Robert Clarence Dunbar

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Above: Robert, circa 1912

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: August 23, 1912 from Opelousas, Louisiana
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth: April 1908
  • Age: 4 years old
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian male. Blond hair, blue eyes. Robert's hair was darkening at the time of his disappearance and may have become brown as he grew older. He has a mole on his neck and a burn scar on his big toe. His nicknames are Bobby and Robbie.
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: A straw hat, blue rompers and no shoes.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Robert was last seen on August 23, 1912. He was with his parents and younger brother on a fishing trip at Swayze Lake near Opelousas, Louisiana at the time. When his family went to the cabins for lunch at noon, Robert apparently wandered away. He has never been heard from again. An extensive search of the area turned up no indication of his whereabouts. Seachers did find a set of bare footprints leading out of the swamps to the railroad trestle, and there were reports of a strange man lurking in the area, so it was decided Robert must have been abducted.

    In April 1913, eight months after Robert's disappearance, William Cantwell Walters was arrested and charged with his kidnapping. Walters, an itinerant handyman, was found in Mississippi with a child closely matching Robert's description. Walters stated the boy was named Bruce Anderson and his servant, Julia Anderson, had given him the child as a traveling companion. Bruce was believed to be the illegitimate son of Julie and Walters's brother. Bruce refused to answer to the name Bobby Dunbar, and initially he claimed he did not know Robert's mother. Julia identified the child as her son, but a court-appointed arbiter decided the boy was Robert.

    Walters was convicted of kidnapping, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality two years later and he was released. He was not retried. Walters always maintained his innocence. The child who was with him was given to Robert's family and was raised as their child. He gave at least one media interview as an adult, claiming to recall the details of his kidnapping, but family members state he was reportedly uncertain as to his true identity for his entire life. He had four children and was buried under the name Robert Dunbar after his death. Julia went on to marry and have eight other children, who grew up being told they had a brother who was taken from them.

    In 2004, authorities announced that DNA testing had proved the child found with Walters was not Robert. Robert's granddaughter began to research the case in 1999 and became suspicious as to whether or not her grandfather was really Robert Dunbar. Robert's son, Robert Dunbar Jr., provided a DNA sample, which was compared with Robert Sr.'s brother. Testing proved Robert Jr. and his supposed uncle were not related. The identity of the child who was identified as Bobby Dunbar is unknown; he has not been proven to be Bruce Anderson or anyone else.

    With the results of the DNA testing, Robert was again classified as a missing child. It is possible that he fell off the railroad trestle and died, but his fate remains a mystery. His case is no longer being investigated by law enforcement due to the passage of time.

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    Source Information
    The Washington Times
    The Wilmington Star-News
    The Oakland Tribune
    The Daily Advertiser
    The Dothan Eagle
    This is American Life

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    Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated October 3, 2009; picture added.

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