Title: ACase for Solomon
Author: Tal McThenia & Margaret Dunbar Cutright
Review: How much would you be willing to do to get your son back? On a family picnic/camping trip the Dunbar family lost their young four year old son Bobby. One minute he was there, and the next he had disappeared. Unfortunately no body was ever found so closure was never an option. What ensued was one of the largest manhunts ever seen as they scoured the entire south for little Bobby, ultimately finding a little boy in the possession of a vagabond piano tuner.
Claiming they had found their son the Dunbar’s were anxious to take him home and restart their life. Only problem was another Mother came forward to claim the boy as her little Bruce; that she knew the wandering William Walters had him. An actual court case took place, and more importantly a court of public opinion happened in the papers of the day. The book documents both cases as we see rather than a battle of good versus evil, we have a fight between two desperate mothers, rich versus poor, truth as people desired it rather than truth as it is. In the end we see a family destroyed as they hang on to the tiny threads of hope, and a fractured family rebuilt.
The scrap book of the case containing all the historical newspaper articles is passed down to Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter. Having grown up with the Dunbar family legend of the kidnapping the articles painted a very different picture than the romanticized version she had been told. This began a multi-year quest to find out the truth – who was Bobby Dunbar? Through painstaking research a clear story begins to emerge, which is ultimately confirmed through modern DNA testing.
What emerges is not a story of right versus wrong, but rather a tale of extreme sadness as a desperate family tries everything they can to heal their family. It also provides a historical look that the ends definitely do not justify the means as the the events surrounding Bobby altered the Dunbar family for generations, still causes fractures that remain to this day.
A fantastic book analyzing the damage loss and denial can do to a family. A modern true retelling of King Solomon as one mother makes the ultimate sacrifice for the love of her child. As a bonus it shows the influence, for better or worse, the media can have. Unfortunately that influence hasn’t changed at all today.
Publisher: Published August 14th 2012 by Free Press (first published January 10th 2012)
Quick Review: 4 Stars out of 5
Why I Read It: I love a good true crime/psychology book
Where I Obtained the Book: Sent to me by the publisher for review.
Synopsis: A CASE FOR SOLOMON: BOBBY DUNBAR AND THE KIDNAPPING THAT HAUNTED A NATION chronicles one of the most celebrated—and most misunderstood—kidnapping cases in American history. In 1912, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar, the son of an upper-middle-class Louisiana family, went missing in the swamps. After an eight-month search that electrified the country and destroyed Bobby’s parents, the boy was found, filthy and hardly recognizable, in the pinewoods of southern Mississippi. A wandering piano tuner who had been shuttling the child throughout the region by wagon for months was arrested and charged with kidnapping—a crime that was punishable by death at the time. But when a destitute single mother came forward from North Carolina to claim the boy as her son, not Bobby Dunbar, the case became a high-pitched battle over custody—and identity—that divided the South. Amid an ever-thickening tangle of suspicion and doubt, two mothers and a father struggled to assert their rightful parenthood over the child, both to the public and to themselves. For two years, lawyers dissected and newspapers sensationalized every aspect of the story. Psychiatrists, physicians, criminologists, and private detectives debated the piano tuner’s guilt and the boy’s identity. And all the while the boy himself remained peculiarly guarded on the question of who he was. It took nearly a century, a curiosity that had been passed down through generations, and the science of DNA to discover the truth.
A Case for Solomon is a gripping historical mystery, distilled from a trove of personal and archival research. The story of Bobby Dunbar, fought over by competing New Orleans tabloids, the courts, and the citizenry of two states, offers a case study in yellow journalism, emergent forensic science, and criminal justice in the turn-of-the-century American South. It is a drama of raw poverty and power and an exposÉ of how that era defined and defended motherhood, childhood, and community. First told in a stunning episode of National Public Radio’s This American Life, A Case for Solomon chronicles the epic struggle to determine one child’s identity, along the way probing unsettling questions about the formation of memory, family, and self.
Author Biography: : In 2000, Bobby's granddaughter, coauthor Margaret Dunbar Cutright, began to dig into the legend. After years of research, debate, and a DNA test, the truth finally emerged.
Interview: The Diane Rehm Show