Tampa man's uncle identified from Dozier School for Boys grave

Tampa man learning more about missing uncle

University of South Florida researchers have identified a sixth set of remains from the shuttered north Florida reform school with a history of extreme abuse.
"I think if you gave me five pictures, I probably couldn't pick him out,” said Robert Stephens.

He’ll never meet his uncle. He’s never even seen a photo.

"I didn't know I was named after him,” said Stephens.

But he will properly bury him.

"I also would like to say I'm elated in the fact that, you know, I get to bring my Uncle home,” he explained.

15-year-old Robert Stephens died at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida in 1937, ten months into his two year sentence for breaking and entering.

PHOTOS: Researchers unearth remains at Dozier

His family never really knew what happened to his body.

And they didn't talk about him-- perhaps because it was too painful.

"The school ledger states that Robert was stabbed to death by another inmate named Leroy Taylor. His death certificate states that it was death by knife wound, following hemorrhage.

Now USF scientists say they've identified the boy's remains among 51 excavated from the reform school’s ‘Boot Hill’—many from unmarked graves.

PHOTOS: Search for remains at Dozier

"Sometimes persistence pays off,” said USF’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle.

Persistence measured by 24 months of waiting for DNA from a Texas laboratory to come back and take Stephens' name off the list of the unidentified Dozier wards.

The long list helped shut down the state run reform school in 2011 amidst allegations of severe physical and sexual abuse.

"I learned that from the outside when kids first came in, it looked real nice, got kids playing basketball, you know, doing different outdoor activities but once night fell, it was a whole different story-- beatings, starvation,” said Stephens.

His uncle's body showed signs of malnutrition but scientists say we'll never truly know how he died.

"Somebody should be held accountable, I believe,” he said.

Robert's uncle was a stranger to him for decades-- only in death is he now truly family.

"It's bringing us closer together because I'm talking to people I've never talked to before,” said Stephens.

USF’s Dr. Kimmerle says her team is still working on identifying other remains. In particular, USF is interested in finding family members of three boys including George Grissam who died in 1918, James or Joseph Hammond who died in 1936 and Richard Nelson who died in 1935.

School records show Grissam’s mother was named Peg Grissam, Hammond’s mother was named Blanche Isham from Palm Beach County and Nelson’s parents are not known but was from Lake County.

"The three that are highlighted, one is George Grissam. He was our youngest individual. He went in and died when he was six years old so we believe we know who he is based on the remains because of age but we have been unable to find any family at this time. They were actually from Caryville which is right near Marianna,” said Stephens.

If you have any information, please call Hillsborough County Detective Greg Thomas at 813.247.8678 or email him at gthomas@hcso.tampa.fl.us.

USF says it’s working with Florida’s NAACP, the Interfaith Commission for Florida’s Children and Youth, the Department of Environmental Protection, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater and the families to raise money to bury remains identified and unidentified.


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