GOVERNOR CHRIST ORDERS INVESTIGATION
December 9, 2008
Commissioner Gerald Bailey
Florida Department of Law Enforcement
Office of Executive Investigations
P.O. Box 1489
Tallahassee, FL 32302-1489
Re: White House Boys Survivors Organization
Dear Commissioner Bailey:
The White House Boys Survivors Organization has brought to my attention the
horrible plight suffered by children who attended the Dozier School for Boys in
Marianna, dating back to the early 1900's. In the area surrounding the school, there are 32
unidentified graves marked only by white, metal crosses. Questions remain unanswered as to
the identity of the deceased and the origin of these graves.
I request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate this
serious matter. I have asked the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide any
assistance that is required. The review should include an investigation into the location of
the graves, and what entity owned or operated that property at the time the graves were placed.
Please review all available resources and make every reasonable effort to determine the
identities of these remains. During the course of the investigation, please determine whether
any crimes were committed and if at all possible, the perpetrators of these crimes.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
CC: Secretary Frank Peterman, Jr.
Department of Juvenile Justice
TALLAHASSEE, FLOR!DA 32399 . (850) 488-2272
Men recall abuse, torture by guards at old Florida reform school
In a place where they were beaten and tortured as young boys, five men,
all in their 60s, recounted the pain and suffering at Florida's oldest reform school.
Men recall dark days at state reformatory
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
MARIANNA -- It had been a half-century since 66-year-old Richard Colon had been inside the white-washed
cinderblock building where, he says, reform school guards beat him mercilessly with a leather/metal whip.
As uniformed employees of the Florida Department of Justice listened -- some of them with mouths-agape -- the
memories of Colon's 1958 confinement at the school came flooding back in a torrent as his frail, five-foot-five,
149-pound body trembled and quaked, his wooden cane tapping on the asphalt.
''Jesus, God, what's happening to me,'' he recalled of the third or fourth lash, when the pain started to register. In
all, he said, he was delivered 45 blows inside the 35-square-foot room.
``There was a boom, and it just kept coming, and the pain elevated itself with each lick.
``Get ready for the next one. Get ready for the next one. Here it comes again. Boom! Gasping for air. Gasping for air
Get ready. Get ready. Another one is coming.''
In an instant, Colon, who built a multimillion dollar electrical contracting company in Baltimore, began sobbing.
Roger Kiser, another White House alum, rose from his chair and held Colon until he could regain his composure.
A squat, unadorned building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys -- Florida's oldest reform
school -- the White House is where five now middle-aged men say they were beaten ferociously for infractions such
as cursing, smoking, earning poor grades or running away. One man says he was beaten for being around other
boys who discussed running away.
On Tuesday, DJJ administrators invited five of the White House Boys, as they now call themselves, back to
Marianna to confront the suffering of their youth. In an effort to help the men ''heal,'' the agency allowed the men to
make uncensored statements. A mental health counselor and a medic stood nearby to offer care if one of the men
was overcome with grief or anger.
In a two-hour ceremony in front of about 50 DJJ employees, the agency dedicated a plaque outside the building
and planted a young crepe myrtle tree alongside the building.
''In memory of the children who passed through these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope
that they found some measure of peace,'' the plaque reads. ``May this building stand as a reminder of the need to
remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.''
The building stands, perhaps only as an unworthy frame for the plaque. ''We have a commitment to tear down this
building,'' Gus Barreiro, DJJ's chief of residential services, said as the White House men and agency staff sighed
As the ceremony ended, 64-year-old Robert Straley, who says he was taken to the White House in March 1963,
gingerly touched the plaque with the tips of his fingers. ''That's something,'' he said softly.
`THIS WAS A FLOGGING'
''This was not a trip to the woodshed. This was not spanking. This was not whipping. It was a flogging,'' said Straley
of the punishment meted out at the White House. ``I never heard anybody scream out in pain like that, except for
Michael O'McCarthy, who was raised in Islamorada and now lives in South Carolina, was taken to the reform school
in 1958 and said he was beaten for running away. He said he was told to bite into an old pillow covered in blood,
saliva, mucus and human tissue when the beating occurred so that he wouldn't scream.
''I cried into that pillow. I screamed into that pillow, and they continued to beat me and beat me and beat me and
beat me,'' O'McCarthy said.
Well into adulthood, he said, he remained fearful of police and other authority figures, because a part of him
always thought he would be taken back to the White House if he misbehaved. ''You know what's hanging over your
body is the whip,'' O'McCarthy said.
Kiser, who was taken to Dozier for running away from a Jacksonville orphanage where he said he was starved and
molested, said his beatings at the White House were so severe that he begged to be taken back to the orphanage.
When he finished describing his trips to the White House, Kiser looked toward the juvenile justice employees
gathered in a semi-circle around him, and beseeched them to treat their young charges better than he had been
treated. ''Don't do your job if you can't do it right,'' he said to them. ''I hope things have changed,'' Kiser said. ``I
hope to God.''
Each of the five men walked through the crumbling building, and settled for a time in a roughly six-by-six foot room
where the beatings were administered with a barber shop-style strap that had sheet metal sewn in the middle of it
and was attached to a wooden handle.
''Pieces of my hind end ought to be on that wall somewhere over there, as I took over 100 [lashes],'' said Bill
Haynes, 65, a communications technician with the Alabama Department of Corrections who spent 19 months at the
reform school in 1957 and 1958. A big man in a straw hat, Haynes said he never once laid a hand on a prison
inmate while he was a prison guard for 19 years.
''It is my sincere prayer that these horrible atrocities never occur again to any child,'' Haynes said.
When the White House boys left the building, about two dozen Dozier administrators entered it for the first time.
They walked to the cell in the far left corner where the men say the abuse occurred. On the now crumbling wall
outside the cell, someone had scratched Abraham into the concrete, along with the words ''19 times'' beneath his
''Jesus,'' one of the juvenile justice employees said quietly to herself.
Later in the day, the five men drove to a small kudzu-choked clearing beyond the Dozier campus, now maintained
by the Jackson County Jail, where about 31 boys are buried under rusted pipes of white-pained two-inch
galvanized steel welded into crosses. ''We don't know anything,'' the current superintendent, Mary Zahasky, said of
the graves' occupants.
The White House Boys, who had never before seen the cemetery, were stunned. ''This is a memorial?,'' asked
Straley. ``A pipe in the ground?''
Said Haynes, the former prison guard, "A sorry something for a headstone.''
Mon December 15, 2008
INVESTIGATING REFORM SCHOOL'S PAST WON'T BE EASY
By Rich Phillips
CNN Senior Producer
MARIANNA, Florida (CNN) -- Disturbing memories came rushing back when four men in their 60s, who call
themselves the "White House Boys," started sharing stories over the Internet about their experiences at the Florida
School for Boys.
Thirty-one crosses dot a clearing on the grounds of the former Florida School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.
Roger Kiser, Dick Colon, Robert Straley and Michael O'McCarthy allege that unspeakable acts of torture happened
at that reform school nearly half a century ago -- that boys died, and that their deaths were covered up.
"Well, he ran away, and the swamp got him," was one story Kiser said school administrators told him. "The gators
got him. Water moccasins got him" were others.
The White House Boys pushed Gov. Charlie Crist for an investigation.
Last week, Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into who might lie beneath the 31
anonymous crosses on the grounds of the school, just south of the Alabama border.
"If there's an opportunity to find out exactly what happened there, to be able to verify if these kinds of horrible
atrocities potentially occurred, we have a duty to do so," the governor said.
The Florida law enforcement agency said it is up to the task.
"We are confident that we can conduct a thorough and methodical investigation and establish as much as we can
about what happened here and what lies beneath in those grave sites," the agency's Heather Smith said.
But no one is saying it will be easy.
CNN's Ed Lavandera Explores Alleged Reform School Brutality
Weekdays, 6 a.m. ET
Finding records and witnesses from decades ago is a massive task and investigators are asking for the public's
help. Records can be lost or destroyed and memories can fade or distort what happened.
And so, it may be months before authorities decide whether to dig under the 31 white crosses. It could take years
for the investigation to be completed.
Some nagging questions are bound to come up. Where was the public outcry? Why did no one speak out until now?
Why weren't the families searching for their missing sons?
The Florida School for Boys no longer is in operation and the campus is now used as a school for academic
achievers. CNN was unable to locate anyone connected with the reform school's administration, and has been
unable to speak with anyone affiliated with the school at the time in question.
Marianna Police Chief Hayes Baggett told CNN that he, too, has heard the rumors and horror stories about the old
Florida School for Boys. Asked if boys who attended the school were reported missing back in the 1950s and '60s,
he replied: "Not to my knowledge."
Another complication: Many of the supervisors and administrators of the school have died.
One man, Troy Tidwell, a former supervisor, still lives in Marianna. He would not talk with a CNN crew that visited his
home, but recently told the Miami Herald that guards did spank the boys with a long board, and later a strap.
''Kids that were chronic cases, getting in trouble all the time, running away and what have you, they used that as a
last resort,'' Tidwell told the Herald. "We would take them to a little building near the dining room and spank the boys
there when we felt it was necessary."
But the White House Boys say they have waited most of their lives for justice. They say they'll wait as long as it
US WORLD NEWS
Florida reform school abuse victims recall horrors
Wednesday October 22, 2008 2:31 PM
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
Associated Press Writer MARIANNA, Fla. (AP) - Mike McCarthy walked into a
small white building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for the
first time in 40 years and the memories of horrific beatings came flooding
"There was blood splattered all over the walls," he said, standing in a
dark room barely big enough to fit the bed he and other children laid in
while they were beaten with a leather-and-metal strap. After a moment, he
muttered, "God, I've got to get out of here."
McCarthy, now 65 and living in Costa Rica, and four other men who spent
time in the 1950s and 1960s at what was then called the Florida State
Reform School returned Tuesday to hear the state Department of Juvenile
Justice acknowledge the abuse that took place at the sprawling northern
Florida facility, about 70 miles northwest of Tallahassee.
On a beautiful fall day, with birds swooping and singing in the pine trees
behind them, each of the five men, who call themselves "The White House
Boys," recalled brutal beatings, punishment for offenses as slight as
singing, or talking to a black inmate. Boys would be hit dozens of times
sometimes more than 100 with a wide, three-foot long leather strap
that had sheet metal stuffed in the middle.
Roger Kiser was sent to the facility after running away from a Jacksonville
orphanage where a woman was molesting him. But after his first trip to The
White House, he knew he would have been better off at the orphanage.
"When I walked out of this building ... when I looked in the mirror, I
couldn't tell who I was, I was so bloodied," said Kiser, 62, who now lives
in Brunswick, Ga. "From that day forward, I've never forgotten what rotten
SOBs the human being can be."
For years later, he worked menial jobs because he said he lost his
self-respect. All this, and he had never committed a crime.
"Nobody treated me with respect, I was nothing more than a dog," he said.
"I certainly hope things have changed. I pray to God."
In a building just across from The White House was a place the boys
referred to as the rape room. Robert Straley, 62, of Clearwater, was 13 and
about 105 pounds when he was sent there. He remembered being woken up one
night and being accused of smoking, and told that if he denied it, he would
"I was on the entertainment list for the night. That's what it was,"
He remembers a man with an iron grip grabbing his arm.
"They were monsters. Oh my God, the things they did," Straley said.
"When these men had me down, you weren't going to turn into Bruce Lee, you
only had one option and that was you could scream all you wanted."
Dick Colon remembers trying not to scream. He was told by guards that if he
made a peep, the beating would last longer. Guards would force him to lay
on a bed.
"The pillow he asked you to bury your face in was all blood and snot and
guts," Colon said.
He described the pain as feeling like someone pouring a pot of boiling
water on his naked body. The pain got worse with each hit.
"You screamed in your mind and your heart, and in every ounce of your body
you screamed, but you didn't peep. The man told you, 'Don't peep! I'll
start at one and I'll go all over again,'" said Colon, 66, who now lives in
He remembers standing up after one of the beatings and came nose-to-nose
with a guard who had a smile on his face.
"I thought to myself, 'God almighty, if I could right now, I would reach
into your chest cavity and I would pull out your heart and I would bite it
while you looked at me,'" Colon said. "He looked at me with a face of
satisfaction and contentment over the whipping that he gave me."
After the men spoke, former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, now the Department of
Juvenile Justice's chief of state residential programs, unveiled a plaque
outside The White House as an acknowledgment of the torture. The detention
center is still open, but the White House building has been locked up since
The group planted a tree outside the building. Later, they drove to a
nearby cemetery where 31 unmarked iron crosses mark the graves of unknown
dead bodies. The White House Boys believe are children beaten to death
at the reform school.
"That's a sorry something for a head marker," said Bill Haynes, 65, who was
an inmate at the school in the late 1950s and now works in the Alabama
Department of Corrections. "This may not be the only place they ever buried
Straley said as far as he knows, no one was ever prosecuted for the
beatings or rapes. The men, who seek out other victims and have researched
the facility, say it's not clear why the abuse finally stopped. Perhaps the
victims' complaints were finally heard.
At the end of the day, Straley said it was hard to find a sense of closure
because the things that he suffered had filled him with rage.
"It might lessen some of it, I don't know," Straley said softly.
"Maybe it did change my mind a little bit seeing what the place looks like
today and knowing they aren't just beating the hell out of these kids."