The True Story of The Boy Who Vanished and Came Back as a New Child, 1912
On August 23, 1912, the Dunbars went on a trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana. As the family played in the water, suddenly four-year-olf Bobby disappeared. His parents, Lessie and Percy Dunbar searched everywhere but their efforts turned up nothing.
The local and the state police eventually began a statewide manhunt for the boy. They caught and dissected alligators, and even threw dynamite into the lake hoping it would eject the boy's body from the water. But everything was futile.
Then, eight months after Bobby’s disappearance, the Dunbars received news that a boy matching Bobby’s description had been found in Mississippi.
A man named William Cantwell Walters, a traveling handyman had been seen with the boy. When authorities questioned him, he claimed the boy was his in fact his nephew, Charles Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate son of his brother and a woman named Julia Anderson.
He claimed that Bruce had been left in his care by Julia, while she left to go look for work. Many residents of the town backed Winter’s up, but the police still arrested him and took the boy into custody.
As for the initial reunion between the boy and the Dunbars, one newspaper claimed it was joyful, and that the boy instantly shouted “Mother” upon seeing Lessie. Other accounts claim that both Lessie and Percy Dunbar were visibly hesitant to confirm that the boy was their son.
The next day, Lessie Dunbar said that after taking the boy home for the night and bathing him she had positively identified moles and scars on his body that confirmed he was Bobby. The police then allowed the Dunbars to take little Bobby back to their home.
However, a few days later, Julia Anderson herself showed up, backing up Walters’ claims that the boy was her son. She said she had Walters watched him for a few days while she looked for work, and that those few days had turned into months when she hadn’t been able to find any.
The police then called the Dunbars back and Bobby was put in a lineup to see if Julia could correctly identify him.
However, the next day, she returned to claim that she was, in fact, confident that the boy identified as Bobby Dunbar was actually her son Bruce. News had already spread, though, that she had hesitated in her identification the day before, and that the boy was already living comfortably with the Dunbars, and the courts were hesitant to bring the case back up.
Unable to pay for a court battle, Julia Anderson returned to North Carolina, leaving the boy with the Dunbars.
At this point, the Lessie and Percy Dunbar were fully confident that the boy was Bobby. He had returned home and acclimated well, was playing with his brothers, and even showed signs of remembering things at the house.
Because of this, Walters was convicted of kidnapping and was sentenced to two years in prison. Until the end of his life, he maintained his innocence in the case.
Bobby grew up with the Dunbars. He married and eventually had four children of his own before his death in 1966. Family members recounted that he always maintained he was Bobby Dunbar whenever the event of his childhood was brought up.
Then, in 2004, Bob Dunbar Jr, son of Bobby Dunbar, consented to a DNA test. His daughter, Margaret, had been investigating the events and wanted to prove once and for all that her grandfather was Bobby Dunbar. The DNA from Bob Dunbar Jr was compared to the DNA from his cousin, the son of Bobby Dunbar’s younger brother.
The test came back conclusive — Bob Dunbar Jr. was not blood-related to any of the Dunbar family.
The boy the Dunbars had claimed as Bobby Dunbar all those years ago, was, in fact, Bruce, son of Julia Anderson.
In the end, the Anderson family was thrilled as they felt the test vindicated their claims. The Walters family as well was overjoyed, as the evidence exonerated the kidnapping claim against William.
As for the real Bobby Dunbar, his fate remains unknown to this day.