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03-15-2008, 05:49 PM #1Registered User
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- Feb 2005
LA - Robert Clarence "Bobby" Dunbar, 4, Opelousas, 23 Aug 1912
This is an unbelievably tragic case, affecting two families. I doubt the real Bobby Dunbar will ever be found -- it sounds like he probably drowned -- but he's worth remembering.
06-07-2008, 11:48 PM #2Registered User
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- Dec 2005
Robert Dunbar Missing since 1912
Missing Since: August 23, 1912 from Opelousas, Louisiana
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date of Birth: April 1908
Age: 4 years old
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian male. Blond hair, blue eyes. Dunbar's hair was darkening at the time of his disappearance and may have become brown as he grew older. He has a mole on his neck and a burn scar on his big toe. His nickname is Bobby.
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A straw hat, blue rompers and no shoes.
Details of DisappearanceDunbar was last seen on August 23, 1912. He was with his parents and younger brother on a fishing trip at Swayze Lake near Opelousas, Louisiana at the time. When his family went to the cabins for lunch at noon, Robert apparently wandered away. He has never been heard from again. An extensive search of the area turned up no indication of his whereabouts. Seachers did find a set of bare footprints leading out of the swamps to the railroad trestle, and there were reports of a strange man lurking in the area, so it was decided Dunbar must have been abducted.
In April 1913, eight months after Dunbar's disappearance, William Cantwell Walters, was arrested and charged with his kidnapping. Walters, an itinerant handyman, was found in Mississippi with a child closely matching Dunbar's description. Walters stated the boy was named Bruce Anderson and his servant, Julia Anderson, had given him the child as a traveling companion. Bruce was believed to be the illegitimate son of Julie and Walters's brother. Bruce refused to answer to the name Bobby Dunbar, and initially he claimed he did not know Dunbar's mother. Julia identified the child as her son, but a court-appointed arbiter decided the boy was Dunbar.
Walters was convicted of kidnapping, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality two years later and he was released. He was not retried. Walters always maintained his innocence. Julia went on to marry and have eight other children, who grew up being told they had a brother who was taken from them. The child who was with him was given to Dunbar's family and grew up as Dunbar. He gave at least one media interview as an adult, claiming to recall the details of his kidnapping, but family members state he was reportedly uncertain as to his true identity for his entire life. He had four children and was buried under the name Robert Dunbar after his death.
In 2004, authorities announced that DNA testing had proved the child found with Walters was not Dunbar. Dunbar's granddaughter began to research the case in 1999 and became suspicious as to whether or not her grandfather was really Robert Dunbar. Dunbar's son, Robert Dunbar Jr., provided a DNA sample, which was compared with Dunbar Sr.'s brother. Testing Dunbar Jr. and his supposed uncle were not related. The identity of the child who was identified as Bobby Dunbar is unknown; he has not been proven to be Bruce Anderson or anyone else. With the results of the DNA testing, Dunbar was again classified as a missing child. It is possible that he fell off the railroad trestle and died, but his fate remains a mystery. His case is no longer being investigated by law enforcement due to the passage of time.
06-07-2008, 11:52 PM #3
This is a strange and fascinating case! I want to find out more about this one!The above post is as always MY OPINION ONLY!
01-18-2009, 02:14 PM #4Im just living among all the madness
- Join Date
- May 2007
- Lake Charles, Louisiana
This is one of the oddest stories I have ever heard. The mother identified him as her child even though he wasnt?? How can you possibly mistake another child for your own? And who is the boy who grew up as Robert. Wow it would really be interesting to know the real happenings in this case.
03-19-2009, 11:23 AM #5Former member
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
DNA clears up 1914 case
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In 1914, William Cantwell Walters was convicted of kidnapping a 4-year-old boy. Nine decades later, science has cleared his name.
A DNA test indicates that the child police found with Walters years ago was not the missing boy, Bobby Dunbar. More than likely, he was the illegitimate son of Walters' brother and a servant living with Walters' parents.
Bobby disappeared Aug. 23, 1912, during a fishing trip on Swayze Lake near Opelousas. After a massive eight-month search, Walters, an itinerant handyman, was arrested in Mississippi while traveling in a tented wagon with a boy who fit Bobby's description.
Walters maintained that the servant, Julia Anderson, gave him the boy as a traveling companion. The woman was brought to Mississippi and identified the child as Charlie Bruce Anderson, but a court-appointed arbiter ruled that he was the Dunbars' missing son.
Walters was convicted of kidnapping in a sensational trial, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. He was never retried, and the boy grew up as Bobby Dunbar.
Four-and-a-half years ago, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter started to research the case and began to have doubts as she dug through old newspaper clippings and court transcripts.
Her father, over the objections of his siblings, agreed to give a DNA sample earlier this year. It was compared with a sample given by a son of Bobby's brother, Alonzo.
The samples did not match.
"My intent was to prove that we were Dunbars," 68-year-old Robert Dunbar Jr. said Tuesday. "The results didn't turn out that way, and I have had to do some readjusting of my thinking. But I would do it again."
He traveled to Louisiana to meet with his siblings. On his way back, he stopped in Mississippi to give the news to his father's surviving brother and sister.
He said he felt comfortable with them, but a part of him still doesn't want to believe the DNA.
"I haven't had any big metamorphosis here," he said. "I don't intend to change my name. My daddy's still my daddy, and my mother's still my mother. That doesn't change that at all."
The Walters family invited Robert Dunbar Jr. to give the blessing during a reunion at Lumber River State Park.
During the reunion, a letter was read that Walters wrote while sitting in a Columbia, Miss., jail cell, awaiting word whether he would be extradited. Kidnapping was a capital offense at the time, and Walters wrote, "It seems that I must suffer now for an imaginary sin or crime that has never been committed.
"Dying, I can look up through the ethereal blue of Heaven, thank God, and say my conscience is clear: The heart strings of weeping mothers bind not my withering limbs, and the crime of kidnapping stains not my humble threshold door."
After 90 years, a man's name is cleared, a lost boy comes home
The Associated Press
Ninety years ago, William Cantwell Walters was convicted of kidnapping little Bobby Dunbar. On Saturday, Robert Dunbar Jr. announced at a Walters family reunion that their ancestor was innocent.
A DNA test proved that the 4-year-old boy taken from Walters nine decades ago and handed over to an Opelousas, La., couple was not Bobby Dunbar. More than likely, he was a Robeson County child entrusted to Walters by the woman who cared for his aged parents.
"It doesn't say who I am, but it does say more than likely T.P. Dunbar is not my grandfather," Robert Dunbar Jr. told those who gathered for the reunion on the banks of the Lumber River. "This adventure continues." --->>
Bobby Dunbar disappeared Aug. 23, 1912, during a fishing trip on Swayze Lake near Opelousas. Eight months later, Walters, an itinerant handyman from Barnesville near the South Carolina line, was arrested in Mississippi while traveling in a tented wagon with a boy who fit Bobby's description.
Walters maintained that the boy was Charlie Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate son of his brother and Julia Anderson. Julia Anderson was brought to Mississippi and identified the boy as her Bruce, but a court-appointed arbiter ruled that he was Percy and Lessie Dunbar's missing son.
Walters was convicted of kidnapping in April 1914 in a sensational trial, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. He was never retried, and the boy grew up a Dunbar.--->>
03-19-2009, 11:23 AM #6Former member
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- Jul 2004
Family continues search for Bobby Dunbar
Oakland Tribune, Feb 1, 2004 by Allen G. Breed, Associated Press
E-mail Print Link KINSTON, N.C. -- When Bobby Dunbar vanished into the coffee- colored Louisiana swamps nine decades ago, the search was unrelenting.
Hundreds of volunteers slogged through the murky waters around Swayze Lake looking for some trace of the barefoot, blue-eyed 4-year- old. Searchers sliced open the bellies of alligators and dynamited the lake, thinking the blasts might dislodge the child's corpse.
Then, eight months later, police announced they had found little Bobby in the company of a wayward tinker from North Carolina. The man protested -- no, he said, this was his brother's illegitimate child.
More » A jury convicted him of kidnapping. The little boy grew to manhood, fathered four children and, when he died, was buried as a Dunbar.
But was he really Bobby Dunbar?
Four years ago, the boy's granddaughter began a search for the answer. Margaret Cutright believes modern-day science may help solve a mystery that has haunted three families for 92 years.
But she is unsure whether to take her search to its logical conclusion.
Bobby Dunbar was lost once. Does she have the right to take him away again?
The Louisiana papers dubbed it the crime of the young 20th century.
On a sultry August morning in 1912, a group set out for a fishing contest along Swayze's muddy shores. When the participants returned to the cabins for lunch, Bobby Dunbar wandered off unnoticed.
No straw hat nor any other trace could be found of Percy and Lessie Dunbar's older son. But when searchers found a solitary set of bare footprints leading toward a rickety railroad trestle out of the swamps, and talk surfaced of a stranger wandering those parts, the Dunbars decided Bobby must have been taken.
The citizens of Opelousas pledged a $1,000 reward for Bobby's return, "no questions asked." Percy Dunbar, a well-respected real estate and insurance man, had a detective agency print up postcards with a picture and description of Bobby, and mail them to town and county officials from east Texas to Florida.
"Large round blue eyes, hair light, but turning dark, complexion very fair with rosy cheeks, well developed, stout but not very fat," it read. "Big toe on left foot badly scarred from burn when a baby."
In April 1913, a wire arrived from the little town of Hub, Miss. A drifter named William Cantwell Walters had been taken into custody there. He had a boy with him who matched Bobby's description.
The Dunbars rushed to Mississippi, but they were not immediately sure this was their boy.
The youth had a scar on his left foot. He had a mole on his neck where Bobby had one. But he refused to answer to the name Bobby, and when the mother tried to hold him, he would have nothing to do with her.
Mrs. Dunbar asked to see the boy again the next day. After stripping and bathing him, her uncertainty left her.
"Thank God, it is my boy," she shouted. Then she fainted.
Kidnapping was a capital offense in Louisiana, and Walters knew his life hung in the balance. In a letter to the Dunbars from his jail cell in Columbia, Miss., Walters insisted the boy was actually Bruce Anderson, the son of a woman who had cared for his aged parents back home in Barnesville, N.C. He begged them to send for her.
"I know by now you have Decided," he wrote in scrawling, unpunctuated script. "you are wrong it is vary likely I will Loose my Life on account of that and if I do the Great God will hold you accountable"
A New Orleans newspaper made arrangements to bring Julia Anderson to Mississippi to make her own identification. But the people of Opelousas had already made up their minds.
Nearly 91 years later, Aline Castille Perrault can still picture the joyous scene she experienced as a 10-year-old.
It was April 25, 1913, and the whole of St. Landry Parish had been invited to the party on the courthouse square to welcome little Bobby home.
Suddenly, someone shouted, "Here he comes, here he comes." Bobby, by then nearly 5 years old, rode into the square on a flower- bedecked fire engine, gliding triumphantly past the Spanish-revival courthouse and the Roman arches of the Old Town Market. Aline and the others thronged around.
"It was a jolly affair," said the now-100-year-old woman recently, "and everybody was happy for the little boy."
Julia Anderson arrived in Opelousas on May 1. It had been more than 15 months since she had given Walters permission to take Bruce. She, like Mrs. Dunbar, had trouble identifying him as her son, and the boy -- who suddenly found himself in a nice home with a pony and a bicycle -- wanted nothing to do with her.
After her initial wavering, Anderson declared that "her mother's heart" told her the boy found with the tinker was indeed her son. But her uncertainty was not easily forgiven.
"Animals don't forget, but this big, coarse country woman, several times a mother -- she forgot," one newspaper reported. "Children were only regrettable incidents in her life...She hopes her son isn't dead just as she hopes that the cotton crop will be good this year. Of true mother love, she has none."
Following a sensational two-week trial that was the object of newsreels, songs and souvenir postcards, Walters was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. Walters spent two years behind bars before being granted a new trial on a technicality. But the town of Opelousas decided that Bobby was where he belonged, and enough had been spent on the case.
The tinker was released and soon faded into obscurity, but Bobby would never know such peace. Whenever there was a sensational kidnapping, such of the 1932 disappearance of the Lindbergh baby, reporters would return to the home of "that little lost boy."
Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., Margaret Cutright, 42, heard the stories of her grandfather's disappearance and sensational recovery. She had never had any reason to question them -- until the family lost another boy.
When her brother Robbie died in a plane crash in 1999, Cutright's father gave her a family scrapbook chronicling the kidnapping case. Leafing through the crumbling, yellowed clippings, she came across an editorial cartoon from 1913.
In the drawing, titled "Fifty Years From Now?", a bearded old man sits in a chair, his right hand cupped behind his ear as a boy, kneeling on the floor over a newspaper from the kidnapping trial, looks up and asks: "Grandpa, do you think we'll ever know for certain what our right name is?"
"That just hit me like a ton of bricks," says Cutright, who now lives in Garrison, N.Y. "The little boy on the floor represented my brother. It was my inspiration to look further."
Cutright's search has taken her from the cypress swamps of Louisiana to the woods of Mississippi and finally to the hardscrabble Carolina pinelands where Bruce Anderson was born.
Her wanderings eventually led her to the house where Walters' defense attorney once lived. To her shock, the man's granddaughter still lived there and, from a closet, she produced the original 900- page defense file.
Cutright spent months scanning and transcribing the telegrams, letters and depositions. Witnesses had placed Walters and the boy he called Bruce miles away from Opelousas the day Bobby went missing.
When she finished, she says, "I grieved for two weeks."
Suddenly, she felt the urgent need to go back to Louisiana. As she stood on the cross ties of that derelict railroad trestle staring into that muddy water, Cutright realized that her notion of who she was had changed forever.
"I felt that it was the first time anyone in my family had gone and acknowledged that a little boy had died there."
Cutright's findings have given the hope of closure to a family she has only recently discovered.
Julia Anderson settled in Mississippi after the trial, married and raised eight children. Those children grew up believing they had a half brother who had been stolen from them.
Cutright, who is working on a book about the case, has tracked down Bruce's two surviving siblings and shown them her evidence. One of them, 80-year-old Hollis Rawls, has expressed a willingness to submit a DNA sample to help prove whether Cutright's grandfather was really Bruce Anderson.
Establishing a genetic link between Cutright's grandfather and the Andersons would mean reaching back at least two generations -- and possibly exhumations. A simpler question to answer would be: Was her grandfather Bobby Dunbar?
Because the Y chromosome is passed almost unchanged from father to son, matching the DNA of one of Bobby's three sons with that of his brother Alonzo's male offspring would tell whether Cutright's grandfather was a Dunbar.
But there are those who would rather leave that Pandora's Box closed.
Gerald Dunbar, Bobby's youngest son, says his father had made peace with his story. "No matter how it (a DNA test) turns out, there's going to be a sense of loss," says Gerald Dunbar, who lives in Lafayette, La. "What is to be truly gained?"
For one thing, the test could prove William Walters' innocence, says his great-great-nephew, Michael Walters.
"If he did do it, it's not going to change anything about me," says Walters, who lives just a few miles from the old family farm in Robeson County, N.C. "But I would like to know."
Despite several family members' objections, one of Alonzo's sons has agreed to submit to the test. So has Cutright's father -- Bobby Dunbar's namesake.
Robert Dunbar Jr. retired to a little house in Kinston, not 100 miles from the piney woods where Bruce Anderson was born.
On the living room wall hangs a massive family tree whose roots stretch back to a Robert Dunbar who came to North Carolina from Scotland in 1770.
"If I'm not a Dunbar, I would like to meet some of my other family," says Cutright's father, a 67-year-old state retiree. "I would like to clarify where I think I am."
But in a way, it doesn't matter what the test shows.
He recalled a conversation with his father back in 1954, when he was just a teenager. Another sensational kidnapping had brought a reporter around, and the resulting, ambiguous story prompted him to ask his father:
"Well, how do you know that you're Bobby Dunbar."
His father, who died in 1966, looked him square in the face and gave him an enigmatic answer, he says:
"I know who I am, and I know who you are. And nothing else makes a difference."
03-19-2009, 11:24 AM #7Former member
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- Jul 2004
The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar
SAT MAR 15, 2008
In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. In 2004, his granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather's kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family's century-old prayer. We devote our entire episode to the story.
03-19-2009, 11:25 AM #8Former member
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- Jul 2004
Tale of Two Children, and DNA solves mystery of one
By Butch Weir
Special to the Item
POPLARVILLE — The story of a local family’s ancestor and the solving of a 90-year old miscarriage of justice is to be a feature of a national public radio program.
In February, This American Life with Ira Glass, a regular feature show produced by National Public Radio will chronicle the disappearance of 4-year old Bobby Dunbar in 1912 during a family outing near Opelousas, La., and the solving of a mystery that has haunted three families to this day.
One of the families included Julia Anderson of North Carolina, a young mother of three children in 1912, including 4-year-old Bruce Anderson. She became embroiled in a legal battle trying to prove Bruce was her son when other evidence said he was the missing Dunbar child.
Two of Anderson’s surviving children, Jewel Tarver and Hollis Rawls, still live here.
Rawls’ memories of his mother Julia Anderson and her involvement in the 1912 disappearance of the Dunbar child depended a lot on what she later related to him as he grew older.
“Mother always said that … that was her child … the Dunbar, which wasn’t a Dunbar, was her child,” Rawls said. “She always said that was her son … Bobby (Dunbar) was her son.”
He said that people in the Ford’s Creek community had kept newspaper clippings of the case. Bilbo, Miley and Cameron were three local families that Tarver and Rawls named who knew of Walters and that he was working here in the company of a young boy, Bruce Anderson.
All of them knew Walters and knew the child’s name was Bruce Anderson, Jewel said. Both agree that there was a letter from Julia Anderson to Walters noting that Bruce was in his care “and she was glad they were getting along there (in Mississippi).”
Both Rawls and Tarver said their mother said she gave Walters permission to have Bruce in his care for two weeks while he traveled into north Georgia to visit Walters’ sister. Jewel said during that time something happened to Anderson’s sister and she went to be with her.
When Walters returned after two weeks and was unable to locate Julia, he kept young Bruce with him. Jewel said Walters was a tinker, a traveling handyman, and one job led to another, eventually causing him to end up with the boy in the south Mississippi area around Ford’s Creek, she said.
It was here that the family’s stories began to merge.
Tarver said Walters had been in the Ford’s Creek area for eight months when the events occurred in the Opelousas area that would forever change the three families. The Dunbar child, son of Percy and Lessie Dunbar of Opelousas, disappeared while on a family outing at nearby Swayze Lake. Months of fruitless searching yielded no clues as to the child’s fate.
At some point word reached the Dunbars and Opelousus authorities that a young boy resembling the missing boy was in south Mississippi. On checking the story, one thing led to another and Walters was arrested for kidnapping in Louisiana.
The subsequent trial and media coverage gained national attention at the time.
Walters’ descendants generally agree that he was railroaded by the justice system. He stayed in jail during the trial and the family said young Bruce was placed in the Dunbars’ care.
Although accounts at the time initially indicate some confusion as to whether Bruce Anderson was Bobby Dunbar, the Dunbars were able to take the boy as their missing son and raise him.
He grew up in the Opelousas area, eventually married and had children. It was his granddaughter, Margaret Cutright, who began a decades long search that would eventually unravel the mystery. In proving that her grandfather was indeed Bruce Anderson, Cutright had to undo her long-held beliefs about the mystery, according to articles chronicling her search.
“We’ve known just about all the time that he (Bobby Dunbar) was our brother … but you couldn’t prove it,” Rawls said.
They say the family story is that one of the lawyers for Walters was from Columbia and introduced Julia Anderson to her future husband, Ollie Rawls — Hollis’ and Jewel’s father. Rawls said their mother had, had three children with Walters’ brother and then eight children after marrying Ollie Rawls. He said their father was a laborer and that the family lived on a small farm in the Ford’s Creek area.
“She was just a good mother to all the children, us children,” Rawls said. “She was just a good mother; got up and got my daddy off to work and things like that.”
Along with helping other people, family members said she was a good nurse with the sick.
“If somebody was sick they would call for grandma to come,” even to delivering babies, said her granddaughter Linda Tarver.
“Mother didn’t have knitting needles,” Jewel said. “She got broom straw and she ripped the twine out of the flour sacks and it was red — I never will forget it — and she crocheted our dolls little booties … and I’ve often wondered how she kept those straws from breaking. But, she did and she crocheted them little ol’ booties for us. We were so proud of them.”
Another bit of history of which the family is particularly proud — Julia Anderson Rawls also was a founding member of the Murray Hill Church of God northwest of here.
“She just was a loving person …,” Tarver said. “I feel really blessed at the grandparents I had.”
In the interview for this story last Saturday, Tal McThenia, reporter, and Alex Blumberg, producer at This American Life Radio said they were instantly drawn to the Dunbar story and Julia Anderson’s role in it.
McThenia said he ran across the story in 2004, right after the DNA test results had been announced that Bobby Dunbar, Sr., was not related to the Dunbar family.
“I was just fascinated with that story … and (as a screenwriter) I was excited (in it) as a potential for a movie.”
He said he tracked Margaret Cutwright down, talked at length with her, and “agreed to talk more at some point in the future.” Cutwright was planning a possible book about the story, he said.
Three years later, Blumberg said he was having dinner with his college friend McThenia and the Dunbar story came up. McThenia says the radio program is constantly on the lookout for stories to air and the Dunbar saga was “an amazing story for the radio show.”
After further discussions, the pair contacted Cutwright and events moved quickly from November, 2007, Blumberg said. They met a second time with Cutwright who was joined by her father, Bobby Dunbar, Jr., in Wilmington, North Carolina.
McThenia said Cutwright has amassed an amazing amount of material in her journey for the truth about the identity of her grandfather, Bobby Dunbar, Sr.
He said it was after that meeting that they decided to tell the story from the perspective of the three families — Walters, Anderson and Dunbar.
“The story is basically that … Margaret has her legend that was told in her family (Dunbar), but Jewel has a totally different legend that was told in their family, and then Walters has a totally different story that was told in their family.
All of the stories and their consequences then merge into what we have now, Blumberg said.
Saturday’s meeting with Anderson’s descendants and taping of interviews was part of the actual production for the show. Blumberg and McThenia started with the additional interviews with Cutwright and her father in North Carolina, then traveled to Savannah, Ga., for interviews with nieces of the Walters’ family before coming to Poplarville. They will then end up in Opelousus where the tale all started.
McThenia says the story is remarkable in that these people have lived their lives for so long and not been in communication with each other.
“They were joined by this event in the past and then went their separate ways and it’s just remarkable to see them coming back together generations later,” he said.
“It’s almost been a hundred years since the events happened and it’s remarkable to me how … present that still is though, in all the people that we’ve been talking to.”
This American Life is an hour show and Blumberg says the Dunbar segment will probably take up the majority of the hour.
They anticipate it will run in mid to late February on public radio stations around the country that broadcast This American Life. A definite time will be announced closer to February, they said.
03-19-2009, 11:25 AM #9Former member
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- Jul 2004
Dunbar case receives documentary treatment
By William Johnson
The almost 100-year-old Bobby Dunbar kidnapping case has been called the most sensational crime and trial of the last century for the people of Opelousas.
The tragic story of one child lost and another found, filled with weeping mothers and angry relatives on both sides, will soon get a national audience when it is featured in an episode of This American Lifeon National Public Radio.
Local historian Estelle Perrault said she has been contacted by a production team for the show that will be in Opelousas Jan. 7 and Jan. 8 to conduct interviews for the program.
The producers have asked her to assemble a group of local people to share their stories about that time period in Opelousas or about the man the courts would declare to be Bobby Dunbar, who grew up and raised his own family here.
"Whatever information they may have to tell will be recorded for rebroadcast in the near future on the NPR," Perrault said.
Tal McThenia, a writer with the NPR series, said they are interested in talking with anyone who remembers the trial, controversy or who knew the Dunbar family and Bobby.
"First-hand reflections and memories, even if they are fleeting and impressionistic, will add immeasurably to the program," McThenia said.
This American Lifeis an award-winning, hour-long weekly radio program produced by Chicago Public Radio and hosted by Ira Glass.
It is heard on more than 500 public radio stations around the country, including NPR affiliates in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
What is prompting the show now is that, thanks to recent DNA testing, the Dunbar case, a mystery 95 years in the making, has been finally solved.
Beginning in 1913, and continuing for months on end, Opelousas hotel rooms were filled with reporters from newspapers throughout the nation. Banner headlines in papers hundreds of miles away carried every detail of the case.
"Opelousas got coverage like it had never received before," said Perrault, who compared the media circus to that surrounding the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby years later.
While the local headlines were also about a kidnapping, in this case there was a strange twist - just who was kidnapped and who was found.
In 1912, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared while on a family outing to Swayze Lake near Opelousas.
The lake was searched as was all the land for miles around. Nothing was found. Police bulletins were sent out throughout the region seeking information on Dunbar.
Eight months later, an itinerant handyman, William Cantwell Walters, was arrested in Mississippi with a young boy and charged with kidnapping.
Walters would be found guilty and the child turned over to Percy and Lessie Dunbar.
Walters would always claim he was innocent and the child was the illegitimate son of his brother and a woman named Julia Anderson.
Thanks to the recent DNA tests conducted by Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, it now seems Walters was right.
"The results of that test showed that my father, Bob Dunbar, is not related to his cousin David Dunbar. As a result of that test and the tremendous amount of research I was able to find, I concluded that grandpa was born Bruce Anderson," said Cutright, who now lives in Wilmington, N.C.
Julia Anderson always believed the child known as Bobby Dunbar was her son. She fought unsuccessfully to get him back.
"When that lady came to Opelousas, she was all by herself. She didn't have an attorney - she was a poor lady. Here she was against a whole town," Perrault said. "That poor little lady didn't have a chance."
It is a story Perrault knows well. Her mother was a little girl then, not much older than the kidnapped child. As the child the courts had declared to be Bobby Dunbar and her mother grew, they would become friends.
She said Walters' trial and Anderson's unsuccessful efforts to prove the child was her own would keep the issue on people's minds for years to come. Despite the outcome of those trials, Perrault said for decades the story remained a hot topic locally.
Perrault, who was a member of the same social club as Bobby Dunbar's widow, remembers that even as a child Bobby was never sure.
She said as a teenager Bobby was a common guest at her mother's house. "He told her many times; 'I don't know who I am,'" Perrault said.
Bobby Dunbar would grown up and lead a successful life in Opelousas, working for Briggs Electric, marrying and raising a family.
But through all the years Anderson's eight other children held tight to the belief that it was their brother, not Bobby Dunbar, who had been kidnapped.
Cutright, who hopes to write a book on the matter, has spent the past decade trying to solve the mystery that has haunted her family all of her life.
For the radio program, she and the producers will be traveling to Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.
"In Savannah, we will visit with two nieces of William Walters, the man charged with the kidnapping. They will share their memories of their uncle recalling the kidnapping trial. We will then go to Poplarville, Miss., where we will meet with Julia Anderson's family members - two of her children are still living," Cutright said.
Perrault, who helped Cutright get access to primary sources from the period, including the original court records, said when Cutright began her work she was convinced her grandfather was the lost and then found Bobby Dunbar.
To prove it, she asked her relatives to provide DNA samples. When those samples didn't match, the story took on a whole new meaning.
"The intention for this program is not to divide or cause pain to anyone. It is a historical event, one that I hope will be celebrated for it has been nearly a hundred years since the tragedy and in my perspective this story has a great redemptive quality and power to heal," Cutright said.
"William Walters was innocent to the charge of kidnapping; he suffered with that the remainder of his life. Julia Anderson did not have the opportunity to see her son grow into the loving husband and father he became.
"Lessie and Percy Dunbar lost a child; no one really mourned for him. However, had Lessie and Percy Dunbar not taken my grandfather from William Walters, I would not be here. I believe grandpa's life was better despite the sad events that took place to make it so," Cutright said.
03-19-2009, 11:27 AM #10Former member
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
03-19-2009, 12:03 PM #11
wow that is crazy!
03-19-2009, 12:28 PM #12Former member
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
Everytime this story runs on National Public Radio, I get hundreds if not thousands of visitors on porchlight coming from google searches on Bobby Dunbar. This case continues to interest and intrique many people. There are people of great grace in these families which continues to impress me as well.
03-19-2009, 12:30 PM #13Former member
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
Look under Feb and you can hear the podcase. Very well done!
03-19-2009, 01:25 PM #14
What an interesting story. This is the first time I have heard about it. I have been sitting here reading instead of doing my homework which is due later today. lol
03-19-2009, 01:37 PM #15Former member
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
It is compelling!
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