Bobby Dunbar Podcast

History Uncovered Episode 56:
The Eerie Vanishing Of Bobby Dunbar

Published September 29, 2023

Four-year-old Bobby Dunbar vanished in Louisiana in 1912, only to miraculously reemerge eight months later. However, not everyone was convinced that this boy was really the same one who'd vanished.

On August 23, 1912, the Dunbar family’s day trip to Louisiana’s Swayze Lake took a tragic turn when their four-year-old son, Bobby, suddenly vanished without a trace. A desperate search for the missing boy turned up nothing but heartbreak, and it seemed that he was gone forever.

Then, eight months later, the boy was apparently found in the company of a traveling handyman in Mississippi. But rather than marking a happy ending to a harrowing story, Bobby Dunbar’s rescue was actually the beginning of an even more disturbing mystery.

The handyman, William Cantwell Walters, steadfastly denied that the boy was Bobby and that he’d kidnapped anyone. Instead, Walters claimed that the boy was his nephew Bruce Anderson and that he’d been traveling with the permission of Bruce’s mother, Julia, for over a year.

Before long, Julia herself stepped forward, further confusing matters by claiming that she had indeed given Walters permission to travel with Bruce, but only for a few days.

Bobby Dunbar

Wikimedia CommonsThe boy raised as Bobby Dunbar (left) posing alongside his family.

A media circus followed as newspapers raced to cover the story and readers across the country waited with bated breath to see if the boy was Bobby Dunbar or Bruce Anderson. However, the stories about the little boy varied greatly.

In one account, it was reported that he woke up following his rescue to find Lessie Dunbar, Bobby’s mother, standing over him. He apparently reached up for her and cried “Mother!” But in another account, Lessie Dunbar was said to be much less sure that the boy was her son.

She apparently said: “I do not know. I am not quite sure.”

Though both Walters and Anderson were insistent that the boy was Bruce Anderson, they were cast as villains in the saga. Walters was found guilty of kidnapping Bobby Dunbar, though his verdict was later overturned on appeal. And Julia Anderson eventually went home after facing accusations of being a “loose” woman (because she’d had three children with two men).

The court decided that the boy was, indeed, Bobby Dunbar and ordered that he would remain with the Dunbar family. The child was raised as a Dunbar and spent his life as Dunbar. “A lot of people still believe I was eaten by an alligator,” he said in 1924. “I can assure you I was not.”

Then, almost 100 years after Bobby Dunbar disappeared from Swayze Lake, a DNA test revealed the shocking truth about his identity.

Delve deeper into the mystery behind the disappearance of Bobby Dunbar.

Learn more about the music used in our podcast. History Uncovered is part of the Airwave Media network. Learn more about your ad choices by visiting