The mystery of Bobby Dunbar is one that is almost more terrifying than a murder mystery. It is the story of a child lost and another likely taken from his mother and guardian to replace a lost boy. In that way, it is the story of two boys lost, one seemingly gone forever and one taken and raised as another child. The story begins on August 23, 1912, when Percy and Lessie Dunbar took their sons Bobby and Alonzo on a trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana. The family was from Opelousas, Louisiana. That day, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared.
The disappearance of Bobby Dunbar made headlines and searches were conducted for eight months before police found a boy they believed was little Bobby Dunbar. They found the child in Mississippi with William Cantwell Walters. Police arrested Walters and took the child, despite Walters claims that the boy was not Bobby Dunbar. He said the boy was in fact Charles Bruce Anderson and that the boy, known as Bruce, was in his custody with the boy’s mother Julia Anderson’s permission.
Not long after obtaining the child, police sent for Bobby Dunbar’s parents. Julia Anderson also made her way to Mississippi to plead her case. Depending on which reports from the time are to be believed, the Dunbars and their younger son Alonzo recognized Bobby immediately or took him in overnight and confirmed he was their son after giving the boy a bath. Julia was also given a chance to identify the boy. She had not seen the child in 13 months, though she said she only gave him to Walters for a two-day trip. She defended Walters, though either side of the story was sounding like kidnapping.
Julia Anderson did eventually identify the child as her son Bruce. However, a judge found that the child was Bobby Dunbar and gave custody to Percy and Lessie. Julia Anderson had three children out of wedlock, which looked bad in that day and age. Her story was also that she allowed William Cantwell Walters to take her child for two days and then had done nothing when the boy was gone for 13 months. That could not have looked good, either. There was also some suspicion that Walters was Bruce’s uncle, meaning that Julia, a servant in the Walters household, had become pregnant by her boss. After the trial, she maintained that the child was her Bruce and the Anderson family considered the boy kidnapped by the Dunbars.
William Cantwell Walters was found guilty of kidnapping and spent two years in jail before being released rather than being given another trial. The boy who may have been Bobby Dunbar was raised as Bobby Dunbar and grew to be a man and have children of his own as a Dunbar. Some stories say that he visited the Andersons and even brought his own children to see them. He passed away in 1966.
In 2004, curiosity got the better of the Dunbars. Bobby’s son, Robert Dunbar Jr. consented to a DNA test, as did his “cousin,” the child of Alonzo Dunbar. The results were shocking to the family. The two men were not related. They should have been first cousins, had Percy and Lessie been honest about his identity. It appears they were not. Now, the question is what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar on August 23, 1912. Had his parents did something neglectful or horrible and latched onto Bruce Anderson to cover up their mistake? Had the boy drowned? Had he been kidnapped by someone other than William Cantwell Walters? There is no way of knowing.
USA Today, Breed, Allen G., DNA clears man of 1914 kidnapping conviction, retrieved 3/17/12, usetoday.com/tech/news/2004-05-05-1914-dna-x.htm
The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, retrieved 3/17/12, thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/352/the-ghost-of-bobby-dunbar