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The Boy Who Came Back: The Enduring Mystery of Bobby Dunbar

The year is 1912. A young boy named Bobby Dunbar disappears from a family vacation in Louisiana. After a frantic search, hope seems lost. Then, a boy claiming to be Bobby is found, but doubts linger. Was this the real Bobby, or a chilling imposter? This is the story of Bobby Dunbar, a case that has captivated the public for over a century.

Table of Contents

The Disappearance

The Dunbar family, on a leisurely fishing trip in 1912, found their vacation shattered when their four-year-old son, Bobby, vanished without a trace. The incident occurred near the banks of the Mississippi River in the small town of Logansport, Louisiana. The family was plunged into a desperate search, but weeks turned into months, and there was no sign of the little boy. Hope dwindled with each passing day, and the Dunbar family was left with the agonizing uncertainty of not knowing what had happened to their son.

The disappearance of Bobby Dunbar sparked widespread panic and fear. The small town was gripped by the unsettling mystery of a missing child, and the investigation took on an urgent tone. Local authorities and volunteers tirelessly combed the surrounding area, but Bobby remained elusive, fueling speculation and anxiety. The initial investigations focused on the immediate vicinity of the disappearance, but as days turned into weeks, the search expanded, encompassing a wider area, but to no avail. The lack of any leads or evidence only amplified the mystery surrounding Bobby’s disappearance, making it a national news story.

The Return and the Suspect

Two years after Bobby Dunbar’s disappearance, a glimmer of hope emerged. A young boy claiming to be Bobby was found in a small town in Mississippi, living with a man named William Walter “Will” Cantwell. The boy, who had been living under the assumed name of “Bruce,” seemed to have a vague recollection of his past, mentioning details that vaguely aligned with Bobby Dunbar’s background.

However, the story of the “return” was riddled with inconsistencies and doubts. The boy’s appearance and demeanor seemed to differ significantly from the original Bobby Dunbar. Suspicions arose about the validity of his identity. The details he provided about his past were fragmented and inconclusive, leaving a lingering question mark over his true identity.

William Walter “Will” Cantwell, the man with whom the boy was found, became a prime suspect. His past was shrouded in secrecy, adding fuel to the fire of suspicion. He had a history of wandering and changing identities, leading some to believe that he had kidnapped Bobby years earlier and was trying to pass off another child as the real Bobby. The circumstances surrounding the boy’s appearance, Cantwell’s enigmatic past, and the lingering doubts about the boy’s identity painted a complex picture, fueling the ongoing mystery.

The Trial and its Aftermath

In 1913, Will Cantwell faced charges of kidnapping Bobby Dunbar. The trial became a national sensation, drawing immense public attention. The courtroom was packed with spectators, eager to witness the unfolding drama. The prosecution presented evidence suggesting that the boy found in Mississippi was not the real Bobby Dunbar, pointing to inconsistencies in his account and the possibility of Cantwell’s involvement in the disappearance.

However, the defense vehemently argued that the boy was indeed Bobby Dunbar, claiming that he had been separated from his family and had been living with Cantwell for two years. They argued that the boy’s memories were fragmented due to trauma and his young age. The jury was presented with a conflicting narrative, and after weeks of intense deliberation, they found Cantwell guilty of kidnapping.

Cantwell was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. The Dunbar family, relieved to have their son back, welcomed him into their lives, although the lingering doubts about his identity persisted. Yet, the case never fully went away. It remained a topic of discussion and debate, fueling speculation about the true nature of the events. The conviction of Cantwell seemed to provide a closure to the case. The Dunbar family, relieved to have their son back, embraced him, attempting to rebuild their lives. However, the lingering doubts and questions about the boy’s true identity continued to haunt them.

The DNA Test and the Revelation

The case seemed to fade into the annals of history, but in 2004, a new chapter unfolded. With the advent of DNA technology, the possibility of definitively resolving the mystery of Bobby Dunbar emerged. The Dunbar family, driven by a long-held desire for truth, agreed to undergo DNA testing.

The results of the DNA test, released in 2004, revealed a startling revelation: the boy found in Mississippi was not Bobby Dunbar. He was actually a boy named Charles Albert “Al” Dunbar, who had been separated from his family years earlier. This shocking discovery shattered the assumptions and beliefs that had been held for almost a century.

The DNA test results definitively confirmed that the boy found in Mississippi was not Bobby Dunbar, but another child entirely. It was a revelation that sent shockwaves through the Dunbar family and the public, rewriting the narrative of the case. The truth, finally unveiled after nearly a century, shattered the longstanding belief that the boy returned to the Dunbar family. It also raised disturbing questions about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the real Bobby Dunbar, leaving a haunting void in the narrative.

The Mystery Continues

The revelation of the DNA results threw the Bobby Dunbar case back into the spotlight, but with a twist. The case was no longer just about the boy who was found – it was now about the boy who was never found. Who was the real Bobby Dunbar? What happened to him?

The DNA results, while shedding light on the identity of the boy found in Mississippi, raised even more questions about the true fate of the missing Bobby Dunbar. It became a case of not just the boy who came back, but the boy who never did. The mystery deepened, fueling theories and speculation about the real Bobby’s whereabouts.

The case is still open. The disappearance of Bobby Dunbar remains an unsolved mystery. The DNA test results offered answers, but they also opened a new chapter in the story. The mystery continues to intrigue, prompting speculation, analysis, and a renewed search for the truth. It’s a story about the power of doubt, the elusiveness of truth, and the enduring fascination with a mystery that continues to haunt.


The Bobby Dunbar case has captured the public imagination for over a century, sparking countless questions and theories. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

1. Was Bobby Dunbar ever found?

While a boy claiming to be Bobby Dunbar was found and returned to the family, DNA testing in 2004 revealed that this boy was not the real Bobby Dunbar, but another child named Charles Albert “Al” Dunbar. Therefore, the real Bobby Dunbar was never found, and his fate remains unknown.

2. Was William Walter Cantwell truly the kidnapper?

Although Cantwell was convicted of kidnapping Bobby Dunbar in 1913, the DNA testing results in 2004 cast doubt on this conviction. It is now believed that he likely did not kidnap Bobby Dunbar, but rather the boy who was later revealed to be Charles Albert “Al” Dunbar. The question of whether Cantwell was involved in the disappearance of the real Bobby Dunbar remains unanswered.

3. What happened to the family after the case?

The Dunbar family, after accepting the “returned” boy as their son, faced a difficult reality when the DNA tests revealed the truth. They were devastated to learn that their real son was still missing and that they had unknowingly raised a different child for decades. The case undoubtedly left lasting scars on the family, forcing them to confront a painful truth.

4. Why did the case remain unsolved for so long?

The Bobby Dunbar case remained unsolved for so long due to several factors:

  • Lack of Evidence: The initial investigation was hampered by a lack of evidence, making it difficult to identify suspects or establish a clear timeline of events.
  • Inconsistent Testimony: The boy who was found claiming to be Bobby provided inconsistent and fragmented details about his past, making it difficult to verify his claims.
  • Limited Technology: Advancements in DNA technology were not available at the time of the case, hindering the ability to definitively identify the boy and shed light on the true nature of the disappearance.

5. What are the most common theories about Bobby Dunbar’s case?

The Bobby Dunbar case has spawned numerous theories, ranging from the plausible to the outlandish. Some of the most common theories include:

  • Accidental Death: Some believe that Bobby may have accidentally drowned in the Mississippi River or died from other unforeseen circumstances.
  • Kidnapping by a Stranger: This is the most widely believed theory, although the identity of the kidnapper remains unknown.
  • Internal Family Dispute: Some theorize that Bobby’s disappearance might have been related to an internal family dispute or a hidden family secret.
  • Sold into Slavery: Another theory suggests that Bobby may have been sold into slavery or forced into child labor, a practice prevalent in the early 20th century.


The Bobby Dunbar case is a haunting testament to the enduring power of mystery and the elusiveness of truth. While the DNA tests provided definitive answers about the boy who was found, they also deepened the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the real Bobby Dunbar. His fate remains a subject of speculation and intrigue, leaving a lingering question mark on a case that continues to capture our imaginations. The Bobby Dunbar case is a stark reminder of the fragility of life and the enduring mystery that can linger even in the face of seemingly conclusive evidence. It serves as a reminder that the truth can be elusive and that some mysteries may never be fully solved.