The Unsolved Mystery of Bobby Dunbar: A Century-Old Case That Continues to Intrigue

by Laveena Asudaney1 year ago
Picture The Unsolved Mystery of Bobby Dunbar: A Century-Old Case That Continues to Intrigue

Louisiana summers have been an ultimate misery for ages. It’s hot and humid, and everybody you meet constantly sweats. In the boiling summers of 1912, the Dunbar’s, a small and happy family consisting of a father, mother, and two very young brothers, decided to escape to Swayze Lake in the Bayou for a family vacation to ditch the intense consequences the sun-slapping weather had to offer.

Bobby Dunbar, born in 1908, was the first-born kid of Lessie and Percy Dunbar. With two young sons, like most parents, the couple cherished their children and wanted the world for them.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the camping trip would change their family for generations to come. It looks like the Dunbars should have reconsidered their vacation destination, but hindsight is always 20/20. Swayze Lake is only a lake by that name. In reality, the “lake” is a swamp crawling with man-eating alligators.

On the trip night of August 23, 1912, Bobby, the four-year-old little boy then, snuck away from his family’s tent and headed toward the lake. Nobody saw or ever heard from him after that dark night!

The Search for Baby Bobby Dunbar

bobby dunbar unsolved mystery
On the left side of the photograph, a boy raised as Bobby Dunbar stands alongside his family. Image credit: Wikimedia

The Dunbar parents were frightened to learn that their little kid was missing! Mrs. Dunbar, in particular, was stunned with sorrow. Some sources state it was her wish to not go on a boring camping trip and spice it up by sleeping in a flimsy tent next to the nest of terrific alligators left from the Cretaceous period!

A search party tracked Bobby at the lakeside and concluded that he might have fallen and drowned in the water. But the lake failed to give up his body. Every lead and clue were investigated obsessively but hit a dead end. Many began losing heart.


However, a day or two later, Bobby’s hat was spotted far away from the lake, and many started to believe he could have been kidnapped. Percy Dunbar, along with the town’s support, offered a reward of $6,000 for information about his missing son. The amount would equal $130,000 today!

After eight months of investigation, police arrested William Cantwell Walters in the vicinity of Columbia, Mississippi, on April 13, 1913, pertaining to the disappearance of Dunbar. The man was an itinerant peddler accompanied by a young boy of almost the same age and general appearance as little Bobby Dunbar.

He’s Been Found! …or Has He?

Julia Anderson and her son, Bruce Anderson
Julia Anderson and her son, Bruce Anderson. Image credit:

Of the same age, light blonde hair, and bluish eyes — a description enough to separate the boy from Walters and put him onboard the next train to Opelousas, Louisiana. The Dunbar parents identified the child as their son, but whispers in the town questioned if he was Bobby.


According to Walters, the boy with him was Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate son of a single woman who nurtured his parents in North Carolina. He was arrested for kidnapping and tried to clear his name. He said that Julia Anderson, the single mother of the boy, had allowed him to travel with her kid. The town, and more crucially, the jury at his trial, didn’t buy the idea. Walters was convicted of kidnapping. Despite initial doubt, the town celebrated the reunion of the family and held a parade for them. However, rumors continued to spread about the true identity of the boy.

Out of nowhere in the town, one fine day entered, an unexpected lady visitor with a story people didn’t expect to hear. It was Julia, Julia Anderson! She confirmed that she had permitted her son to accompany Walters. But it was just for a couple of days while Walters visited his sister. Strangely, Julia had never reported her missing son, even though Walters remarked that Bruce had been traveling with him for over a year.


A Hunt for the Truth

Bobby dunbar story
A portrayal featured in a newspaper from 1914. Image source:

Gee! Two mothers in this situation claim the same boy as their own. However, reporters discredited Anderson’s claims by calling her illiterate and having loose morals. She was belittled for the failure to report her son missing, and one newspaper even claimed she was a prostitute. She eventually left the boy with the Dunbars and returned to Mississippi.


Bobby remained with the Dunbars, married, had a family, and passed away in 1966.

Many decades later, between 1999 to 2004, Margaret Dunbar and Linda Traver, the respective granddaughters of Bobby Dunbar and Julia Anderson, happen to find each other after digging deep into the past in a hunt for the truth. They formed an alliance to solve the Bobby Dunbar mystery. The two women, with a strong mission to find the truth, discovered a wealth of knowledge as they persisted in their investigation. They examined over the court records William Walters and his attorney had prepared in 1913. They obtained the letters from Julia Anderson and other significant Bobby Dunbar mystery witnesses. However, after four years of digging and obsessive investigation, Margaret finally convinced her father, Robert Dunbar Jr., to go for a DNA test. The result of which displayed that he didn’t belong to the Dunbars! Bobby Dunbar was, in fact, Julia Anderson’s son, Bruce. The news was shocking and hurtful to the Dunbar family, who felt deeply disrespected by Margaret’s investigation and were upset by the refutation of their long-held beliefs.


Regardless of what the results displayed, Margaret’s family identified themselves as Dunbars and claimed they would always be pure Dunbars. The descendants of Julia Anderson still see the Dunbars as friends and do not demand anything more or less from them. And even after the official identification of the boy who had been traveling with Walter has been made, there are still some main questions waiting to be answered in the story! No one actually knows what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar. The strange case of Bobby Dunbar remains one of the most mysterious and debated cases in American history.

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Picture The Unsolved Mystery of Bobby Dunbar: A Century-Old Case That Continues to Intrigue
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