CNN and NPR both ran stories about Florida’s Dozier School for Boys on Monday. The real-life school served as the inspiration for the fictional reform school in the 2011 Body Farm novel, “The Bone Yard.” There are links to additional news stories on the White House Boys Survivors Organization website.
CNN’s story was titled “Mystery surrounds graves at boys’ reform school.” NPR’s was titled “Florida’s Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story.” Both articles mention Dr. Erin Kimmerle, who is leading the search for human remains at the school. Dr. Kimmerle earned her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee in 2004. While there, she won the W.M. Bass Endowment award.
Will there be intact DNA in the Dozier School remains? A reader posed this question last night. The answer, according to a molecular anthropologist specializing in DNA is this: “You just never know. There are so many factors, including microclimates created within the graves themselves, that you really always need to conduct a small test to assess preservation and viability of DNA.” She also noted that humidity (can you say “Florida”?) is tough on DNA. “If you told me the remains were there for 5 years, and you gave me teeth, I’d say there’s a good chance of obtaining a CODIS profile. 10 years, I’d start to worry, but I’d give it a shot…” Most of these boys’ bones, alas, are 80 to 100 years old.
Some of the deaths were attributed to pneumonia and other diseases, some to “accidents,” some to a terrible fire that burned down a dormitory in 1914 (horrifyingly, boys were locked inside the dorm that burned, while their guards were in town carousing).
When “The Bone Yard” was published, I recorded an interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass. You can listen or download it at the link below.