What Happened to Bobby Dunbar?

Kamie Berry | October 16th, 2017

On August 23, 1912, the Dunbars, a wealthy family from Opelousas, Louisiana, went on a fishing trip to Swayze Lake, also in Louisiana. The small family group consisted of Percy and Lessie Dunbar and their two young children, Alonzo and Bobby.

At some point that day, four-year-old Bobby went missing. Volunteers and police searched the area around the lake for days. They even gutted any large alligators they found to see if Bobby had been eaten. The boy himself was not found, but a set of footprints leading out of the swamps was. This led the Dunbars and the authorities to conclude that Bobby had been kidnapped. A $1000 reward was offered for Bobby’s return, and the Dunbars hired a private detective agency to search for him.


In April 1913, eight months after Bobby’s disappearance, authorities said they had found the child in the small town of Hub, Mississippi. He was living with a man named William Cantwell Walters. The only problem was that Walters said the child was not Bobby Dunbar. He insisted the child’s name was Charles Bruce Anderson and that he was the illegitimate son of his brother and a woman named Julia Anderson, who worked for the family as a field hand.

The Dunbars took the purported Bobby home and claimed to recognize marks on his body when they bathed him that first evening. Walters was arrested for kidnapping.

Julia Anderson, the mother of Charles Bruce Anderson, traveled to Opelousas to try get the boy back, arguing that he was her son. But since she had left him in Walters’ care for over a year while she worked, she could not identify him in a lineup. This incident, combined with the Dunbars’ wealth and influence and Anderson’s lowly status as an unwed mother, resulted in custody of the child being awarded to the Dunbars.

Walters was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping the child, but he only spent two years in jail. He maintained his innocence during his entire incarceration. Julia Anderson tried to plead her case to the newspapers, but to no avail. She eventually married and had seven more children, but she constantly talked about the child she said the Dunbars had stolen from her.

The boy was raised the rest of his life as Bobby Dunbar. He married and had four children, before dying in 1966.

But his descendants became interested in the kidnapping story and wanted to make sure that Bobby Dunbar really was Bobby Dunbar. In 2004, Bobby’s son Robert had a DNA test, as did his cousin, one of Alonzo’s sons and an undisputed Dunbar. It was found that the two men were not related at all when they should have been first cousins. As it turns out, William Cantwell Walters and Julia Anderson had been right all along. The child was really Charles Bruce Anderson.

Surely, the Dunbars knew this was not their child when they took him home, so why did they lie? Did they know what really happened to Bobby, but were just trying to cover up their own responsibility, accidental or otherwise, for Bobby’s death? Or did they just want to replace their child so badly that they were willing to overlook the fact that they were stealing someone else’s child? Unfortunately, since all parties to the original story are now dead, we may never know what really happened on that sad day in 1912.

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