Marc Hoover: Bobby Dunbar: The life of a boy stolen by the authorities

Marc Hoover

If the police took your son and gave him away to another family to appease them, how would you react? How far would you go to get your child returned? Over 100 years ago, a true miscarriage of justice would permanently separate a mother from her child. In April 1913, authorities arrested a traveling handyman named William Cantrell Walters in Mississippi for kidnapping a four-year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar.

Marc Hoover

Walters specialized in repairing organs and pianos and traveled with a boy named Charles Bruce Anderson, the son of Julia Anderson, who was employed by the Walters family. The boy went by Bruce. Walters told authorities he had kidnapped no one and that he had permission from Julia Anderson to travel with the boy. Authorities didn’t buy the story. They arrested and charged Walters with kidnapping.

Walters soon found out the details behind his arrest.

On August 23, 1912, the Dunbar family from Opelousas, Louisiana was on vacation. While fishing in a lake, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar vanished. Percy and Lessie Dunbar, the panic-stricken parents of Bobby contacted the police and reported their son missing. Authorities launched a massive search to find the boy. The search led them to Walters.

Authorities assumed the boy was Bobby Dunbar since they appeared similar. But Walters told the police the boy was Charles Bruce Anderson. After Walters was jailed, authorities notified the Dunbars they had found Bobby. They soon arrived to pick up their son. Since they had not seen Bobby in nearly a year, they assumed it was him. At first, Lessie Dunbar wasn’t sure, but she decided it must be Bobby. Newspapers reported that Alonzo, the brother of Bobby wasn’t so sure this was his missing brother.

The Dunbars didn’t care. They had their son and returned to Louisiana with him while alleged kidnapper William Cantrell Walters faced a court.

Opelousas, Louisiana residents held an event to celebrate Bobby Dunbar’s return. Life returned to normal until Julia Anderson arrived in town to protest the arrest of William Walters and to reclaim her stolen son Bruce. Although she told authorities that Walters was innocent, he still spent two years in prison before he was released. No one believed Walters or Anderson.

The Dunbar family and community united to fight the claims made by Anderson. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the money to fight the Dunbar family in court. She would return to Mississippi without her son. The Dunbar family kept the boy and raised him as Bobby Dunbar.

Bobby Dunbar died in 1966, which closed this story.

But this story would take a strange turn. Many years later, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, one of Bobby’s granddaughters wasn’t so sure she was a Dunbar. She wondered if she could be from the Anderson family. She would risk the ire of her family by digging into the past.

In 2006, Bobby Dunbar Jr. and a cousin took DNA tests to reveal the truth. The results proved that Bobby Dunbar and his son weren’t from the Dunbar family. Cutright discovered that Julia Anderson and William Walters had told the truth. Authorities had stolen Charles Bruce Anderson from his mother and had given him to Percy and Lessie Dunbar.

Cutright has said her family is divided over the issue. They would have preferred the past stay buried. But Cutright wanted to know her true heritage. Anderson would have other children, but she continued to keep the memory of her stolen son alive. So whatever happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? One explanation is that alligators ate him as he fished. Sadly, the police imprisoned an innocent man and stole a child. And because Julia Anderson didn’t have DNA testing or the money to hire legal counsel, she lost her son forever. She would never live to see the day the law recognized her son’s identity. A true American tragedy.

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page at http://www.lifewithgrandpa.com. He also wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on Amazon.com.