Creepy and Unexplained: The Lost Boy

America Moreno, Creepy and Unexplained Writer

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Background

The disappearance of Robert “Bobby” Clarence Dunbar is a story that has been passed down for generations. It is a story of two boys who were taken away from their homes, one to be raised by another family and the other to rot unknowingly.

The beginning of a never-ending story

Bobby was born on April 1908 in Opelousas, Louisiana. He was the first son to Lessie and Percy Dunbar. On August 12, 1912, the Dunbars took upon a getaway to Swayze Lake in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana to escape the sun’s rays back at their hometown. The Swayze Lake was described as being a swamp filled with alligators and a heavily wooded area at the time. 

On August 23, Bobby, age 4, had gone to the lake to shoot garfish with a family friend named Paul Mizzi and his younger brother, Alonzo. The boys then made their way back once they were called back for dinner. However, little Bobby did not return to the campsite.

Bobby was nowhere to be seen. Lessie at the time fainted at the tragic news of her son missing and Percy hurriedly returned to the cabin due to being away for work once the news broke out. After no hint of Bobby, searchers began to look for his body in the lake, assuming he had fallen inside and had drowned. They used dynamite to blast throughout the lake; hoping when the water would explode, a sight of Bobby’s body would appear and a massive cable with grappling hooks was pulled across the lake to drag the depth. However, the Dunbars and the searchers had no luck and were led to believe Bobby had been eaten by an animal, more convincingly, an alligator. The searchers began to cut up the reptiles in hope Bobby’s remains would be inside. Unfortunately, no luck there as well. 

The Dunbars quickly acted by contacting the police and igniting an eight-month search to find Bobby. Posters were put on display describing the lost boy:

After an unsuccessful journey, the Dunbars, along with town donations, gathered up money as a reward. It totaled over $125,000 in cash. However, after months of no information and sight of Little Bobby, the family began to lose hope and returned the money to all the families that had donated.

Breakout

Close to a year after the disappearance, on April 13, 1913, the case caught a big break. Authorities had arrested, William Cantwell Walters, a traveling tinker, near Columbia, Mississippi. Walters became a suspect due to traveling with a boy that strikingly matched Bobby Dunbar’s description. The boy had the same age, blonde hair, and blue eyes. It was heavenly news for the Dunbars.

However, once meeting the little boy, both Percy and Lessie were unsure whether the little boy was Bobby. Though the little boy did look like him, the Dunbars noticed he did not have the scar on the big toe of his left foot, as stated in the description. Moreover, when Leslie was first introduced to the boy, his reaction was fear and intimidation. It was in no way the type of reaction you’d expect if a boy had been abducted from his beloved family and reunited with them after some time. However, despite the visual facts of the scar “fading away,” which was the Dunbars justification for the scar not being there anymore, and the reaction the little boy had towards Lessie, she declared him her little boy after bathing him, confirming him by moles and other scars. 

Once the Dunbar’s returned to their town with their alleged son, their hometown declared a holiday and threw a tremendous parade. Bobby was showered with gifts, including a pony. Percy and Lessie had enough time to grieve, but with their little boy back, they were determined to spoil and give him the best life they could offer. And they did. 

In spite of that, Walters, the traveling tinker, had stated the little boy was in fact, not Bobby, but Charles Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate child of his brother and a woman who worked for his family, Julia Anderson. He declared that the boy had been left in his care by Julia and although many backed up this statement, he was still taken under custody by the police. Walters was arrested for kidnapping, which was a death penalty crime, at the time. He spent two years in prison before his attorney appealed. Walters was released without a retrial.

The Dunbars’ perfect reunion was soon ruined when Julia Anderson, the supposed mother of the little boy, arrived at the town demanding her child back. When Anderson met the boy, he had the same reaction towards her as with Lessie. Anderson had also been unsure whether the little boy was hers, as she confessed Walters had fled with the kid more than she initially allowed. On the contrary, she stated, “In my heart, I know it’s Bruce.” 

Unfortunately with Anderson considered an outsider and a woman with loose morals, no one believed her. She was pushed away from her claimed child. Anderson fled the town and never returned. It was reported she moved on, got married, and had more children.

You keep wanting to know all about Julia. You need to look more into Lessie and Percy and judge their characters”

— Linda Traver

Though this seemed like a happily ever after for the Dunbar family, the story was far from finished.

The next chapter

Margaret Dunbar Cutright grew up knowing the legacy of her grandfather. She was told her grandfather was indeed Bobby, despite the claims of Walters and Anderson. Throughout her life, she was expected to believe the assertion, but when introduced to a photo album carrying newspaper clippings about her grandfather’s disappearance by her father, Bob Dunbar Jr., Margaret’s curiosity about whether his grandfather was Bobby or not, grew. She began contradicting her family’s beliefs. 

Margaret had gone “on an obsessive quest to small-town libraries, archives, and courthouses all over the South,” according to a 2008 radio show documentary called The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.

Margaret’s husband gave her a card to the Library of Congress for her birthday, where she spent weeks in the reading rooms, realizing Julia Anderson could have been telling the truth after all. The descendant decided to contact the Anderson family for more depth into the abnormal case.

An extended journey to get to the truth

Margaret was able to reach out to Linda Traver, the granddaughter of Julia Anderson. Traver grew up being told her uncle was kidnapped by the Dunbar family. Just like Margaret, Linda grew curious about the strange case throughout the years. Both Linda and Margaret began working together, trying to solve the case that had happened decades ago. They were both committed to discovering the truth about their family histories, despite the beliefs they grew up convinced by. Linda and Margaret had continued with this research, with both their families disapproving throughout. 

Once the case progressed, the women began to go against each other. The family feud had grown once again. Linda reported that Margaret was convinced that the boy was Bobby Dunbar all along while she believed it was Bruce Anderson. The women’s stubbornness prevented an even sooner result. However, Tarver confronted Margaret and advised her to “look more closely.”

“You keep wanting to know all about Julia. You need to look more into Lessie and Percy and judge their characters,” Margaret recalls being told. 

“And that did not make me happy in retrospect, she was obviously right. I did need to put down what I believed and be able to look at it with fresh eyes,” Margaret said. 

With the duo’s comeback, the truth to this case was close to being revealed. The women reviewed the legal files that originated between William Walters and his lawyer in 1913. Within the files, they discovered letters from Julia Anderson and other witnesses of the Bobby Dunbar mystery. It was an ecstatic find for the women. 

One of the letters, which remains anonymous, was sent to the Opelousas courthouse and was in favor of the accused William Walters and the defeated Julia Anderson. The writer referred to herself as “The Christian Woman,” and spoke words that made Margaret change her perspective even more about the case of her alleged grandfather, Bobby Dunbar. The letter, received by Walter’s lawyer read:

“Dear sir, in view of human justice to Julia Anderson and mothers, I am prompted to write to you. I sincerely believe the Dunbar’s have Bruce Anderson and not their boy. If this is their child, why are they afraid for anyone to see or interview him privately? I would see nothing to fear, and this seems strange. The Dunbars claim that if this had been their own child and he had been gone eight months, do you think his features would be so changed that they would not know him only by moles and scars? This is a farce. If the Dunbars do not know their child who has only been gone eight months by his features, why, they don’t know him at all?”

After the undesirable enlightenment, Margaret asked her father for a DNA test to put this case to rest. Unfortunately, her father denied her requests each time she asked. Bob Dunbar Jr. believed there was no need for the sample. 

However, in 2003, Margaret’s father finally gave in, with the intent to prove he was a Dunbar. The DNA sample was compared to Bobby Dunbar’s younger brother, Alonzo. The Dunbars were convinced the results were going to be in their favor.

A month went by when Margaret’s phone rang, with the answer at the end of the line. The lab assistant informed her that the DNA samples did, in fact, not match. The boy who the Dunbar’s claimed as their own was not Bobby Dunbar, but Bruce Anderson, Julia Anderson’s son. 

Upon this news, Margaret, along with her relatives were shocked. Members of the family became furious with Margaret and the results. Some of the Dunbars weren’t aware of the test at all, causing mixed feelings about the results. The Dunbars’ long-held beliefs about their family became doubts. They were surprised, confused, and hurt at the same time. For them, the results were something they wished to not know. 

When asked about the results, Bobby Dunbar Jr. was unaware of how to feel. 

“It took my breath away. You know, I hadn’t considered that. My thought was to prove that daddy was Bobby Dunbar… I just pondered, you know?” he stated.

Margaret’s siblings did not take the news well. Her brother, Swin Dunbar thought his sister was being selfish by pursuing the test behind the family’s back after being told not to.

“Why do this? Nobody in the family wants to know,” he said. 

To this day, not all members of the Dunbar’s family have forgiven Margaret. They feel as though Margaret had betrayed the Dunbar family name, many are still healing.

It took my breath away. You know, I hadn’t considered that. My thought was to prove that daddy was Bobby Dunbar… I just pondered, you know?”

— Bob Dunbar Jr.

An Anderson

Margaret, along with her father, reached out to Linda Traver to reveal the news. She was as shocked as everybody else but happy to gain a family member. Linda reported getting up from the couch that she was sitting when she received the news and hugged Bob’s neck, knowing they were family. 

“We were just family,” Linda said. 

What happened to Bobby Dunbar?

If the boy that the Dunbars claimed was Bruce Anderson all along, then what happened to Bobby Dunbar? It’s eerie to know a family raised a boy with the belief he was family, but in the end, he was a stranger. What came to be of Bobby Dunbar? 

Margaret was convinced Bobby had fallen into the swamp that fateful day in the lake. A small child such as him could have been easily eaten by one of the many alligators. 

Unwanted Reality

Margaret continued to dig into the case, now focusing on Lessie Dunbar. Margaret claims Lessie should have known somehow, but out of denial, claimed Bruce Anderson as her child. 

“I can’t help but wonder that maybe, underneath, where you go and can’t talk about, she must have known that this was not her son that she birthed,” Margaret stated. 

A name, in the end, is just a name

When the supposed Bobby Dunbar grew up, reporters approached him seeking more insight on the alleged kidnapping by William Walters. Bobby, or should I say, Bruce, remembers traveling with William Walters but failed to comment on the memory of the family trip to the damned lake. He also stated he was not the only child Walters and himself were traveling with, which causes theories to spur after. Bruce recalls the other boy dying shortly before Walter’s arrest, making people think Walters was responsible for both Bruce and Bobby’s kidnapping in the end. 

Alas, the case of Robert Clarence Dunbar remains unsolved.