his wife. He never spoke of it otherwise, not even when he died.

Glen has made a promise to find Thomas.

A week ago, USF publicized their report on the Dozier School. They used ground-penetrating radar and say they found the possibility of 50 graves. That's 19 more than the state reported back in 2009, but FDLE is standing by their investigation.

The school was open for 100 years. It was just closed last year. As many as 350 men, now in their 60's, claim school guards beat them until they were bloody.

Many say boys that were in their cottages would be taken to a place called the White House and repeatedly hit. The men say some of these boys never came back.

Glen Varnadoe says there's one way to find out for sure.

"How you make sense of that, you dig it up. it's that simple you dig it up and then find out."

But FDLE says they will not exhume the bodies unless new evidence comes forward. They do not consider the USF study as new evidence.

"Ground-penetrating radar is used to find ground anomalies, anomalies in the ground where the soil has been disturbed. It may or may not be graves. In a criminal investigation, probable or possible have very little value," said FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger.

Varnadoe believes they are getting traction from other state leaders. He is hopeful they will allow USF to continue their investigation.

The cemetery that USF found is considered the "black cemetery." Historians, as well as boys who were inmates at the school, believe there is a "white cemetery" too.

FDLE calls the USF study "academic research" and says they have different requirements to look for than FDLE does in a criminal investigation.

But Erin Kimmerle, who headed up the USF team has often been called upon by law enforcement to look for bodies. Her team used ground-penetrating radar to find lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare under a slab of concrete. That discovery eventually led to the conviction of Dee Dee Moore.

So why is FDLE now brushing off Kimmerle's work?

"I think we're all scared of what might be found, when you start digging up bones. Those were some dark days in Florida history," said Varnadoe.

He believes exhumation is the only answer. He's calling on state leaders to help families find the truth, buried under the ground.

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