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.

Haunted Vicksburg #MysteryMonday

As the battle of Gettysburg raged, a thousand miles to the south the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi was nearing the end. For forty-seven days between May 18 – July 4, 1983, Union forces led by General Ulysses S. Grant surrounded the city. Confederate troops led by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton held firm. Finally, with their supplies nearly gone, they surrendered on July 4—one day after Meade defeated Lee at Gettysburg.

Although the number of casualties wasn’t as high as those in Gettysburg, there was still loss of lives. The Union army suffered 766 deaths with another 3,793 wounded. Over three-thousand confederates were listed as killed, wounded, or missing. Another 29,495 surrendered.

The city itself lay in near ruin with many of its residents near starvation. With such tragedy is it any wonder Vicksburg is a place known for paranormal activity?

My husband and I visited the city a few years ago. We toured the battlefield and national cemetery, spent a night in an antebellum mansion turned bed and breakfast, and went on a ghost tour. Below are a few of the stories about Haunted Vicksburg.

Cedar Grove Mansion

John Alexander Klein was a wealthy Vicksburg businessman who built Cedar Grove Mansion as a gift for his bride, Elizabeth. Completed in 1852, it offered a view of the Mississippi River. The Kleins furnished the home with Bohemian glass, paintings by renowned artists, Italian marble fireplaces, and French Empire Gasoliers.

In 1862, John joined the Confederacy, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Elizabeth. She was a relative of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. He moved her behind Union lines to have the baby, which she named Willie. Sherman also converted Cedar Grove into a Union Hospital to save it from destruction.

However, it did not escape damage. The front door has a patch where a cannonball entered.

A cannonball fired during the siege of Vicksburg

One is still lodged in a wall of the front parlor, and another made a hole in the floor. After the war, Klein and his family returned to the mansion, thanks to the money he kept hidden to pay his taxes.

Cedar Grove was not without tragedy. John and Elizabeth Klein had ten children, but only six of them lived to adulthood. Two died in infancy, and a two-year-old succumbed to yellow fever. Their sixteen-year-old son, Willie had just returned from a hunting trip with a friend. The two of them were sitting on the back step when the friend accidentally knocked over his rifle. It fired, hitting Willie in the chest.

Supposedly, he was able to climb up the stairs to the second floor where he collapsed and died on the spot. Today, visitors to the mansion claim to see shadowy figures on the stairs. Others have reported seeing the ghostly figure of a woman in the ballroom, heard children’s feet in the upstairs hallway, and had strange encounters in the basement which served as a morgue for the soldiers who died there.

My husband and I stayed in Cedar Grove. We didn’t have any paranormal experiences. Perhaps it was due to the complimentary glass of sherry we consumed before going to bed, which put us in a deep, dreamless sleep.

The site of Pemberton’s Headquarters

During the siege of Vicksburg, General Pemberton occupied an 1835 Greek Revival house on Crawford Street. At that time, the neighborhood had some of the most beautiful homes in Vicksburg. In the years following the war, the house was a private residence until a family sold it to the Sisters of Mercy. They used for a dormitory, a nursing school, and a kindergarten. In 1973, the Sisters of Mercy sold the house, it reverted to a private residence and was later made into a bed and breakfast.

In 2003, the National Park Service acquired the home. Several years ago, employees at the Baldwin House next door reported seeing a group of Confederate soldiers in the front yard and assumed the were Civil War re-enactors. Imagine their surprise when the soldiers walked behind the house, then vanished.

Some believe these were the spirits of Confederate soldiers who camped near the home during Pemberton’s time there.

Baldwin House

Spirits are also reported to reside in the Baldwin House, including a woman who wears long, flowing black skirts trimmed in white. The owners named her “Aunt Gertrude.” There is also a ghost who wears black, old-fashioned clothes and is known as the funeral lady.

Of note, you may recall I posted a photo of this house a few weeks back. At the time I took the picture, I didn’t know the story of the funeral lady. However, the house is one I pictured for my upcoming short story, “Woman in Black.”

The Illinois Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park

It’s no surprise there are many reported sightings in Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery. Many have purported to see the ghost of General Grant riding across the battlefield at midnight. Others say they hear the screams of wounded and dying men or the sounds of gunfire and cannons. One young man was jogging near the cemetery one night when he saw fog over the graves. The mist was not visible anywhere else. Both the Illinois and Pennsylvania Monuments are said to be haunted.

There are countless other reports of ghost sightings and hauntings in Vicksburg. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a visit to the battlefield is a sobering reminder of what happens when a nation stands divided.