BOBBY DUNBAR was an American boy whose disappearance at the age of
four and apparent return was widely reported in newspapers across the
* 1 Disappearance * 2 After the trial * 3 Later investigation * 4 2008 radio documentary * 5 See also * 6 References * 7 External links
Bobby Dunbar was the first son born to Lessie and Percy Dunbar of Opelousas, Louisiana . In August 1912, the Dunbars took a fishing trip to nearby Swayze Lake in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana . On August 23, while on that trip, Bobby Dunbar disappeared. Photos in a 1914 newspaper of a confirmed Bobby Dunbar before he was lost (left) and the boy that was found later (right).
After an eight-month search, authorities located William Cantwell
Walters, who worked as an itinerant handyman, specializing in the
tuning and repair of pianos and organs. Walters had been traveling
Newspaper accounts differ with regard to the initial reaction between the boy and Lessie Dunbar. While one account indicated that the boy immediately shouted "Mother" upon seeing her and the two then embraced, another said only that the boy cried and quoted Lessie Dunbar as saying she was unsure whether he was her son. Other newspaper accounts quote both the Dunbars as initially stating doubts as to the boy's identity. There were similar contradictions in newspaper accounts of the boy's first sighting of the Dunbars' younger son, Alonzo, with one newspaper claiming that the boy showed no sign of recognizing Alonzo, while another saying the boy recognized him instantly, called him by name and kissed him. The next day, after bathing the boy, Lessie Dunbar said she positively identified his moles and scars and was then certain that he was her son. The boy returned to Opelousas with the Dunbars to a parade and much fanfare celebrating the "homecoming."
Shortly thereafter, Julia Anderson of
According to newspaper accounts, Anderson was presented with five different boys who were of the same approximate age as her son, including the boy who had been claimed by the Dunbars. When the boy in question was presented, he gave no indication that he recognized her. She asked whether he was the boy recovered, but was not given an answer and finally declared that she was unsure.
Upon seeing the boy again the next day, including undressing him, she indicated a stronger certainty that the boy was indeed her son Bruce. However, word had already spread about her failure to positively identify him on the first try. This, combined with the fact that newspapers questioned her moral character in having had three children (the other two deceased, by that point) out of wedlock, led to Anderson's claims being dismissed.
With no money to sustain a long court battle, Anderson returned home to North Carolina. She later returned to Louisiana for Walters's kidnapping trial to attest to his innocence and push for the court to determine that the boy was her son. At the trial, she became acquainted with the residents of the town of Poplarville, Mississippi , many of whom had also come to proclaim Walters's innocence. William Walters and the boy had spent quite a bit of time in Poplarville during their travels and the community there had come to know them well, with a number of them asserting that they had seen Walters with the boy prior to the disappearance of Bobby Dunbar. Despite their testimony, the court reached the determination that the boy was in fact Bobby Dunbar. Walters was convicted of kidnapping, while the boy remained in the custody of the Dunbar family and lived out the remainder of his life as Bobby Dunbar.
AFTER THE TRIAL
After the trial, the people of Poplarville welcomed Anderson and she
began a new life there, eventually marrying and having seven children.
According to her descendants, she became a devout
In 2008 one of Anderson's sons, Hollis, recounted a story for This American Life that in 1944 Bobby Dunbar/Bruce Anderson visited him at his place of business, where they talked. Hollis's sister Jules recounts a similar experience where a man, who she believes was Dunbar, came to the service station where she worked and talked to her for an extended period. The Dunbar family also has a similar story, recounted by Bobby Dunbar's son Gerald. The family was returning home from a trip and passed through Poplarville when Bobby Dunbar said, "Those are the people they came to pick me up from." The Anderson family then had a brief visit with Dunbar.
After Walters had served two years of his prison term for kidnapping, his attorney was successful in appealing the conviction and Walters was granted the right to a new trial. Citing the excessive costs of the first trial, prosecutors in Opelousas declined to try him again and instead released him. After his release from custody, Walters continued to move around often. Some sources indicate that he died sometime in the late 1930s, but the exact date and place of death are unknown. The grandchildren of Walters's brother reported that during their childhood, he typically visited their grandfather a few times per year and that during these visits, Walters always maintained his innocence regarding the kidnapping charge.
The boy raised as Bobby Dunbar married, had four children of his own and died in 1966.
Years after Bobby Dunbar's death, one of his granddaughters, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, began her own investigation of the events, poring through newspaper accounts, interviewing the children of Julia Anderson and examining the notes and evidence presented by Walters's defense attorney for his kidnapping trial and appeal. Although Cutright had initially hoped to prove that her grandfather was a Dunbar, her research ultimately led her to doubt her belief.
In 2004, after an
2008 RADIO DOCUMENTARY
In March 2008,
Public Radio International
* ^ "Purcy Dunbar (sheet 11A, family 223, NARA microfilm T624)".
Index and image, U.S. Census , Opelousas Ward 2, St. Landry Parish,