December 10, 2008

A Different Kind of White House in Marianna, FL

When I lived in Florida, I went to a town called Marianna a few times. My most recent trip there was just this past September when I returned to the state to collect beetle specimens. Marianna has a dark past in a number of ways and is, to this day, a bit out of step with modern thinking. Every so often, something beyond distasteful bubbles out of the place. The following, a story that sounds like the backdrop for a horror movie, is one of them.

'White House Boys' win inquiry of reform school graves

By Rich Phillips

Four men, now in their 60s, met over the Internet, shared stories about the darkest days of their pasts and spurred an investigation into 32 graves at a reform school.

Roger Kiser, Michael McCarthy, Bryant Middleton and Dick Colon talked about whippings and beatings and other boys who disappeared. They discussed the 32 crosses marking the graves of persons unknown on the grounds of the former Florida Industrial School for Boys.

They called their group the White House Boys, taking the name from the single story concrete building where, they say, boys were beaten and tortured decades ago.

The White House Boys believe that delinquents and orphans sent to the concrete White House were killed and their remains buried to cover up the brutality.

This week, the four called on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate. Crist agreed and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to search for remains, identify them and determine whether any crimes were committed.

The department agreed to look into the mystery of the 32 crosses on the grounds of what is now known as the Dozier School, in Marianna, just south of the Alabama state line...

...A guard confronted the other boy and began to treat him roughly, Middleton said.

"He dragged him to the administration building, and I never saw him again. He never came back to work or to the cottage," Middleton said. "He literally disappeared off the face of the Earth..."

Colon said he remembers entering the laundry one day, and his life has never been the same.

Inside a large tumble dryer was a black teen.

The White House boys, who are all white, said black kids at the school were beaten even more savagely than white kids...
While it's worth keeping in mind that these are only allegations and the 32 anonymous metal crosses may or may not turn out to mark graves where human remains were interred, episodes like this weren't unknown from the time and geography.

If it turns out to be true, it's still unlikely that anyone will ever face charges for the murders. It's been 50 years or more; most if not all of the alleged culprits are likely dead themselves by now. Even if they weren't, I would imagine it would be nearly impossible to tie any surviving employees to a particular crime by now in a conclusive manner.

The image of a teenager in a dryer and the story of one inmate who simply disappeared... someone needs to interview the four survivors mentioned in the story for a horror movie. What a nightmare.

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