Podcast Episode 310: The Case of Bobby Dunbar


In 1912, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar went missing during a family fishing trip in Louisiana. Eight months later, a boy matching his description appeared in Mississippi. But was it Bobby Dunbar? In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the dispute over the boy’s identity.

We’ll also contemplate a scholarship for idlers and puzzle over an ignorant army.


During his solo circumnavigation of 1895-98, Joshua Slocum met the pilot of the Pinta.

In 1868, inventor William Carr made a mousetrap for burglars.

Sources for our feature on Bobby Dunbar:

Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright, A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation, 2013.

Cathy Pickens, True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina, Sept. 28, 2020.

“Questions Remain in Bobby Dunbar Case,” [Opelousas, La.] Daily World, Aug. 22, 2018, A.3.

“The Mystery Continues: One Century Later, Bobby Dunbar Kidnapping Case Remains Unsolved,” [Opelousas, La.] Daily World, July 20, 2018, A.2.

Duncan McMonagle, “‘World Famous’ Kidnapping Saga Starts Well, Ends Badly,” Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 18, 2012, J.7.

Steve Weinberg, “Famed Crime’s Shock Recalled,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 5, 2012, E.6.

William Johnson, “Dunbar Case to Receive National Spotlight,” [Opelousas, La.] Daily World, Dec. 26, 2007.

“Man Convicted of Kidnapping 90 Years Ago Cleared,” [Cranbrook, B.C.] Daily Townsman, May 5, 2004, 18.

“DNA Clears Up 1914 Case,” Washington Times, May 5, 2004.

William Johnson, “Dunbar Rumors at Last Answered,” [Opelousas, La.] Daily World, May 4, 2004.

Robert Marchant, “Unraveling,” [White Plains, N.Y.] Journal News, Feb. 21, 2004, A.1.

Allen G. Breed, “Finding Bobby Dunbar,” Associated Press, Feb. 1, 2004.

“Real Dunbar Boy in New Orleans, Says a Letter,” Hattiesburg [Miss.] News, June 18, 1914, 2.

“Dunbars Will Not Go to New Orleans,” [Opelousas, La.] St. Landry Clarion 23:30 (May 10, 1913).

“Walters Guilty as Charged, Without Capital Punishment,” [Franklinton, La.] Era-Leader, April 30, 1914.

“Jury to Be Given Case by To-night,” [Opelousas, La.] St. Landry Clarion 24:28 (April 25, 1914).

“Fighting for Life on Kidnaping Charge,” [Columbia, La.] Caldwell Watchman 28:17 (April 17, 1914).

“Bobby Dunbar’s Father Traces Clue to Location of Boy Bruce Anderson,” Hattiesburg [Miss.] News 17:122 (May 22, 1913).

Photo: The disputed child with Deputy Sheriff Charles Day, from the New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 1913.

Listener mail:

John M. Shutske et al., “Notes From the Field: Death of a Farm Worker After Exposure to Manure Gas in an Open Air Environment — Wisconsin, August 2016,” MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 66:32 (Aug. 18, 2017), 861-862.

Angela Giuffrida, “‘Italy’s Robinson Crusoe’ Despairs as Eviction From Island Paradise Looms,” Guardian, July 15, 2020.

Silvia Marchetti, “Paradise Lost: Eviction Looms for Hermit Living Alone on Italian Island,” CNN, July 28, 2020.

Wikipedia, “Budelli” (accessed Aug. 31, 2020).

Schule der Folgenlosigkeit: Übungen für ein anderes Leben, University of Fine Arts of Hamburg (accessed Aug. 31, 2020).

scarry hose tower

Firefighters drying hoses, from Richard Scarry’s 1968 book What Do People Do All Day? (click to enlarge)

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Samuel Yeo.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!