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USF Researchers Begin New Investigation at Dozier Site

A research team from the University of South Florida is beginning to examine portions of land near the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. this week, after a contractor recently discovered 27 anomalies during routine cleanup work.

As part of the project, the USF researchers will determine if the anomalies are human burials and analyze as much of the approximately 1400-acre property as they can, in order to identify any additional areas of interest that may warrant further investigation.

USF's Erin Kimmerle at the Dozier School for Boys

USF anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, PhD (right), supervises the excavation efforts on land near the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL.

The USF team is led by Erin Kimmerle, PhD, who investigated the Dozier site from 2012-2016. During that time, USF researchers found 55 graves in a section of the property known as Boot Hill Cemetery, which is 24 more burials than had been previously reported. The human remains excavated by the USF team were returned to family members or reburied in Tallahassee. The anomalies found this past spring are located less than 200 yards from Boot Hill.

“We understand there are a lot of people who care deeply about our findings,” Kimmerle said.  “Our objective is to answer as many questions as possible, as we have done throughout the course of our research at the site.”

During their field work this month, Kimmerle’s team of forensic anthropologists and archaeologists will use similar methods and processes as their previous involvement with Dozier. They will deploy heavy equipment to remove topsoil from the ground for analysis, looking for any anomalies. Features identified in the soil will be tested and excavated by hand to determine if they are graves or something else.

If the researchers believe the anomalies are consistent with graves, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and local medical examiner’s office would be contacted. The USF team would come back at a later date to fully excavate any human remains and provide forensic analysis and DNA testing for possible identification.

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 After the initial work in July, USF researchers will return to the Dozier property throughout the fall to use light detection and ranging technology (LIDAR) to determine if there are any additional areas of concern on site.

The Florida Department of State is contracting USF to perform the work, using funds included in this year’s state budget. The investigation could take up to one year.

“The Department of State is very sensitive to the significance of this matter and our hearts go out to those for whom this brings back painful memories and experiences,” said Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee. “At Governor DeSantis’ direction, we have been working quickly to develop and execute a plan to determine the nature of the anomalies. We are fully committed to taking the appropriate action at every step in this process as the investigation moves forward.”

The USF Forensic Anthropology Lab is part of the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science (IFAAS) at USF. The group’s mission is to provide much needed resources in the area of forensic anthropology to the medico-legal community. Cases are submitted from around the country for technical assistance in the areas of human identification, trauma analysis, missing persons and cold cases, chemical isotope testing, forensic imaging and facial reconstructions. More information about the programs is available at http://www.forensics.usf.edu/.