The Terrible Tale of the Arthur G. Dozier School and the White House Boys

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Erin Nanasi is an avid underwater basket weaver, with a penchant for satire and the odd wombat reference.
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On July 10th, 1961, a 16 year old boy named Edgar Elton, died of an alleged heart attack during gym class at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. According to news articles, Edgar was a gifted football player and leader in the school, having achieved the rank of “Pilot” in the Citizenship Evaluation Scale. Edgar was “immediately rushed” to the school physician, Dr. I. Wexler, who worked “desperately” to save Edgar’s life. Dr. C. D. Whittaker, former school physician and heart specialist was summoned, all to no avail.

Here is what many of the White House Boys say actually happened to Edgar “Tommy” Elton. According to one man who knew Edgar, he hated being called Edgar, so everyone called him Tommy. The following information comes from an initial interview I had with Jerry Cooper, leader of The White House Boys organization, and an article written by renowned private investigator, Bill Warner. Interesting side note: the football coach at Dozier School/Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna State Prison in 1961 was none other than former college and NFL coach, and best friend of Burt Reynolds, Vic Prinzi.

Edgar Elton was not supposed to participate in sports, per a letter allegedly given to the school by his parents and his private doctor. The Yellow Jackets, Dozier School’s football team, was in practice that hot July day in the gym; there was no physical fitness class. Edgar “went into an asthma attack” and fell to his knees, unable to breathe. Edgar approached the One Armed Man, Troy Tidwell, gasping and in distress. Tidwell allegedly told Edgar Elton to “get your ass back on that line.” Another student, who witnessed this event, broke the line and tried to reason with Tidwell and another “guard”, Mr. Hatton. As this student tried to explain, Hatton placed his hand on the pistol he always wore, and Troy Tidwell began screaming at the witness, using epithets and threats.

Edgar Elton collapsed, and died within a minute, according to the witness. He was never rushed to the hospital, in fact, Dr. Wexler showed up about 15 minutes later and simply pronounced Edgar dead. No heart specialist, no “desperate” attempts to revive him. Edgar “Tommy” Elton’s lifeless body was just there, on the gym floor, like so much trash.

The White House Boys are survivors of the worse case of state supervised and funded child abuse, rape and murder in the history of Florida and America. In our initial conversation, Jerry Cooper told me of one event that shocked me to the core. Jerry was a teacher’s aide, but most of his time was spent teaching kids who couldn’t read. “They couldn’t even write their own names,” Jerry said. So, he would read to them and teach them basic letters, while they sat in chairs in front of the class. When the kids would stand to go back to their seats, or the next class, Jerry would wipe their blood off the chair. It was nothing to him; they all bled.

The Department of Justice ordered the Dozier School and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center closed in May of 2011. The Arthur G. Dozier School, or as it should be called, the Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna State Prison, was open from 1900 to 2011, active all that time. In 1994, the school had facilities to house 135 inmates, and many of the boys sent there had been convicted of rape or committing “lewd acts with other children.” In April of 2007, the acting superintendent and one other employee were fired following allegations of abuse of inmates. In 2009, the school failed its annual inspection. And in May of 2010, the school was renamed the North Florida Youth Development Center in order to distance the facility from the Dozier name. Florida claims budget cuts caused the closure, but public records state otherwise.

In the coming week, I will be speaking with Jerry Cooper at length about his abuse at Dozier, and about The White House Boys’ efforts to see Troy Tidwell charged with crimes associated with the beatings and rapes, and with the death of Edgar Elton. Jerry’s story is hard to hear, and it must be told. I also spoke with another survivor, Bill Haynes, who grew up to work as a corrections officer in Alabama, using his communication skills, rather than brutality to make a difference.

All these boys, the ones who lived, are fighting the state of Florida to be compensated, to have justice, to have their pain and anguish recognized. So far, those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Florida must be deaf no longer.

Thank you to Bill Warner’s website, The White House Boys, Wikipedia and especially Jerry Cooper for information used in this article.

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Posted by on April 23, 2012. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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25 Responses to The Terrible Tale of the Arthur G. Dozier School and the White House Boys

  1. Carroll T Cooper Reply

    April 23, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Thank you for all you share regarding the Horrific Abuse suffered by our White House Boy’s ( WHB ). We pray for Justice daily.I have worked with many of them as we have plan picnic’s and reunion’s for last five year’s and the thing that haunts my heart as they share the damage they were given at Florida School for boy’s tell’s me Abuse never goes away. May God have mercy on our White House Boy’s.

    It is hard to listen to the stories they tell one after another with tear’s and hurt. The monster’s who stole the childhood of so many and damaged them mentaly and phyically for life.
    And the abuse goes on in many cases still today as Florida warehouses children in need of a second chance in my opinion.

    So much healing needed so much Justice deserved. And I want to share with you that three of my WHB / Friend’s who have passed went to thier graves praying for Justice for the WHB/Brother’s.

    I speak in silence to you Erin and on behalf of all WHBz and families we thank you for caring to share the story of Florida’s abuse to children.

    Respectfully,
    Wife of WHB

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Carroll thanks so much for sharing with us. It is our intention to do a three part series on this shameful chapter in American history. Simply because time has passed doesn’t mean memories should fade. This happened once and can happen again, and only by public awareness can we work to prevent it.

    • Erin Nanasi Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Mrs. Cooper,

      Thank you for your comments. If you are who I think you are, please thank your husband for everything he is doing to help bring this horrific story out into the open and for his bravery. You are extraordinary people and brave in the truest meaning of the word.

  2. jerry Cooper Reply

    April 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

    If a song were to discribe the “Florida School For Boys” It would be “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence!!!!!!
    Jerry Cooper ” A White House Boy” 1961

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Jerry I simply cannot imagine the horrors you were forced to bear. I have listened to “Bad Moon Rising” three times since I saw your comment. Never again will I hear it without thinking of you and the White House Boys. Thanks…

      • Kevin Earl Wood Reply

        December 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

        Some don’t know Jerry Cooper is a former country video star, particularly his song Code of Honor.

  3. Alan Sexton Reply

    April 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you Erin for your work revealing The Dozier Center. I spent 11 months there, 1957-58. The White House beatings were atrocious and vile. There can be no doubt that each boy was effected for life. I was 13 when I experienced that forboding place. I remember clearly when the one armed Tidwell struck me 37 times and then ordered me off the blood stained cot and wanted me to look at him; he was smiling!! That smile has haunted me since, and yes, at the age of 69, I’m still angry.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      Alan if you are willing to share with us please use the “contact” link at the top of the page to send us your email address and we will be in touch. Any number of victims are reaching out to us and we intend to publish their stories as they let us. Thanks Alan.

  4. Alan Neal Reply

    April 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    So, since the White House Boys fell flat on their face with their claims of widespread murders and “mystery graves” that turned out not to be mysterious, now they are trying this? The real crime is that they are just after a massive settlement from the state. The FDLE investigated all of this and determined there was no evidence. NO evidence.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      There are dozens of people coming forward with independent testimony about their treatment at the hands of the Dozier school. Are you trying to say, Alan, that they’re all lying, all the time, in some sort of vast conspiracy to make mega-bucks? That doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?

      Secondly, I was a cop in Florida for a lot of years and I can warrant in the late ’50′s and early ’60′s there was no FDLE as it wasn’t formed until 1969. Finally, I can point to any number of investigations conducted by FDLE that had different outcomes than those reflected by their initial investigation.

    • Erin Nanasi Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Mr. Neal,

      I know firsthand what it’s like to go to a school where the people who are supposed to protect you do the exact opposite. I know what it’s like for people to say to your face “you’re lying,” when you know you are not. I also know firsthand that state investigations often fail, and fail miserably, to protect those children. I have spoken with two of these men, and I can tell you with assurance, they are telling the truth. I hope to speak to more, and your comment inspires me to keep telling this truth, to keep shining a light on the darkness that is their horror. In closing, if they are just after a settlement, why would one of these heroic survivors want to give anything he would receive away to charity?

      • Carroll T Cooper Reply

        April 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

        Why would one of these heroic survivors want to give anything he would receive away to charity?

        Because he a not a man that need’s to make a dollar deposit in his checkbook to feel good about life or himself. He know’s who he is and all he want’s is Justice for the children that were so damaged and abused by the stste of florida.I can not and am speaking for him just of him as I have come to know him.

        If you ever met the man you would understand as he is a very honorable person.

    • Kevin Earl Wood Reply

      April 23, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Mr. Alan Neal,

      I am sorry that you have not been briefed on the evidence and investigative process thus far.

      The federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice blew open the state cover up of Dozier by the Florida Governor and Florida Attorney General who are the “head” of FDLE under the Florida Constitution and where the Attorney General is tasked to “supervise and direct” State Attorney Glenn Hess in his duties under Florida law.

      State Attorney Glenn Hess, 14th Judicial Circuit, joined the FDLE et al. coverup of the Dozier deaths and/or murders hiding behind a cloak of “statute of limitations.”

      There is no statute of limitations for murder.

      Why weren’t the bodies exhumed to determine cause of death?

      Lastly, go to http://www.glennhess.org to find out the truth about Glenn Hess and his own coverup of his own federal criminal civil rights violations against children.

      It the White House Boys get a “settlement” from State, God Bless Them, for it will never make up for the abuses, deaths, and alleged murders at Dozier that State Attorney Glenn Hess should be investigating with the exhumation of the bodies of children.

    • Robert Straley Reply

      April 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      After searching the FDLE’s report, as to the beatings, I find there is no mention of any other boy/man other than
      the original four White House boys, Roger Kiser, Robert Straley, Michael O. McCarthy and Dick Colon. There are
      probably 75 to 100 men that received worse beatings than the above mentioned. Donald Smith, Bill Haynes and
      Jerry Cooper, each received well over 100 lashes, yet they are not mentioned in the FDLE’s report. Jerry Cooper,
      at his own expense, took a lie detector test to confirm that his allegations were true. His scars were photographed.
      He passed the test and challenged Troy Tidwell to take a lie detector test as well. In Tidwell’s statements of the
      beatings he says: “I never gave more than 10-15 gentle blows and never raised the whip over my head.” He
      refused to submit to a polygraph test. He pled the Fifth Admendent when questioned over the death of Edgar Elton
      Source: http://journals.democraticunderground.com/madfloridian/4166

      [10] Andrew Bowers, a chaplain at the Dozier School from 1959 to 1963, recalls: For most of its history, Dozier
      freely practiced flogging as a method of discipline, or as a matter of whim. Mr. Bowers remembers, “they would
      spank the boys when they did wrong or really whenever they wanted to. Some of them they treated pretty bad.
      Sometimes they’d spank the children until they couldn’t sit down for days. Many beatings were administered with
      a “weighted leather flogging strap.” Source:
      http://www.law.fsu.edu/library/flsupct/78161/78161ini.pdf starting at page 15-18.
      Read it in text: http://thewhitehouseboysonline.com/ARTICLE-BOWERS-STATEMENT-ONFLOGGING.html

    • Robert Straley Reply

      April 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      The report smacks of being superficial and trivial in nature, there is a huge omission of testimony and facts, not to mention the history of the school, in which these abuses are well documented all the way back to 1903. In that time in which we were there, in the 50s and 60s, there was testimony by Dr. Eugene Byrd before the U.S. Senate, Senate President Louis De La Parte’ who hearing of the beatings, drove to FSB and came back to report to the local newspapers of “a blood splattered shed” which called for a state grand jury to intervene. This was squelched by Dempsey Barron, a legislative powerhouse. During a visit at FSB Judge Frank Orlando, of Fort Lauderdale stated: “When a couple of boys I sent up there came over to say hello I felt like a rat for sending them to that place.”Governor Kirk: “If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances you’d be up here with rifles” Kirk said after a half day tour of the schools at Marianna and Okeechobee. “Somebody should have blown the whistle on Marianna a long time ago” Jack Levine and Claudia Wright took an unannounced trip to FSB and found boys as young as ten were being hogtied. They followed up with a class action law suite which eventually made major changes in the DJJ system.

    • Robert Straley Reply

      April 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      Read the Florida State Archives, The Fla Correctional Archives and the school’s history in general before you open your mouth about that which you do not know nor did experience. I’ll leave you with this:

      ] I noticed there was no acknowledgment of this statement made by Sheila Wexler, who was Dr. Wexler’s daughter. His daughter remembers helping her father, who had poor eyesight, when their family lived on campus. Sheila Wexler says she occasionally treated boys who had cuts or welts on their behind. “But if they needed a stitch, It would only be a few.” Would you beat your child until they only needed to use stitches? A casual, horrific statement shows the mind set of the staff at Marianna, as openly stated by Dr. Wexler’s own daughter. A statement that not only supports the victims allegations of savage beatings, but renders the mind-set of the residents of Jackson County. Source: St. Petersburg Times

  5. Alan Sexton Reply

    April 23, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Alan Neal, the reason there was no so called evidence is because it was suppressed, as it has been for years. The so called investigation protected the monsters that ran the place, and had no intention of finding the truth. Actually, the format the state used is very similar to all main stream politicans, acording to them they are not guilty of any charge, ever. The White House Boys want justice and redemption. Your comment is absurd and without foundation

  6. jerry Cooper Reply

    April 24, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Mr.Alan Neal, You have no clue of the truth involving the White House Boys!!!! The Federal Justice Dept.kicked the F.D.L.E. in the ass this past year with their investigation of the Dozier School and warned the state of Florida about the treatment of children to never occur again!!! I as well as many more men took polygraph tests to prove the state evidence was a lie and PASSED!!! How would you fare after a beating of over a 100 lashes??? We have over 50 boys missing to this day that cannot be accounted for and are presumed dead as wrote in the St.Petersburg Times “The Dead Of Dozier”
    Jerry Cooper “A White House Boy”

    u.s. Department of Justice
    Civil Rights Division
    Office ojfhe Assi.~lllIll Alfomey General Washington, D.C. 20530

    DEC -1 2011
    The Honorable Rick Scott
    Governor
    State of Florida
    The Capitol
    400 S. Monroe St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
    Re: , Investigation of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center, Marianna, Florida
    Dear Governor Scott:
    The U.S. Department ofJustice’s Civil Rights Division has completed its investigation into the conditions of confinement and treatment of youth at the now closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (“Dozier”) and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center (“110C”), which together constituted the North Florida Youth Development Center (“NYFDC”). Our investigation was conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141 “), which authorizes the Department ofJustice to seek remedies against any governmental authority for engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of youths confined in juvenile justice institutions. We have concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that the State of Florida was engaged in a pattern or practice offailing to have proper measures of accountability that led to serious deficiencies at NYFDC. We have enclosed our Report documenting our findings regarding the State’s failure to appropriately monitor and supervise its facilities.
    We announced our investigation on April 7, 2010. On May 26, 2011 , Florida’s Department ofJuvenile Justice (“D11″) announced the pending closure ofDozier and 110C. The facilities were officially closed on June 30, 2011. The residents were transferred to juvenile justice institutions throughout the State. The constitutional violations identified in the enclosed Report are the result of the State’s failed system of oversight and accountability, which we suspect affect the entire juvenile justice system statewide. To protect the youth in its remaining facilities, the State must take immediate measures to assess the full extent of its failed oversight with the assistance of experts in juvenile protection from harm issues. The State must also strengthen its oversight processes by implementing a more rigorous system of hiring, training, and accountability.

    -2
    The facilities which we inspected have been closed, and our review has been terminated. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on the State to ensure that the unconsti tutional conditions of confinement identified in the enclosed Report do not exist at its other juvenile justice institutions. Should we learn of the existence of other unconstitutional conditions of confinement at other juvenile justice institutions in Florida, we bave tbe rigbt to open an investigation tbere and use this letter as an indication tbat the State was on notice as to its responsibilities.
    The deficiencies identified in the Report not only breach the State of Florida’s obligation to serve confined youth, but impact public safety as well. Tbese conditions return youtb to the community no better, and likely less, equipped to succeed than when they were first incarcerated. The described conditions erode public confidence in tbe juvenile justice system and interfere with the State’s efforts to reduce crime.
    Thank you for your cooperation during this investigation. We hope that the concerns identified in this Report will be received in the spirit of assisting in our mutual goal of ensuring the safety and security of youth in DJ] facilities. Please note tbat tbis Report is a public document and will be posted on the Civil Rigbts Division ‘s website. If you have any questions regarding tbis letter or the enclosed Report, please call Jonatban M. Smith, Chief of tbe Civil Rights Division ‘s Special Litigation Section, at (202) 514-6255.
    Sincerely, Thomas E. Perez
    Assistant Attorney General
    Enclosure
    cc: Pam Bondi
    Attorney General
    State of Florida
    The Capitol PL-Ol
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
    Wansley Walters
    Secretary
    Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
    Headquarters
    Knigbt Building
    2737 Centerview Drive
    Tallabassee, Florida 32399-3100

  7. Robert Straley Reply

    April 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    >Read the Florida State Archives, The Fla Correctional Archives and the school’s history in general before you open your mouth about that which you do not know nor did experience. I’ll leave you with this:

    ] I noticed there was no acknowledgment of this statement made by Sheila Wexler, who was Dr. Wexler’s daughter. His daughter remembers helping her father, who had poor eyesight, when their family lived on campus. Sheila Wexler says she occasionally treated boys who had cuts or welts on their behind. “But if they needed a stitch, It would only be a few.” Would you beat your child until they only needed to use stitches? A casual, horrific statement shows the mind set of the staff at Marianna, as openly stated by Dr. Wexler’s own daughter. A statement that not only supports the victims allegations of savage beatings, but renders the mind-set of the residents of Jackson County. Source: St. Petersburg Times

  8. Kevin Earl Wood Reply

    April 25, 2012 at 2:41 am

    The original letter to Governor Scott can be found at:

    http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/documents/dozier_findcover_12-1-11.pdf

  9. Robert Straley Reply

    April 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Here are some historical links that back up our case. These floggings of boys went on at Dozier-FSB for 68 years. We were not the only ones to complain before it was stopped by OJ Keller in 1968 under the Claude Kirk Administration:

    http://thewhitehouseboysonline.com/MARIANNA-COVERUP-RWS.html

    This is the brutal truth, backed up by history and 300+ men who came out after Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, broke the story in 2008.
    THE SEALING OF THE WHITEHOUSE CEREMONY 2008

    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 audibly.

    The FDLE report was a shameful cover-up conducted by and sanctioned by Government Officials that did not to expose the truth, fearful of civil liability only….justice did not matter.

  10. Drema Vanorder Reply

    May 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Renaissance art had a greatly increased emphasis on the realistic depiction of the material world, and the place of humans in it, reflected in the corporeality of the human body, and development of a systematic method of graphical perspective to depict recession in a three-dimensional picture space.

  11. rick Reply

    September 1, 2013 at 1:43 am

    i was a teen at mariana too. i saw the shack that they beat us in. the strap of leather is still in my mind. thank god i wasnt there but a few months… i felt for the boys i left behind, cause it was hell there. the finger nails and twigs in our food…i will never foget ‘mariana’. it made me hate, and i became bitter, i went to a place called mcpherson,in ocala, where there were girls. that was a joke. i escaped but they put me back in. i had those ‘mariana’ brogans(boots)for years!!!!

  12. Claude Wayne Robins Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I was a student and victim at FISB (Fla. Industrial School For Boys) during the years 1953 and 1954. I was beaten in the ‘Ice Cream Factory’ as it was first called…..The name was later more popular as ‘The White House’, I suppose because it was painted white, although there was a little green trim. I have written a book THE ICE CREAM FACTORY aka THE WHITE HOUSE, in which a most graphic description of a ‘White House Beating’ is included. An acquaintance and child who was in my dormitory (#5 Wilson Cottage) was once beaten at the same time as I was beaten. Tommy Wiggins was beaten ahead of me and I was forced to observe his beating. Tommy was always a little confused, but was never violent, just a little slow. He kept complaining “Ow! Why are you doing this? Why are you beating me? That hurts! Stop”! The more Tommy protested, the harder he was beaten. Just barely able to walk, we returned to the cottage, where Tommy was cleaned of the blood and put on his cot and covered. Later that night I covered him up, as he felt cold. There was no response. The following morning I checked him again and he was still cold and unresponsive. I had never experienced death before this time, so didn’t recognize his life had left him. I reported to Mister Daffin and then went to my work assignment. That evening Tommy was not in his bunk. The following day I asked Mister Daffin what happened to Tommy. Mister Daffin told me Tommy had died. I was told he was being transported to the hospital, but died on the way. I do believe Tommy was beaten to death, after being denied medical care for an extended period of time. If my health had not been basically ‘good’, I’m sure I would also have been beaten to death. I had been beaten severely before, but this time was even worse than that experienced before. I suppose the beater was in a really foul mood that day and took his rage out on poor Tommy.Yes, I believe Tommy was killed on the cot in The White House. It just took a few hours more of suffering for his life to depart his body. RIP Tommy Wiggins, victim of Marianna

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