"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar

(Bobby beside car with unidentified people.)

I caught this story on my car radio a few days ago, and I was absolutely enthralled, even skipping the errand I originally drove out for. Instead I drove around, listening to this story, and parked in a Starbucks parking lot to listen to the entire thing.

I have recommended a story from This American Life before, and this one is just as gripping. Most stories that the host, Ira Glass, features are special in some way. I am addicted to this program. Read below about it, and then go to the website to click on the link to listen to the entire episode. You won't be disappointed!

352: The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar

In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. (The picture at left was taken just days later.) In 2004, his granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather's kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family's century-old prayer. We devote our entire episode to the story.


Host Ira Glass plays the song "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child" by Richard "Rabbit" Brown. It describes Bobby Dunbar's disappearance and recovery and the trial of his kidnapper, all of which was front page news from 1912 to 1914. Almost a century after it happened, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, was looking into her grandfather's disappearance and found that the truth was actually more interesting than the legend. And a lot more troubling. (1 minute)
Act One. Part One.

Reporter Tal McThenia tells the first half of Margaret's story. Everyone in her family knew the legend. Her grandfather went missing in a swamp in Louisiana, and was found 8 months later in Mississippi, in the hands of a wandering handyman named William Walters. But then another woman came forward and claimed the boy as hers. There was a big trial, and the boy was awarded to the Dunbars.In 1999, Margaret's father gave her a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from the period. A lot of the clippings didn't match up exactly with her family's legend. So Margaret went on a quest to learn as much as she could, to small town libraries and archives all through the south, and eventually, to the living children of the "other mother," a woman named Julia Anderson. Her family had their own legend about the kidnapping. But in the Anderson version, Julia's son Bruce was the boy who was kidnapped, and it was Margaret's family, the Dunbars, who kidnapped him. (23 minutes)

Act Two. Part Two.

Tal McThenia's story continues. Margaret meets the living relatives of the kidnapper, William Walters, discovers a long lost court file with lots of answers, and finally arrives at an incontrovertible truth, which, depending on your point of view, is either very troubling, or the answer to your prayers. (32 minutes)

Song: "The Mystery of the Dunbar's Child," Richard "Rabbit" Brown


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