In 1912 and 1913, the newspapers in America were filled with stories and theories about a young boy’s mysterious disappearance. When Bobby was four years old, his parents, Lessie and Percy Dunbar, decided to go on a fishing trip to Swayze Lake near Opelousas. As the family played in the water, Bobby stayed ashore. While they were preoccupied, the family was unaware that Bobby had disappeared. There has been widespread speculation for decades in regards to the story surrounding Bobby and his disappearance. His reappearance however, ended with a man who was possibly wrongly convicted, a fierce custody battle, and a DNA test that broke hearts.
Bobby Dunbar goes missing.
Bobby Dunbar was born in 1908. On August 23, 1912, as the family was having a great time at the lake, Bobby disappeared. He had wandered off unnoticed. His parents searched the dark, thick woods but their search was unsuccessful. Lessie and Percy then decided to call the authorities for help. The authorities searched the lake but could not find any trace of Bobby.
Many volunteers came forward to help the Dunbar family find their baby boy. They searched the lake extensively but no signs of him were found. They even tore open alligators’ stomachs and blew up the lake, thinking that the explosion would dislodge the body from the water. The search ultimately ended with negative results and with no explanation as to what had happened to Bobby.
As the distraught parents were losing hope of ever seeing their child again, investigators discovered a set of bare footprints leading to a railroad trestle. When questioned, inhabitants next to the railroad tracks claimed that they had seen a mysterious man wandering those parts. The Dunbars now had confirmation that their child had been kidnapped.
The townsmen raised a $1,000 reward for the one who would return Bobby.
The townsmen showed support for the Dunbar family by coming together and raising a $1,000 reward for their child’s safe return. Bobby’s father hired a detective agency to print postcards with Bobby’s picture and send them to town and county officials from east Texas to Florida. The description on the postcard read,
“Large round blue eyes, hair light, but turning dark, complexion very fair with rosy cheeks, well developed, stout but not very fat. A big toe on left foot badly scarred from burn when a baby.”
Sadly, no news about Bobby was heard for eight long months. Then, the Dunbars received a glimmer of hope – a boy matching Bobby’s description had been found in Mississippi. In April of 1913, the police received a message from the small town of Hub, Mississippi, that a boy matching Bobby’s description was seen with a handyman named William Cantwell Walters.
Authorities quickly snatched Walters and the boy, whose name was Charles Bruce Anderson, off the street. When questioned, Walters claimed that the boy was the illegitimate child of his brother and a woman who worked for his family named Julia Anderson.
While Walters claimed that he had the boy’s mother, Julia Anderson’s permission to look after the boy, authorities were not convinced that he was being truthful and ended up arresting him. They then informed the Dunbars, who immediately drove to see the child. Lessie had trouble recognizing the child at first but they took him with them and gave him a bath. After bathing the boy, Lessie was certain that it was Bobby.
Some newspapers however, stated that the boy did not recognize the family and that all he did was cry. Meanwhile, the Dunbars took the boy back to Opelousas, celebrating his return. A few days later, Julia Anderson arrived at Opelousas to get her child back from the Dunbar family. Julia informed authorities that she had in fact allowed Walters to watch over her son as she was looking for a job, and that those days turned into months as she was unable to find one.
Authorities then called the Dunbars to bring the boy. They stood him in a line up with children who looked similar and asked Julia to identify her son. Sadly, Julia couldn’t correctly identify him as she hasn’t seen him in months. Authorities noticed that the boy didn’t show any kind of affection upon seeing Julia, so they sent him back with the Dunbars.
After a two-week trial, Walters was convicted of kidnapping Bobby and was sentenced to life in prison for his offense. Julia couldn’t afford a lawyer so the court decided that the child was in fact Bobby. Two-years later, Walters found a lawyer to take his case and appealed the courts decision. Since the first trial itself was expensive for the town, they decided not to re-open the case and released him.
The boy was raised as Bobby Dunbar and had a great life. He grew up as Bobby, got married, had four children of his own and died in 1966. The story takes a twist however, when Bobby’s granddaughter decided to check her family lineage in 2004. Margaret Dunbar Cutright knew in her heart that she was a Dunbar, but after hearing her grandfather’s story, she wanted to make sure that the story matched with the bloodline.
She convinced her father to provide a DNA sample which was used to compare to the DNA of the real Bobby Dunbar’s brother, Alonzo. Guess what? The samples did not match. The child that the Dunbar’s claimed to be the real Bobby was in fact Bruce, the son of Julia Anderson.
The Anderson family was relieved to hear that the DNA results brought the truth to light. The DNA result was then used as evidence to exonerate the kidnapping claim against William. Margaret believes that Bobby could have drowned or been eaten by an alligator, while some believe that the parents had done something horrible and used Bruce Anderson to cover their tracks.
Whatever the case is, the whereabouts of the real Bobby remain unknown to this day.