The Dunbar family spent a pleasant day fishing at Swayze Lake in Louisiana. It was August 23, 1912. Mrs. Dunbar had prepared a lunch for the family, so the parents and two boys walked back to enjoy a picnic. But their 4-year-old boy, Robert, never made it. After noticing that he was not with them, the parents weren’t that worried. He had evidently just wandered off, perhaps distracted by something in the woods and he’d gone to investigate. They called out for him but he didn’t appear.
As the afternoon dragged on and Robert still did not appear, his parents contacted the authorities, who organized a search of the area. The only thing found was a series of small footprints, which may have been Robert’s, leading away from the lake.
Despite this clue, the trail went cold. Little Robert Dunbar had vanished.
The search spread out throughout the South but Robert Dunbar remained missing. Several months later, in Mississippi, a vagrant named William Walters was discovered with a small boy that closely resembled Robert. Walters claimed that the boy was Bruce Anderson. He claimed that Bruce’s mother was his traveling companion, Julia Anderson. Julia insisted that the boy was indeed her son Bruce.
Initially, evidence seemed to bear this out. Bruce did not respond to the name “Robert Dunbar” and did not appear to know Mrs. Dunbar when she arrived to see the boy. But Mrs. Dunbar positively identified him as her son Robert.
Eventually the courts got involved. A court-appointed arbiter gave custody of Bruce/Robert to the Dunbars, despite Julia’s continued declarations that the child was hers. William Walters even went on trial for the kidnapping of Robert Dunbar and was convicted, although the sentence was later overturned.
And that’s where matters sat for many years. The boy would be raised as Robert Dunbar, Walters would insist he was innocent of any wrong-doing, and Julia would tell her other children that they had a brother who had been taken away from them.
It wasn’t until Robert was grown that he spoke to the media about his exceptional childhood. He would state, at long last, that he recalled his kidnapping by Walters and his time away from his family.
He married and had children, and after his death was buried under a tombstone bearing the name “Robert Clarence Dunbar.”
But he didn’t rest in peace for long. Behind the scenes, one of Robert’s granddaughter’s continued to play the game of “Who’s Who?” It was decided to settle the matter once and for all by DNA testing.
In 2004, the results came back: Robert Dunbar was clearly not Robert Dunbar. For most of his life, Robert had unknowingly lived a lie.
But not being Robert Dunbar did not automatically mean he was Bruce Anderson.
Who was Robert Dunbar? Was he Bruce Anderson? If so, what happened to the real Robert Dunbar back in 1912?
Law enforcement is no longer pursing the case, but the mystery continues.
The Charley Project “Robert Clarence Dunbar” pulled 5-27-11