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.