FDLE closed the case due to lack of evidence that anyone had died as a result of criminal conduct. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice closed the school in 2011, 111 years after it first opened.
Then last year, forensic anthropologists from USF used their ground-penetrating radar to find what appeared to be 19 more remains than previously thought to have been buried on the school grounds.
That discovery, along with pressure from the NAACP and high-level officials, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, led to action by the state. Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet voted to allow the USF forensics team to exhume the bodies, against the objections of Jackson County commissioners.
"There were children that disappeared that really were not accounted for, so I think that a new day has come here," said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
"What we have now is an opportunity to really get down to the truth and also try to bring some healing to the victims and the families."
State records say one boy buried here is 14-year-old Owen Smith.
"He had no ambition to do anything but play music," said his sister Ovell Smith Krell, 84.
She says her older brother ran away from home in 1940 at age 14 to become a musician in Nashville, but never made it. Owen Smith was arrested in a stolen car, and sent to the reform school in Marianna.
He ran away from the school, but got caught, he wrote in a letter to 12-year-old Ovell a short time afterward.
A few months later, his family received a letter from the school, notifying them that Owen had run away for a second time.
"So far, we have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts," wrote Millard Davidson, the school's superintendent at the time. "We will appreciate your notifying us immediately if you receive any word from or concerning him."
Owen's family decided to travel to Marianna to find out what was going on, but just before leaving, there was a call from the school with word that Owen had been found dead.
"They think he crawled under a house to try and get warm and that he got pneumonia and died," said Krell.
She said her mother asked that Owen's body be taken to a funeral home. The family had to borrow a car for the trip and when they arrived in Marianna two days later, school officials allegedly told them that their son was already buried.
"They said that the body was so decomposed, you wouldn't be able to identify him. ... They took him straight out to the school and buried him," she said.
Owen's classmate told the family a different story.
According to Krell, the boy said as he and Owen tried to escape, "my brother was running out across a field, an open field, and there was three men shooting at him, with rifles."
"I believe to this day that they shot my brother that night, and I think they probably killed him and brought him back to the school and buried him," she said.
Closure, but criminal charges unlikely
Ovell Smith Krell, like other relatives of those believed to be buried at the school, is hoping the exhumations result in a sense of closure for her family.
Any remains that are exhumed will be taken to the University of South Florida in Tampa to be examined in an effort to reunite these lost boys with their families -- if possible.
Earlier this summer, DNA swabs were taken from a handful of surviving family members that have been found. If DNA can be matched to the bodies exhumed, these families want them to be buried properly in family plots.
"I would take him and put him down with my mom and dad in their cemetery," Krell said. "I hope I get that chance."
Whatever may be found in the exhumations of these long-forgotten children, it's highly unlikely that anyone could ever be charged with any crimes.