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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Crime & Courts

USF asks to exhume Dozier boy’s body in Pennsylvania

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TAMPA — Researchers from the University of South Florida are asking Pennsylvania authorities for help in investigating the death of a teenage boy who attended a Panhandle reform school decades ago.

A forensic research team led by USF anthropology professor Erin Kimmerle wants to exhume the remains of Thomas Curry, who was 15 when he died after a 1925 escape from the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. A death certificate said Curry was pronounced dead at a hospital in Chattahoochee as a result of a crushed skull.

Curry’s body was sent to Pennsylvania, where he was buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Sens. Robert Casey Jr. and Patrick Toomey, and Cpl. Thomas McAndrew of the Pennsylvania State Police, asking for their cooperation.

“The USF research team is now working with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and hoping to get permission from the appropriate authorities in your state to exhume his remains, (and) perform a skeletal autopsy to try and determine more about the nature and cause of death,” Nelson wrote.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police said Tuesday the agency had just received the letter and was evaluating the request.

The reform school, shuttered in 2011, has been the subject of investigation since a group of men began comparing and circulating stories of beatings, abuse and disappearances they experienced or witnessed as boys at the school.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the school in 2008. The department concluded that 39 boys were buried in the school’s cemetery and there were no signs of wrongdoing.

Kimmerle’s group is performing a more detailed examination of the site, and has already concluded that 50 bodies are buried in the area of the cemetery. The bodies are being exhumed and tested for DNA and other forensic clues.

The hope is that relatives of boys who attended the school will contribute DNA for a potential match, resulting in positive identification and potential reinterment if the family wishes.

Kimmerle’s team is also examining the paper trail of Dozier records.

Curry was one of 10 boys who died after reportedly running away from the reform school. A coroner’s report states that the boy’s death was caused by “a wound to the forehead, skull crushed from unknown cause,” according to Nelson’s office.

The boy’s body was found the day after he fled, lying alongside railroad tracks at River Junction in Gadsden County, 25 miles from the school.

“Some of these young boys died under suspicious or questionable circumstances, making it essential to also investigate the cause of their deaths,” Nelson wrote the Pennsylvania delegation. “I’m sure you will agree that we should continue to do all we can to bring the families of these boys the closure they deserve.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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