Bobby Dunbar was a four year old boy from Louisiana who disappeared on a fishing trip while with his family in 1912. After months of searching, detectives believed they had found the boy and returned him to his parents. Years later with the development of DNA technology, the descendants of Bobby Dunbar were in for quite the shock.
Bobby Dunbar was the son of Lessie and Percy Dunbar in Opelousas, Louisiana. Bobby vanished on August 23, 1912 while on a trip with his family to Swayze Lake in St. Landry Parish. Searchers trudged through the waters looking for any signs of the boy. They even cut open the stomachs of alligators and blew the lake up with dynamite thinking that would dislodge the boy’s body from the lake. Searchers did find footprints that led to a railroad track, that paired with rumors of a strange person being seen in the area led the Dunbars to believe that Bobby had been kidnapped. The people in town got together and raised a total of $1,000 to put towards a reward for Bobby’s return “no questions asked”.
After eight months of searching investigators found a boy that fit Bobby’s appearance who was in the custody of a man named William Cantwell Walters, a handyman traveling through Mississippi. Walters stated that the boy’s name was Charles Bruce Anderson and that he had been allowed custody of the boy by Julia Anderson, the boy’s mother who worked for his family. Police did not believe his story and he was arrested. The Dunbars were called to Mississippi to identify the boy.
There are different stories in the newspapers as to what happened when the Dunbars met with the boy. One reported that the boy yelled “Mother!” and ran to give Mrs. Dunbar a hug. Another said that the boy cried and that Mrs. Dunbar couldn’t be sure if he was her son. The newspapers also could not agree on the boy’s reaction to being united with the Dunbar’s younger son. One claimed that the boy didn’t recognize his younger brother at all, while another said that he called out his brother’s name and kissed him.
The next day while giving the boy a bath, Lessie confirmed that he was her son because she recognized a mole on the boy’s neck and scars on his left foot from a bad burn as a baby. There are reports that she shouted “Thank God, it is my boy!” and then fainted. The family returned home with the boy to a huge celebration and parade in town.
During this time in Louisiana kidnapping was a very serious offence and Walters feared for his life. He wrote a letter to the Dunbars from his jail cell pleading with them to call for Julia Anderson. He wrote “I know by now you have decided. You are wrong and it is very likely I will loose my life on account of that and if I do the great God will hold you accountable”
With the help of arrangements made by a New Orleans newspaper, Julia Anderson arrived in Louisiana from North Carolina to claim the boy as her son. Julia viewed a line up the police put together of boys the same age and appearance as her son. The boy showed no signs of recognizing her and she couldn’t say if any of them were in fact her son.
Some say the boy wanted nothing to do with her because he was enjoying his new, more lavish life with the Dunbars, which included a pony and a new bicycle.
The next day Julia was granted a closer look at the boy and was even allowed to undress him. It was then that she said she was positive that this was her son Charles. Unfortunately for her, word had already got out about her not being able to identify him the day before. She was also painted in a negative light when it was found out that she was the mother of three children out of wedlock and two of those children were dead.
Julia was poor and couldn’t afford the cost of fighting for her son in court with what little she made as a field hand for Walter’s family. She was forced to go back to North Carolina, but later returned to Louisiana to corroborate Walter’s story in his kidnapping trial. During the trial there were witnesses who testified to seeing Walters with the boy before Bobby went missing, but the court still found Walters guilty and the boy was returned to the Dunbars where he lived the rest of his life as Bobby.
During the trial Julia had met and became friends with people of Poplarville, Mississippi and decided to stay there and start over. She became passionate in her Christian religion and helped form a church in town. She worked as a nurse and midwife, married, and had seven children. Though her new life was going well, Julia never forgot about her stolen son and spoke frequently of him to her family.
It was said that the Anderson family grew to hate and even be afraid of the Dunbars believing they had robbed the boy from them. The Dunbars were under the impression that Julia Anderson was just a neurotic, confused woman.
Years later in the 1940s two of Julia’s children said that Bobby Dunbar/Charles Anderson came to speak with each of them on different occasions. Bobby’s son also later told a story of a family trip they took through Poplarville and his father Bobby said “Those are the people they came to pick me up from.” The Dunbar family stopped while in town and visited with the Andersons.
Walters served two years in prison for kidnapping and then his lawyer was able to make an appeal and he was awarded a new trial. Due to the cost of a new trial, prosecutors decided to release him. After his release Walters moved from place to place frequently as he did before. He would visit his family occasionally and maintained that he was innocent. He passed away in the late 1930s.
The boy who was raised as Bobby Dunbar eventually married and had four kids of his own. He passed away in 1966.
One of Bobby’s sons remember a conversation he had with his father as a teenager. He asked his father “Well, how do you know that you’re Bobby Dunbar?”
His father answered “I know who I am, and I know who you are. And nothing else makes a difference.”
In 2004 a reporter from the Associated Press questioned the Dunbar family and Bob Dunbar Jr. agreed to take a DNA test to put an end to the mystery. They compared his DNA with that of his cousin, the son of Alonzo Dunbar, the younger brother of Bobby Dunbar Sr. The tests show that he was not related to the Dunbar family.
The descendants of the boy raised has Bobby still consider themselves Dunbars because that’s the only family they know whether related by blood or not.
What happened to the real Bobby Dunbar, lost at Swayze Lake, is still a mystery.
**The book “A Case For Soloman” was written about the case. The website for the book is HERE and there are more pictures of the Dunbar family, Walters, Julia Anderson, Bobby Dunbar and Charles Anderson. It also has great newspaper excerpts and photos. Definitely worth a look.