Wednesday, May 5, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In 1914, William Cantwell Walters was convicted of kidnapping a 4-year-old boy. Nine decades later, science has cleared his name.

A DNA test indicates that the child police found with Walters years ago was not the missing boy, Bobby Dunbar. More than likely, he was the illegitimate son of Walters’ brother and a servant living with Walters’ parents.

Bobby disappeared Aug. 23, 1912, during a fishing trip on Swayze Lake near Opelousas. After a massive eight-month search, Walters, an itinerant handyman, was arrested in Mississippi while traveling in a tented wagon with a boy who fit Bobby’s description.

Walters maintained that the servant, Julia Anderson, gave him the boy as a traveling companion. The woman was brought to Mississippi and identified the child as Charlie Bruce Anderson, but a court-appointed arbiter ruled that he was the Dunbars’ missing son.

Walters was convicted of kidnapping in a sensational trial, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. He was never retried, and the boy grew up as Bobby Dunbar.

Four-and-a-half years ago, Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter started to research the case and began to have doubts as she dug through old newspaper clippings and court transcripts.

Her father, over the objections of his siblings, agreed to give a DNA sample earlier this year. It was compared with a sample given by a son of Bobby’s brother, Alonzo.

The samples did not match.

“My intent was to prove that we were Dunbars,” 68-year-old Robert Dunbar Jr. said Tuesday. “The results didn’t turn out that way, and I have had to do some readjusting of my thinking. But I would do it again.”

He traveled to Louisiana to meet with his siblings. On his way back, he stopped in Mississippi to give the news to his father’s surviving brother and sister.

He said he felt comfortable with them, but a part of him still doesn’t want to believe the DNA.

“I haven’t had any big metamorphosis here,” he said. “I don’t intend to change my name. My daddy’s still my daddy, and my mother’s still my mother. That doesn’t change that at all.”

The Walters family invited Robert Dunbar Jr. to give the blessing during a reunion at Lumber River State Park.

During the reunion, a letter was read that Walters wrote while sitting in a Columbia, Miss., jail cell, awaiting word whether he would be extradited. Kidnapping was a capital offense at the time, and Walters wrote, “It seems that I must suffer now for an imaginary sin or crime that has never been committed.

“Dying, I can look up through the ethereal blue of Heaven, thank God, and say my conscience is clear: The heart strings of weeping mothers bind not my withering limbs, and the crime of kidnapping stains not my humble threshold door.”

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