One of the most tragic things that can ever happen to a parent is the disappearance of their child. But what is one to make, when the child disappears and the parents find a replacement eight months later? This is what happened in the case of Bobby Dunbar, an American child who went missing more than a century ago. After it was discovered in 2004 using DNA that the child who was returned was not Bobby Dunbar, some glaring questions popped up. What on earth happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? And even disturbingly, if the real Bobby Dunbar was still missing, who was the child that was found?
Turns out, the child is a fine lad named Bruce Anderson, the son of Julia Anderson. The investigators of the case discovered Bobby Dunbar/ Bruce Anderson with a handyman named Walters, who specialized in repairing musical instruments. Walters swore that the child was Charles Bruce Anderson, but the investigators didn’t believe him. Not even when Bruce’s mother, Julia Anderson, pleaded that Bruce was her son.
The Mystery of Bobby Dunbar
The mystery began on August 23rd, 1912, when four-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared on a fishing trip to Swayze Lake in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are dubious at best, and suspicious at worst, as little to no information exists in mainstream media and documented history as to how the child disappeared. However, by all surviving accounts, the parents were utterly devastated by the disappearance. Though the authorities were called, they made little headway, until eight months later, when a man named Walters was discovered traveling through Mississippi, with a boy that resembled Bobby. As he was just a handyman, he was immediately stopped and questioned. Walters claimed that the boy was the son of Julia Anderson, a house help who had given her consent to take Bruce (the name of the boy), to the Walters for a brief visit. Nonetheless, the authorities had made up their mind that the boy was Bobby Dunbar, and decided to investigate from that direction. Walters was immediately arrested and the Dunbars were notified that their son had been found.
Bobby or Bruce?
Bobby Dunbar might have been found, but the drama was barely starting. The news of the discovery of the kidnapped Bobby Dunbar made headlines across the nation, and the media was quick to report on it. Trouble was, there were different accounts of what happened when Bobby was reunited with his mother. Some sources say that Bobby immediately recognized his mother, while others say that the child started crying in distress. But what about the mother? Surely, Lessie Dunbar should have immediately recognized her son, right? Well, not quite so. When she was first presented with Bobby/Bruce, Lessie voiced her concern that it might not be her son. However, after she was allowed to give a bath, she recognized some moles and birthmarks and became certain that the child was her son, after all. A great homecoming was conducted for the lost son who had returned.
In the meantime, Walters was being put on trial for kidnapping. Right when things began to look serious for him, the real mother of the child, Julia Anderson, appeared on the scene. She attested Walters’s claim that the child had been her son, Charles Bruce Anderson, and that she had let Mr. Walters, a close family friend, take Bruce with him to his family for a short holiday. The thing was Julia didn’t exactly have the credibility to back her claims up. Back in the 20th century, Christianity was a virtue that was to be followed unquestioningly, and anyone who deviated from the model of a typical Christian was not meant to be taken seriously. Julia had three children out of wedlock. In the eyes of society, she was an insolent deviant who was lying for fame and extortion money. According to sources, five boys of Bruce’s age were presented to Julia, including the boy she claimed to be her son.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t recognize the boy on the first try. Though she did recognize Bruce the next day, the media, the society, and the Dunbars had made up their mind: the boy was Bobby, who was the victim of a kidnapping incident but had been returned. Walters was put on trial and convicted, and spent two years in jail before he was released. As for Julia, she had limited means to pursue the case but was adamant till her death that the child was Bruce Anderson, her son, who had been kidnapped by the Dunbars.
Conclusive Evidence and a Brief Sense of Closure
Years after the death of Bobby Dunbar in 1966, one of his granddaughters, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, decided to put an end to the case. She learned that Julia Anderson had remarried, and went on to lead a happy life. Margret reached out through newspapers and letters, and interviewed Julia’s children. She went through all the available evidence and wanted to prove that her grandfather had indeed been Bobby Dunbar. However, as time went on, and as the evidence against her claims piled up, she voiced her doubts regarding the identity of the boy that had been returned.
The Associated Press approached the family in 2004, and Bob Dunbar Jr. agreed to share his sample for DNA tests, and the results did not match with his cousin, Alonzo (real Bobby’s younger brother) Dunbar’s grandkids. This was conclusive evidence that the child that was returned was never Bobby Dunbar.
So, what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar, who disappeared in 1908, on that trip to Swayze Lake? It’s now speculated that Bobby might have drowned in the lake, or was eaten by an alligator, citing the lack of a body despite an extensive search. This could mean that Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar could have known that their son was dead, but were overcome with grief that they wanted to forget the incident and adopt a new son. Whatever the case, justice came way too late for Julia and Walters, who died in the 1940s, and we’ll never know what happened to Bobby Dunbar, who disappeared in 1908.
If you’re interested in mysteries, try the Disappearance of the Lighthouse Keepers of Eilean Mor, or the The Worst Year To Be Alive: Year 536 A.D
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