While attending college I happened to hitch I ride back with a friend after a break. The ride back to school was between 5 1/2 hours to 6 1/2 hours depending on how fast you drove. With amount of time in the car you certainly needed to kill some time somehow and on this particular ride my friend put an episode of This American Life. I have never even heard of this show, was skeptical, and was prepared to be bored out of my mind. However, as the show started I was immediately captivated and I followed intently about the story of Bobby Dunbar. Bobby Dunbar was a boy who disappeared on August 23rd, 1912 near St. Landry Parish, Louisiana while picnicking with his family. The result was an eight month hunt which captivated the nation for this missing child. The hunt eventually led to a man named William Cantell Walters, who was being accompanied by a child who resembled Bobby Dunbar. Notice how I say resembled, because what proceeded was an almost century old mystery as to whether the boy with Walters was really Bobby Dunbar.
The boy the authorities located with Walters said his mother was named Julia Anderson and she had granted Walters custody over the boy. Julia Anderson’s son was named Charles Bruce Anderson, but authorities did not appear to believe the boy nor Walters and decided to bring in the Dunbars to identify if this boy was in fact Bobby Dunbar or Charles Bruce Anderson. Accounts differ as to what occurred during the initial contact between the boy and the Dunbars. Some newspapers say the boy yelled “mother” and ran to Lessie Dunbar while others said it appeared they did not know each other at all. Whatever the true account may have been the end was result was the boy was determined to be Bobby Dunbar and not Charles Bruce Anderson. For the rest of his life this boy lived as Bobby Dunbar, son of Lessie & Percy Dunbar, but the mystery still hung over his head as to who he really was. The mystery went unsolved for almost a century until Margaret Dunbar Cutright, one Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughters, started to search for the true identity of Bobby Dunbar.
In 2008, This American Life, aired the journey and findings of Margaret’s research in an episode titled, “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar” (you may find audio with this link)
The reason I am sharing this particular episode with you is not only is it extremely fascinating, but Margaret utilized techniques used by genealogists to trace ancestry, and try to determine the mystery of who really was Bobby Dunbar. Margaret had to track members from both families down, interview those family members, uncover documents, research various newspaper source, scour court documents, and eventually utilized a DNA test to answer her family’s century old mystery as to who Bobby Dunbar really was.
Of course I am not going to give away the ending of Margaret’s research because doing that will take away from the enjoyment of listening to the show, but trust me you will not be disappointed and yes, there is definitive answer in the end. This is a must listen for any genealogist and/or family sleuth.
One last interesting note in case you are interested in further pursuing this topic, I did a quick Google search for Bobby Dunbar and discovered there was book published last year in 2013 by Margaret Dunbar Cutright and Tal McThenia called, “A Case for Solomon”. Might be interesting for those looking to further pursue.