The Disappearance of Walter Collins

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a missing child. Perhaps even worse is spending the rest of your life not knowing the child’s fate. But that is exactly what happened to Los Angeles resident Christine Collins.

Public Domain photo of Christine Collins

On March 10, 1928, Christine’s son, nine-year-old Walter, went to a movie in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington. He never returned home.

Christine reported her son missing. The case received nationwide attention, and tips of apparent sightings came from as far away as San Francisco and Oakland. Police unsuccessfully searched for months.

In August of that year, state police in DeKalb, Illinois picked up a runaway boy who matched Walter’s description. The boy told authorities he was Walter Collins and gave a hazy description of his abduction. He spoke to Christine over the phone, and she paid $70.00 to have her son sent back to Los Angeles.

But upon his arrival, Collins realized the boy wasn’t Walter. Under public pressure to solve the case, Captain J. J. Jones convinced Christine to “try the boy out” by taking him home. Three weeks later, she returned to Captain Jones and emphatically denied the boy was her son.

Although she had dental records and the backing of friends, Collins said Jones accused her of being a bad mother and bringing ridicule to the police. He had Christine committed to the psychiatric ward at Los Angeles County Hospital under a “Code 12” internment. This was a code used to commit someone who was deemed difficult or an inconvenience.

Jones questioned the boy, who admitted his name was Arthur Hutchins, Jr. and had run away from his home in Iowa. He admitted to hearing about the Collins story and thought his deception would provide a way for him to meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix.

Christine Collins was released from the hospital ten days after Arthur’s confession. She filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and was awarded a sum of $10,800, the equivalent of approximately $180,000 in 2022. Jones never paid the money.

In 1929, a man named Gordon Northcutt was found guilty of abducting, molesting, and killing young boys in the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Northcutt’s mother, Sarah, confessed to assisting her son in the killing of Walter. Northcutt denied the murder. Sarah Northcutt was sentenced to life in prison for her role in the crime. She later attempted to rescind her confession.

Christine Collins, who continued to believe her son was still alive, received permission to interview Gordon Northcutt, who promised to explain the true account of her son’s fate. He recanted at the last minute and professed his innocence in Walter’s disappearance.

Collins continued to search for her son until her death in 1964. She never learned his fate and his disappearance is still unsolved.

Her story is the subject of the 2008 Clint Eastwood film, Changeling starring Angelina Jolie in the role of Christine.

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.

Sodder Children #MysteryMonday

Hey y’all. Welcome to this week’s Mystery Monday. I first became aware of this incident from a story in Readers Digest a few years ago.

George Sodder was born in 1895 in Tula, Sardinia. He immigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen. He found work on the Pennsylvania railroads, but eventually moved to West Virginia and started a trucking company. There he met and married Jennie Cipriani, who also from an Italian immigrant family. They moved into a two-story frame home near Fayetteville and had ten children.

While regarded as one of the most respected middle-class families of the area, George was outspoken in his political beliefs, which some people in the immigrant community disliked. He was strongly opposed to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

On Christmas Eve 1945, George and Jennie and nine of their ten children went to bed. Hours later, all that remained of the house was a pile of smoldering rubble.

The Sodders and four of the children escaped. The remaining children were believed to have perished in the fire. But did they?

Let’s look at what happened that night.

  • Around twelve-thirty, the phone rang, awakening Jennie Sodder. The caller was a woman whom she did not recognize who asked for someone Jennie did not know. She heard clinking glasses and “weird laughter” in the background.
  • After hanging up, she noticed all the downstairs lights were on, the curtains open, and the front door unlocked. Marion was asleep on the sofa, and Jennie assumed the other children were upstairs in bed.
  • At 1:00 a.m., the sound of “an object hitting the roof with a loud bang and a rolling noise,” awakened Jennie a second time. She went back to sleep.
  • At 1:30, Jennie awakened a third time to the smell of smoke. A fire had broken out in George’s office. One of the four children who escaped ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help.
  • Thinking the remaining children were asleep upstairs, George looked for his ladder to reach a second-story window. Although it usually rested beside the house, it was missing.
  • He then tried to use his two trucks to drive closer to the house to climb up to the window. Neither would start, although both had been in perfect working order.
  • The fire department experienced various delays and did not arrive until later in the morning. The combed through the rubble but did not find any bones or human remains, but the fire chief believed the five children died in the fire. Investigators determined the fire was due to faulty wiring.

Death certificates were issued. Five days later, George Sodder bulldozed what remained of the house, intending to make a memorial garden for the deceased children. But after things calmed down, the Sodders began to question their children’s fate.

An employee of a crematorium informed Jennie Sodder that bones remain after a body has been burned for two hours at 2,000 degrees. Fire destroyed the Sodder home in forty-five minutes. A telephone employee told the family the phone lines appeared cut, not burned.

Strange events had occurred in the weeks and months leading up to the fire.

  • A man came to the home asking about work. He wandered to the back of the house, pointed to the fuse boxes, and said. “This is going to cause a fire someday.” George found it strange because the power company had recently deemed the wiring in good condition.
  • Another man tried to sell the family life insurance. When George refused, he became irate and said, “Your damn house is going up in smoke, and your children are going to be destroyed.”
  • Several months later, while visiting the site, the youngest child found a hard rubber object in the yard. George thought it was a napalm “pineapple bomb.”

Then came reports of sightings. A woman claimed to have seen the missing children in a car at the time of the fire. Another woman in a diner fifty miles away claimed to have served them breakfast the following morning. An employee of a Charleston, West Virginia hotel claimed to have seen four of the five children accompanied by two couples.

In 1947, George sent a letter to the FBI and received a response from Director J. Edgar Hoover. Mr. Hoover said the matter was under the jurisdiction of local authorities but did offer to assist if given permission. The Fayetteville police and fire departments declined.

In 1949, the site was excavated. Human vertebrae bones were found, but an expert said they would have come from someone between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three. The oldest missing child was fourteen. The expert also noted it was strange that more bones weren’t discovered.

Unique historic image. Fair use under US Copyright Laws.

Believed by the Sodders to be their son Louis. (Creative Commons)

The Sodders erected a billboard outside Fayetteville offering a reward for information about the children. Over the years, various sightings were reported, but none proved useful. One of the strangest events happened in 1967 when Jennie Sodder received a photo of a man who resembled one of the missing children, Louis. Inscribed on the back was a cryptic message, “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil boys. A90132 or 35.”

George Sodder died in 1969, Jennie in 1989. After her death, the remaining Sodder children had the billboard removed.

Some people believe the fire and disappearance was retaliation from the Sicilian Mafia for George’s outspoken remarks about Mussolini. Others think the children perished in the fire. Whatever the case, it is one of the strangest mysteries in US history.