In August 1912, the Dunbar’s took a fishing trip to Swayze Lake, in St. Laundry Parish, Louisiana. On August 23rd, whilst on the trip, Bobby, the youngest of the family, got separated from the family and had disappeared.
After an 8 month search, authorities located William Cantwell Walters, who worked as a handyman specialising in the tuning and repairing of organs and pianos. Walters had been travelling through Mississippi with a boy who matched the appearance of Bobby Dunbar.
Walters claimed that the boy was actually Charles Bruce Anderson, generally referred to as Bruce, the son of a woman who worked for his family and that the woman – Julia Anderson – had willingly granted him custody. Nevertheless, Walters was arrested and authorities sent for the Dunbar’s to come to Mississippi to identify the boy.
Newspaper accounts differ regarding the initial reaction between the child and Leslie Dunbar. One account claims the boy shouted “mother!” and the two embraced, whilst another said that the boy cried and quoted Leslie Dunbar as saying she was “unsure whether he was her son.”
Other newspapers quote both the Dunbars initially stating doubts about the boy’s identity. There were similar contradictions in the newspaper accounts of the boy’s first sighting of Dunbar’s younger son, Alonzo, with one newspaper claiming the boy recognises Alonzo instantly, called him by name and kissed him. Another newspaper claimed the boy showed no sign of recognizing Alonzo.
The next day, after bathing the boy, Leslie Dunbar said she positively identified his moles and scars and was then certain it was her son, Bobby Dunbar. The boy returned to Opelousas with the Dunbars to a parade, with much fanfare celebrating the “homecoming.”
Shortly after this, Julia Anderson from North Carolina arrived to support Walters’ connotation that the boy in fact was her son, Bruce. Anderson was unmarried and worked as a field hand for the Walters’ family, and she said that she had allowed Walters to take her son for a two-day trip to visit one of his relatives, and made it clear that she had not consented to Walter taking the boy for more than those few days.
According to newspaper accounts, Anderson was shown 5 different boys who were approximately the same age as her son, including the boy claimed by the Dunbar’s. When the boy in question was presented, he apparently gave no indication that he knew Anderson. She did ask whether that was the boy who was recovered, but no one answered her so she finally declared that she was unsure.
Upon seeing the boy the next day, and being allowed to undress him, Anderson indicated a stronger certainty that the boy was indeed her son. However, with word spreading around that she was unable to positively identify him on the first attempt, combined with the newspapers questioning her moral character as she had 3 children (the other 2 were sadly deceased at this point) out of wedlock, Anderson’s claims were dismissed.
With no money to sustain a long court battle, she returned to North Carolina but she would return to Mississippi for Walters’ kidnapping trial; to attest his innocence and push for the court to determine that the boy was her son.
During the trial, she became acquainted with the residents of Poplarville, Mississippi, many of whom had also come to proclaim Walters innocence. This is because William Walters and the boy had spent a bit of time in Poplarville during their travels and the community had come to know them well, with a number of them asserting that they had seen Walters and the boy together in the town before Bobby Dunbar went missing.
Despite this, the court ruled that the boy was Bobby Dunbar and Walters was convicted of kidnapping.
After the trial, Julia Anderson stayed in Poplarville and got married, and had 7 children. According to her descendants, she became a devout Christian, helped found a Church and served as a nurse and midwife to the community. Although her children say her life was happy, she spoke of her lost son and always regarded him as being kidnapped by the Dunbar’s.
In 2008, one of Anderson’s sons, Hollis, recounted the story for This American Life that in 1944 Bobby Dunbar/Bruce Anderson visited him at his place of business, where they talked. Hollis’ sister Jules has recounted a similar experience wherein a man, who she believes to have been 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, as told 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 that 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 resumed an itinerant lifestyle. He died April 7, 1945, and was buried in Pueblo, Colorado, beside his wife. The grandchildren of Walters’ 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, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, one of Bobby’s granddaughters, began her own investigation, pouring through newspapers, court documents and interviewing the children of Julia Anderson. All this investigation led her to doubt that her grandfather was Bobby Dunbar.
In 2008, when an Associated Press reporter contacted the family about the story, Bob Dunbar JR consented to a DNA test to resolve the issue. The results showed that Dunbar JR was not blood-related to his supposed cousin, the son of Alonzo Dunbar, who was the younger brother of Bobby Dunbar SR.
The question still remains: what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar?
Unsolved, Missing, True Crime, Mystery, USA, Louisiana, Child