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A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation

A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation - 'Tal McThenia',  'Margaret Dunbar Cutright' What happens when you make a mistake? What happens when you recognize that you've made a mistake? Do you own up to it? Or do you forge ahead and "will" yourself to believe that you didn't make a mistake? What happens to those around you as a result? What happens to your soul and heart? Do they expand in health and love? Or do they shrivel and shrink?When Bobby Dunbar's son, Bobby Jr. confronted his father one day, he asked him, "Who are you? Do do you THINK you are?". Bobby Sr. answered "I know who I am, and I know who you are, and that's all that matters. It's how we live our life." Those words were said by a grown man who had struggled his entire life to know who he really was. He was raise believing he was Bobby Dunbar, oldest son of Lessie and Percy Dunbar. But in reality, his parents had made a mistake. He was really Bruce Anderson, son of Julia Anderson. And Bobby's words "it's how we live our life" are an appropriate lens through which to view those lives around his.I don't know if you grew up hearing stories about family all the time, by in our family they are part of every get-together and every visit. Adults sitting around the table in the evening talking of family while the children are tired and ready for bed. Hearing snippets of family stories while playing on the porch or climbing trees. This story has a familiar feel to it, even though I had never heard of Bobby Dunbar until I read this book. The author, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter Margaret Dunbar Cutright, tells the story well and with honesty. It no doubt was a hard story to tell. In 1912, four year old Bobby Dunbar disappeared in the swamps just north of Opelousas, Louisiana. Search parties were sent out, circulars were printed with his picture and a description of him. Months were spent following up leads and searching everywhere for Bobby. Lessie Dunbar, Bobby's mother, was almost insane with grief and "not knowing". As a result of her preoccupation with the missing Bobby, her youngest son Alonzo "forgot her" when she was gone from home for over a month and then finally went back home to him. Her husband, Percy, was quoted as saying that he needed to find the boy to restore his wife's sanity and to make it possible for him to live with her again. After 8 months of searching, a young boy matching the description of Bobby was found with a traveling tinker, William Cantwell Walters. Walters said that the boy was Bruce Anderson, son of Julia Anderson. When Lessie Dunbar initially saw the young boy, there was no recognition between them. Lessie thought that the boys eyes were not quite as her Bobby's had been. But eventually the need to have a boy home again seemed to overshadow life without Bobby, so Lessie and Percy declared this boy their son. From that point the boy was put in the Dunbar's care, and was never removed, even though concerns about the true identity of the boy were raised immediately. Julia Anderson had a very hard life. Married young, she was forced to flee an abusive marriage and then endure the death of her first baby. Eventually she had two other children by two other men as she worked in town and then with various families. Bruce was born the son of a traveling shoe salesman whom she never saw after the birth of her son. Bernice was born the daughter of Bunt Walters, son of the Walters family whom Julia worked for. When William Cantwell Walters, Bunt's brother, offered to take 3 year old Bruce to visit some of his sisters, Julia allowed him to take the boy on a trip. It is likely that Walters believed that Bruce was his nephew, fathered by his brother Bunt just like Bernice. Julia knew Bruce's real father, but did not contradict Walters thoughts about who his father really was. So when Walters took Bruce, it was likely that he was trying to find a better living situation for his nephew. Bad winter weather and Julia moving to work at different farms meant that Walters kept the boy for over a year. When Walters was arrested for kidnapping Bobby Dunbar, Julia wrote to tell the authorities that the boy with Walters was her son Bruce Anderson. But by then the Dunbar's had returned to Opelousas with Bobby, and the community in Opelousas rallied around them and supported them in keeping Bobby. When Julia Anderson initially saw the boy, almost a year and a half after Walters had taken him, there also was no recognition between them. But unlike the Dunbar's, she was not allowed weeks with the boy to re-establish a relationship. The Dunbar's had been teaching Bobby little "tricks" he used to do, and mannerisms that he had had before he left. They had even been telling him what had happened to him. During the year long trial of William Cantwell Walters for kidnapping, many Mississippi citizens came to Louisiana to testify on behalf of Walters and also for Julia Anderson. But the trial was held in Opelousas, the home-town of the Dunbar's. Lawyers came to the case not looking for justice, but for a way to prove others were lying when they said the boy was Bruce Anderson. Julia Anderson and the Mississippi witnesses didn't have a fair chance. Eventually Walters was convicted of kidnapping, not on strong evidence, but because if the boy WAS Bobby Dunbar (and he had to be) then Walters could only have gotten him by kidnapping him. The identity of the boy was never properly investigated. Walters escaped hanging only because the governor of Louisiana overturned his conviction on a technicality. It seems that Walters was never formally charged of kidnapping, and so he was released a free man. But Bobby remained with the Dunbar's.So what was the result for the two families? For the Dunbar's, Percy seemed never to be able to return to live with Lessie in peace. He began an affair with Altrice A. McCoullough of Florida in 1920. Lessie sued for divorce when she discovered evidence of his infidelity. The ugly battle between the two alienated Bobby and Alonzo from both of their parents, as Lessie grew more and more bitter and as Percy withdrew into anger. They formally divorced in 1927 and Lessie moved to Virginia, tired of living under the scrutiny of the Opelousas community who had helped her claim and keep Bobby. Evidently voices within the community that disagreed that Bobby was really Bobby Dunbar made life unbearable for her. Lessie lived in Virginia, away from Bobby and Alonzo. After the boys married and had their own families, they tried to integrate Lessie into their families. But neither family could bear Lessie living with them. In fact Bobby's wife Marjorie said "her or me" when Lessie stayed with Bobby's family for several weeks. Lessie's grandchildren did not ever really know her, and have no memories of love or kindness from her. For Julia Anderson, she placed her daughter Bernice for adoption. She later married Ollie Rawls and had seven children with him. After her public humiliation about her earlier relationships and accusations of her poor motherhood, Julia swore to care for and nurture her children. She succeeded, and eventually became a pillar in the community, helping those who were ill or old. Her children and grandchildren remember her with love for the kindness and stability she provided for them. But they always knew they had an older brother, Bruce, who had been taken away from their mother when he was only 4 years old. Julia knew that Bruce was really her son, but it is possible that she decided not to continue to fight for him in the face of a unified community and in the face of the Dunbar family. She wanted Bruce to have an intact personality, and she knew that continued fighting would make him only more splintered in himself. So she backed away, for Bruce's sake.And what of Bobby himself? It seems he struggled with his own memories. He had been told Walters beat him cruelly, but his memories were only of an old man who treated him with affection. How to reconcile what he knew with what he had been told? Bobby eventually seemed to understand that his parents had made a mistake and that he really was Bruce Anderson. After Percy's death he traveled to Mississippi and even met with two of Julia's children, his half-brother and half-sister. They did not realize the importance of his visit at the time, but in retrospect they realized he had "come back" to see the family that he had been taken away from. Bobby married and had a family that he devoted himself to. He provided them with the love and stability that he had not had growing up. Decades after Bobby died, his son Bobby Jr. agreed to have a DNA test alongside his cousin, David Dunbar. The DNA test revealed that the two men, who had grown up as cousins, were not related. Bobby Dunbar was really Bruce Anderson.