DNA Testing Cleared A Man Convicted In 1914 Of Kidnapping Bobby Dunbar

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

For almost a century, a dark rumor has haunted one Robert Dunbar Jr. and his family. Hoping to put old demons to rest, then, he agrees to a DNA test. However, the results are not what he was expecting – and they reveal a shocking truth about a mystery that refuses to go away.

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The story begins in April 1908, when Bobby Dunbar was born to parents Percy and Lessie in Opelousas, Louisiana. Soon, the Dunbars welcomed another son, named Lorenzo. And by all accounts, they were a regular, middle-class bunch, raising their two boys in the Deep South in early-20th-century America.

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Then, on August 23, 1912, everything changed. That day, the Dunbars headed for nearby Lake Swayze, some 25 miles away. There, they planned to spend some time fishing and enjoying a summer’s day outside of the city. But tragedy soon struck.

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When Percy and Lessie decided to go and get some lunch, they realized that four-year-old Bobby was no longer playing nearby. And although they searched for him, they couldn’t find him anywhere. Eventually, then, the Dunbars decided to alert the authorities.

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Soon, a massive search of the area was underway. Every inch of the lakeside was combed, with some people even slicing open the guts of alligators to check the contents. Sadly, though, the only thing that they found was a lone set of footprints leading off towards nearby railroad tracks.

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On top of this, a rumor began circulating that an unknown man had been spotted near the lake around the time of Bobby’s disappearance. Because of this, and the lack of a body, police began to suspect that the boy could have been kidnapped. For the next eight months, then, they scoured the country for any sign of him.

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Then, in April 1913, there was a break in the case. Somebody had reported a nomadic man traveling through Mississippi in a tented wagon with a boy who matched Bobby Dunbar’s description. Authorities thereby soon located one William Walters, but the identity of the boy would spark an enduring mystery.

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According to Walters, the boy had the name Charles Bruce Anderson. Apparently, his mother was Julia Anderson, a servant of Walters’ family. Walters also said that Julia had left the boy in his care and that they were traveling together with her permission.

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Police didn’t believe the story, though, and Walters was placed under arrest. Soon, the Dunbars were told about this latest development and traveled to Mississippi to see if the boy really was their son. But although they were quickly united, newspaper accounts from the time differ as to what happened next.

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According to some reports, the boy called out, “Mother!” and ran into Lessie’s arms. However, others noted that the boy began to cry on being introduced to his supposed parents and that Lessie herself was unsure as to whether or not the boy was Bobby.

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Image: via Louisiana Book News

Either way, the next day all doubts seemed to have been put to rest. After she bathed the boy, Lessie claimed to have recognized scars and moles on his body. Now, she was sure that she had found her son, and the family returned home to much celebration in their hometown. But things didn’t end there.

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With Walters still protesting his innocence, Julia Anderson was brought to Louisiana. Unfortunately, though, her story did little to convince the law. Although she claimed that she really had left her son in Walters’ custody, she was unable to pick the boy out of a line-up.

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Additionally, Anderson stated that she had originally left Charles with Walters for just a short two-day excursion. However, she appeared to have done nothing when the trip lasted some 13 months. On top of this, Julia had three children but was not married – a scandalous situation for the time.

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And although Anderson appeared at Walters’ trial again claiming that the boy was her son, prosecutors did not believe her. Walters was subsequently found guilty on a charge of kidnapping and sentenced to life behind bars. The boy, meanwhile, went back to Louisiana, where he was raised as Bobby Dunbar, miraculously returned to his family after a terrible ordeal. Or so it seemed.

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Over the years, everyone involved in the scandal moved on. Bobby grew up, married and had children. Anderson, meanwhile, settled in Mississippi, where she eventually raised a family of her own. Still, those who knew her say that she never forgot Charles, the boy whom she always claimed was stolen by the Dunbars.

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Meanwhile, two years following his incarceration Walters received an appeal, and he was subsequently released from prison. In fact, he continued to maintain his innocence until his death in the 1930s. Oddly, too, Bobby himself may have had his suspicions. According to Hollis and Jules, two of Anderson’s children, he’d been known to visit and talk with them on occasion.

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Bobby died in 1966, and the truth, it would seem, died with him. That said, many years later, his granddaughter Margaret Cutright began some research of her own. Intrigued by the family mystery, she dedicated herself to proving that her grandfather really was the same Bobby Dunbar who had gone missing all those years ago.

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Interestingly, though, her investigation took her in another direction. After reading all the newspaper articles and legal notes as well as chatting with Anderson’s family, she began to doubt the official version of events. Could the man raised as Bobby Dunbar really have been Charles Anderson after all?

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Finally, in 2004, a journalist persuaded Robert Dunbar Jr., Bobby’s son, to take a DNA test alongside his cousin, one of Alonzo Dunbar’s children. And, incredibly, the test showed that the two are not related. Indeed, the man who had believed that he was Bobby Dunbar all those years was someone else, and the real Bobby had never been found.

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The results were welcomed by the families of Anderson and Walters, who were able to finally prove their loved ones’ innocence. However, some of the Dunbar family were uncomfortable, blaming Cutright for having opened up old wounds. She, meanwhile, believes that Bobby was most likely eaten by an alligator in the lake – a rather abject explanation for a mystery that haunted two families for almost 100 years.

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