In August, 1912, the swampy woods near Lake Swayze in Louisiana rang with desperate cries of “Bobby! Bobby!” Hundreds of men searched for the little four-year-old boy who was missing from the fishing camp. They dredged and dynamited the lake; they cut open big alligators; they searched for miles but the only traces of the missing boy were tiny footprints that mysteriously ended at the railroad tracks that cut through the woods. Could Bobby have been kidnapped?
After eight months of agony and many false leads, word came from Mississippi that a boy, one strongly resembling Bobby both in description and in the circulated photos, had been found in the care of a tinker. His jubilant parents rushed to Mississippi and, after some initial hesitation, declared that this little boy was indeed the missing Bobby Dunbar.
Ah, but was he? The tinker, William C. Walters, stated emphatically that the little boy was Bruce Anderson, the son of Julia Anderson, and little Bruce had been in his care long before Bobby Dunbar went missing. Julia went to Louisiana to see “Bobby Dunbar”, and, after initial hesitation on her part as well, declared that this little boy was her Bruce, not Bobby.
The mystery of the little boy’s identity factored heavily in the trial of William Walters. In the years before DNA tests, such things as moles, eye shape, identifying scars, and misshapen toes were used as proof of identity. Again and again, the little boy was stripped and examined, poked and prodded, questioned and coaxed, in an effort to ascertain the truth. Both sides had numerous witnesses and affidavits to prove their case; both sides had loving mothers eager to lay claim to the boy; the fate of William Walters hinged on whether the jury believed the child to be Bobby Dunbar.
Totally engrossing, A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation by Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright, revisits a crime and a question of identity that would takes years to be resolved.