The Case of Bobby Dunbar #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone! I came across today’s Mystery Monday while searching for info on another story and found it intriguing. It’s one of those unsolved, yet unsolved mysteries. Some of you may have heard about Bobby Dunbar. Others haven’t. So, here goes.

Bobby Dunbar was born in 1908, the oldest son of Percy and Lessie Dunbar of Opelousas, Louisiana. By 1912, the Dunbars had another son.

Clipping from a 1913 newspaper article. The child on the left is Bobby Dunbar before his disappearance. The child on the right is the one raised as Bobby Dunbar (Public Domain)

Summers in the south, especially in humid swamp areas, can be unbearable. In August of 1912, the family decided to take a camping trip into the bayou and headed to a place called Swayze Lake. The site is a lake by name only, as it was a gator-infested swamp.

On the night of August 23, four-year-old Bobby snuck away from the family tent and wandered toward the lake. It was the last time the family saw or heard from him.

Devastated, the Dunbar family launched an eight-month search to find the boy. Percy Dunbar offered a $1000.00 reward, the equivalent of more than $25,000.00 today. Their hometown pitched in another $5,000.00.

On April 13, 1913, authorities arrested William Cantwell Walters near the town of Columbia, Mississippi. Walters was an itinerate handyman who specialized in turning pianos and organs. He claimed the boy traveling with him was the son of Julia Anderson of North Carolina, who worked as a field hand for his family. Walters claimed the boy’s name was Bruce Anderson and that Julia willingly gave him custody. Despite this, authorities arrested Anderson and sent for the Dunbars to identify the boy.

There are varying accounts of the first meeting between Bobby (or Bruce) and the Dunbars. One newspaper story, which is most likely fictional, states the little boy immediately shouted, “Mother,” upon seeing Lessie Dunbar. Another article stated the boy cried and quoted Lessie as saying she wasn’t sure he was her son.

The following day, after bathing him, Lessie Dunbar stated she positively identified the child as Bobby because of moles and scars. The family took the boy home to Opelousas.

Shortly afterward, Julia Anderson arrived in town in support of William Walters, stating that the child was her son, Bruce Anderson. At first, she was uncertain the boy was hers, but after closer inspection, positively identified him. However, newspapers had already printed a story about her initial encounter with him. They depicted her as a woman with loose moral character, having had two other children, both of whom had died.

A 1913 photo of Bobby Dunbar (Bruce Anderson) standing beside the automobile (Public Domain)

Julia had no money for a long court battle, so she went home in North Carolina. She returned for the kidnapping trial in support of Walters. While there, several residents of Poplarville, Mississippi, who had come to testify for Walters, befriended her. Julia moved to Poplarville to begin a new life. She eventually married and had seven children.

After William Walters served two years in prison, his attorney successfully appealed the conviction, and Walters was granted a new trial. Prosecutors in Opelousas declined to try the case again, citing high court costs. Walters returned to an iterate lifestyle. He died in 1945 in Pueblo, Colorado.

The child raised as Bobby Dunbar married and had four children. He died in 1966.

Several years after Dunbar’s death, one of his granddaughters, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, began to investigate the events. She formed an unlikely alliance with Linda Traver, a granddaughter of Julia Anderson to learn the truth

In 2004, Margaret’s father, Bob Dunbar, Jr., consented to a DNA test. When the results came back, they showed he was not a DNA match with his cousin. The child raised as Bobby Dunbar was Bruce Anderson.

One mystery solved yet another one remains. What happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? Many, including Margaret Dunbar Cutright, believe he fell into the swamp and was eaten by alligators.