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The Story Of Bobby Dunbar Is Heartbreaking And Horrifying At The Same Time

NOVEMBER 17, 2016  —  By Hannah Austin

In August 1912, the disappearance of Bobby Dunbar swept national headlines. The four-year-old had been on a fishing trip with his parents at Swayze Lake in Louisiana when he vanished.

Authorities assumed the boy had been kidnapped and set out on a nationwide manhunt. Eight months later, police encountered a man named William Walters traveling with a young boy in Mississippi. Walters called him "Bruce."

It was unusual to see a small child traveling alone with a man, and no one was satisfied with the explanation that he was the son of an employee, Julie Anderson. Walters was taken into custody and the Dunbars asked to come and identify their son.

There's no denying that Bobby Dunbar (left) and the boy who was found, Bruce (right), look alike, but neither the Dunbars nor Anderson could positively identify the child as their son. After several days of uncertainty, the Dunbars announced that it was indeed their child. The case was closed.

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Many thought the trial had been unfair. Julie Anderson was an unwed mother who worked as a field hand and couldn't afford a lawyer. The court easily sided with the Dunbars, who took the boy home and raised him as their son, Bobby.

That could have been the end of the story, but in 1932, the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. During the highly publicized case, the media renewed interest in Dunbar. At this time, "Bobby Dunbar" was about 24 years old. He began to question his past, and even went to visit one of Julie Anderson's other sons, Hollis.

Just when DNA paternity testing gained popularity in the 1960s, "Bobby Dunbar" died. In 2004, his son, Bob Dunbar Jr., took a DNA test. It proved that neither he nor his father were biologically related to the Dunbars. All that time, "Bobby" had been Bruce, the son of Julie Anderson.

Getty Images

So, what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? In 2008, the granddaughter of the man raised as Dunbar said that she believes he fell into the Louisiana swamp and was eaten by alligators. It's unlikely that we will ever know for sure.

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Stories like these make me glad that we live in a time when the use of DNA testing in criminal cases is par for the course. If this happened today, it could be put to bed with a simple cheek swab.

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