A Four-Year-Old Boy Vanished Then Came Back As A New Child 8 Months Later

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Bobby Dunbar was just four years old when he vanished in 1912. His supposed reappearance eight months later would lead to a custody battle, a lifetime prison sentence for a possibly innocent man, and a DNA test that would finally reveal all the answers 90 years later. All because a family lost their boy, got him back, and couldn’t tell how he could be their child and yet not.

This story is as confusing as it is eerie. But let it be known that the truth always somehow comes out, and even when answers seem out of reach, the universe has a funny way of revealing everything in time. So how could a boy vanish and then come back as a new child? Let us walk you through the events.

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It All Started With A Family Daytrip

This postcard shows Bobby Dunba

On August 23, 1912, what seemed like what would be a nice innocent family day, quickly turned into every family’s worst nightmare. The Dunbars family went on a day trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana to enjoy the fresh air with their young children. Bobby who was just four years old, was last seen splashing around in the water when he suddenly vanished.

Bobby’s parents, Lessie and Percy immediately went into panic mode and searched everywhere for their son, but with no luck. They called the authorities hoping their equipment and training would bring back their boy but the boy had completely vanished. The search for Bobby turned into a full-out statewide manhunt. But no one could find the body…This led to extreme measures of dissecting alligators and throwing dynamite into the lake hoping it would throw the boy’s body back out. Dead or alive, no one could figure out what had happened to Bobby.

A Boy Is Found With A Matching Description

Bobby and Alonzo Dunbar before the disappearance

Daily World

Daily World

Bobby’s family wouldn’t give up on their boy, ad they were desperate for answers. It would take a whole other eight months before they finally received what seemed like good news. Apparently a boy matching Bobby’s description had been found in another city.

Someone was able to identify the boy with a traveling handyman who would be identified as William Cantwell Walters. William insisted that the boy was not Bobby but in fact, another child named Charles Bruce Anderson. He claimed that this boy was the illegitimate child of his brother and a woman who worked for his family named Julia Anderson. According to him, Julia had left the boy in his care while she looked for work. Even though many others who lived in William’s town backed up his story, the police still arrested him and took the boy believing it was Bobby.

Has Bobby Really Been Found?

A depiction from a 1914 newspaper with the original heading: Are These Pictures of The Same Boy? with the description under the photos: (left) Bobbie Dunbar before he disappeared (right) The boy found and whom two mothers claim

By The Day Book – LOC, Public Domain,

By The Day Book – LOC, Public Domain,

The police returned the boy they had found to the Dunbars, believing it was their missing child. This is when the story gets odd. According to records of the reunion, one newspaper claimed that it was joyful, and that the boy instantly shouted “Mother” when he saw Lessie. However, this is disputed by other sources who say that both Bobby’s parents were actually hesitant in confirming whether the boy was Bobby.

But still, as the story goes, when Lessie was bathing the child that night, she identified moles and scars on his body that confirmed he was her son and so they were allowed to keep him…But this happy reunion would be short-lived.

Another Mother Claims The Boy As Her Own Son

Let’s not forget that William, the man who was arrested for allegedly kidnapping Bobby, claimed that he was just caring for the child on behalf of his mother Julia. So, soon after, Julia herself came into town to back up his claims and to get back her son. She said that her long absence was due to her inability to find work.

So the police then decided to bring back the boy from the Dunbar family home and asked him to be a part of a lineup to see if Julia could correctly identify him. You would think that a mother would immediately be able to tell her son apart. But apparently, the two had been separated for a couple of years and due to his quickly developing young age, she couldn’t identify her son. Even when the police pointed him out, she still was unsure if that was in fact, her son.

The Seed Of Doubt Is Planted

Julia Anderson and her son, Bruce Anderson, who was raised as Bobby Dunbar.

By Author unknown -Public Domain

By Author unknown -Public Domain

At this point it seemed like if Julia couldn’t even identify her own son Bruce, then the boy likely was Bobby since at least the Dunbars managed to identify him. Except for the seed of doubt had already been planted. In fact, the next day Julia came back more confident than ever, this time confirming that the boy identified as Bobby Dunbar was actually her son Bruce.

However, because of her inability to identify him just the day before, no one was willing to believe her. The boy now went by Bobby and was already living comfortably with the Dunbars. Unfortunately, Julia didn’t have the means for a court battle to get her son back, so she went back home alone and left the boy there.

Life Goes On…

The child raised as Bobby Dunbar, now believed to be Bruce Anderson, standing in front of a car.

By Unknown author – , Public Domain

By Unknown author – , Public Domain

Now the Dunbars had no more reason left to doubt that they had found their son, even if he seemed like a new boy altogether. Keeping in mind that their son was just four years old when he vanished and was now five; they likely assumed any changes were due to his aging.

Plus Bobby seemed to get along with his brothers and fit right in at home. In fact, the family noticed him showing signs of remembering things at the house. By the end, the Dunbars were fully confident that the child was Bobby. This meant that consequently William was charged with Kidnapping and sentenced to prison. The courts denied revisiting his case, and he remained in prison for the rest of his life, despite maintaining his innocence until the last day.

Bobby Lived Happily Ever After

New York City Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

New York City Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Bobby continued to live a happy life with the Dunbars. He eventually grew up, got married, and even had four children of his own. Eventually, the Dubars shared with him all the events that had happened in his childhood.

However, Bobby continued to live believing that he truly was the found missing boy until he died in 1966 as a Dunbar. And why wouldn’t he? After all, he matched the description of the missing boy: “large round blue eyes, hair light, but turning dark, complexion very fair with rosy cheeks, well developed, stout but not very fat.” Even though this could have been matched to hundreds of boys, he still ended up being raised as a Dunbar for the rest of his life.

A DNA Test Changed Everything

Margaret Dunbar Cutright shows some of the photos that she had on display at the Walters' family reunion in North Carolina in 2004.

Steve Humbert / AP

Steve Humbert / AP

Then years went by, and Bobby’s offspring had their own lives. All seemed well until Bobby’s granddaughter Margaret Dunbar Cutright started her own investigation of her family history. She was on a mission to prove that her grandfather was who he said he was.

Expect a DNA test revealed that there was no blood relation to the Dunbar family. All along, the boy was not Bobby and the real Bobby had never actually been found. Bobby’s son Robert recalled a conversation with his father when he asked him if he really was Bobby. His father had only said “I know who I am, and I know who you are. And nothing else makes a difference.” Could he have known the entire time?

Everyone Had It All Wrong

Michael Walters, great-great-nephew of William Walters, who was convicted of kidnapping four-year-old Bobby Dunbar in 1914, is shown at a Walters family cemetery, Friday, Jan. 9, 2004, in Barnesville, N.C

Bob Jordan / AP

Bob Jordan / AP

Finally, everyone had the answers that they were looking for. The boy the Dunbars had claimed as Bobby Dunbar all those years ago, was, in fact, Bruce, Julia Anderson’s son. This means that William Walters was also the innocent man that he claimed. Both of their families finally felt relieved.

The only question that remains unanswered is, “what happened to the real Bobby?” Nobody seems to know. Since the day he vanished his fate remains unknown. Some claim that it was Bobby’s parents that covered up whatever happened to their son by using Bruce to cover up their tracks. Others believe he was kidnaped by someone else, but for now, nothing has been confirmed.

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