A boy missing since 1940 was ID’d at the former Florida Industrial School for Boys, located in Marianna. The school, now known as Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was closed in 2011 for budgetary reasons.
The boy, George Owen Smith, was sent to the school in 1940 for car theft. His sister, Ovell Krell, searched for answers to what happened to her brother for decades. CNN notes that, while he has been found, questions surrounding his death remain.
The school opened in 1900 as a reform school for juveniles who committed serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. Soon, it became home to lesser offenders accused of things like incorrigibility, truancy, or dependency. The school became known for brutality and is still a chilling memory for those who survived.
Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida, led a team last summer to recover the remains of boys who were buried there. A few were buried beneath crooked white crosses, while others were forgotten under roads and trees. The university’s report found that some died from fires, physical trauma, drowning, or disease. Some died of unknown causes.
Owen’s body was the first identified using DNA samples from relatives. The Washington Post reports that Krell told reporters of the find, “I’m sure we’ll never know how he died or exactly when he died but at least we do now know that he’s dead.”
The boy missing since 1940 didn’t stay at the school long. Weeks after he got there, he ran away. Once he was caught, he wrote home about the experience, saying, “I got what was coming to me.” Krell stated of the letter, “Those were the most ominous words. After that letter, we never heard from him again.”
Their mother wrote to the school to check on Owen and was told he ran away again. This time, he remained missing for four months until his mother threatened to start investigating. Krell told CNN, “The day before she arrives, they very mysteriously find his body under a house, totally-and-completely-beyond-recognition decomposed.”
The details of the missing boy’s death were sketchy. School officials told the family he was found under a house in Marianna, where he’d caught pneumonia and died. Krell found the information suspicious because her brother was terrified of the dark and likely would have made for home if he had escaped.
One of the students at the school later told Krell he was with Owen when he ran from the school the second time. They were caught and Owen took off running as three men fired rifles at him. She told CNN, “If they shot him and killed him that night, I’d consider it a blessing because I know now what they did to him if they got him back to that school alive.”
Owen’s body was found in an unmarked grave shallower than the others. Kimmerle stated that he was lying on his side with his hands covering his head. While he has been identified, it’s unclear if the medical examiner will ever be able to find out how the boy missing since 1940 died.