The Story of Bobby Dunbar


The child believed to be Bobby Dunbar, beside a car.
Author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons

Colin Lowther and Robin Basselin share the mysterious story of Bobby Dunbar. As a boy, he disappeared. When he was found, there were serious questions about his identity.

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Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.

Voice 2

And I’m Robin Basselin. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

In 1999, Bobby Dunbar, Jr. gave his daughter Margaret a gift. It was a book of newspaper stories about her grandfather. Margaret Dunbar Cutright knew the Dunbar family story well. In August of 1912, her grandfather, Bobby Dunbar disappeared. He was four years old.

Voice 2

The Dunbars were from Louisiana, in the United States. Officials searched for Bobby all over the southeast United States. And after 8 months, police found a boy. They believed he was Bobby Dunbar. They found him far from where Bobby disappeared. And he was with a man named William Walters.

Voice 1

This was the story Margaret Dunbar Cutright knew well. But this was not the whole story. Her book of old newspaper stories told more.

Voice 2

Another woman, named Julia Anderson, claimed that the boy police found was not Bobby Dunbar. She believed the boy was her child, Bruce Anderson. William Walters also said the boy was Bruce Anderson.  And Walters said he did not kidnap the boy. The claims of the Dunbars, Julia Anderson and William Walters were settled in court. Court officials decided the boy was Bobby Dunbar.

Voice 1

However, was the court right? Did they return the boy to the correct family? Today’s Spotlight is on Bobby Dunbar and the families involved in this mysterious story.

Voice 2

Bobby Dunbar died in 1966. But the mystery of his story continued for many more years. In 1999, Margaret Dunbar Cutright began researching her grandfather’s story. Her book of newspaper stories included a lot of information about a woman she knew little about - Julia Anderson.

Voice 1

Cutright learned that Anderson was a single mother from North Carolina. In February of 1912, she had sent her son Bruce on a trip with William Walters. She thought Walters would take Bruce for a short time. However, Walters never came back. When a boy was found with Walters, Anderson believed it must be Bruce.

Voice 2

Anderson’s story sounded very possible. But many people did not believe her. Anderson was an unmarried mother. Because of this, many people thought she was not a moral person. Cutright told her local newspaper, The Pilot:

Voice 5 

“People wrote to the papers with their opinions. They did not think it mattered if the boy was Bobby or Bruce. They believed that the boy would have a better life with the Dunbars. They believed this because the Dunbars were a family, and Julia Anderson was a single mother.”

Voice 1

These reports made Margaret Cutright want to know even more about Julia Anderson. So Cutright decided to talk to Anderson’s family. She found Anderson’s two living children - Hollis Rawls and Jewel Tarver. She also found Anderson’s granddaughter, Linda Tarver. The story they told about Julia Anderson and the missing boy was very different from the Dunbar family story.

Voice 2

Cutright learned that Julia Anderson had a very difficult life. She worked hard, but she was poor. And her first husband did not treat her well. Cutright also learned that Anderson married again - after she lost Bruce. She had more children. She became a Christian. And she cared well for her children. But she always mourned for her lost child. Anderson’s son, Hollis Rawls, told This American Life:

Voice 3

“She never forgot the boy…She would talk about what the boy looked like… She would talk about what he did… If it had been possible to get the boy back without breaking the law, she would have. She loved the child. She loved Bruce.”

Voice 1

As Cutright researched the story, she learned many surprising things. But, what shocked her most was learning what the Anderson family believed happened to Bruce. Anderson’s granddaughter, Linda Tarver, told the radio program This American Life:

Voice 4

“All of us grandchildren grew up knowing the story of our uncle Bruce. We knew that our grandmother’s son had been taken by the Dunbar family. We always said he had been kidnapped. We said the Dunbars kidnapped him.”

Voice 2

Margaret Dunbar Cutright could not believe this. She could not believe her great-grandparents were kidnappers! Many people in the Dunbar family wanted Cutright to stop researching.

Voice 1

But Cutright continued. And she learned more about another person in the story - William Walters. Walters had spent two years in prison for kidnapping Bobby Dunbar. But he had always said he was innocent. Walters believed Julia Anderson had given him permission to travel with her boy. And the Walters family never believed William Walters was a kidnapper!

Voice 2

The more Cutright learned, the more she understood that this was not just the Dunbar's story. It was the Anderson's and even the Walter’s story. Cutright told, The Pilot newspaper:

Voice 5

“It is not just a Dunbar family story. There are three families who had a reason to learn the truth.”

Voice 1

These three families believed very different stories about what happen in 1912. But who was right? Margaret Cutright decided that everyone deserved to know the truth. So, she asked to her father, Bobby Dunbar Jr., to take a DNA test. This genetic test would confirm whether he was related to the Dunbar family or the Anderson family.

Voice 2

Bobby Dunbar Jr. agreed to take the test. He was sure it would prove his father was Bobby Dunbar. But Cutright and the Dunbar family were shocked to discover the truth. The test proved that Bobby Dunbar was not Bobby Dunbar. He was Bruce Anderson.

Voice 1

The Dunbar family did not like the news. Many people in the family were angry with Margaret Cutright. They felt she had disrespected the family history.

Voice 2

However, Cutright’s father was not angry with her. He had always wondered about his father’s story. He did not receive the answer he wanted. But it was good to know the truth - even if it was difficult to fully comprehend. Bobby Dunbar, Jr. told The Pilot newspaper:

Voice 6

“I cannot in my mind say that I am an Anderson family member. What I do know is who my father was, and what a good man he was.”

Voice 1

The Anderson and Walters families welcomed the news of the DNA results. The results proved that Julia Anderson had not lied. And they proved that William Walters had not kidnapped Bobby Dunbar.

Voice 2

But the Anderson family did not want their good news to hurt the Dunbars. Julia Anderson’s daughter, Jewel Tarver, made this clear. She told This American Life,

Voice 7

“I told Bobby Dunbar, Jr., we are not expecting anything from you. We just want your friendship. That is all that we ever wanted.”

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “The Story of Bobby Dunbar.”

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Question:

Are there any mysteries in your family? How would you react to learning something new about your family?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Rain Bows
said on November 23, 2012

Spotlight!
This is a touching story.
I agree with the families who wanted a peaceful end of the story.
To be lost like that without knowing who you really are at first most be very difficult!
Thanks for the program and greetings,
Manta-Ecuador.

Avatar Spotlight
paulo86nirisco
said on November 23, 2012

wonderful story thank you for this fantastic program.

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on April 17, 2020

Dunbar’s story looks like a Mexican TV soap opera. It is incredible and makes us think that the American police and justice system is inefficient, as in the whole world.
There are no mysteries in my family history: we are poor people struggling to survive in a poor country. But we won!
Thank you for another great and unbelievable “tale of Poe”.