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A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation Hardcover – August 14, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A thoughtful look at the elusiveness of truth and the fluidity of identity… It’s difficult not to empathize with both sides of this case, as everyone loses something—particularly the child caught in the middle.” --Publisher's Weekly

"A Case For Solomon is a fascinating tale of an American changeling -- a little boy lost to the Louisiana swamps, only to be conjured back by headlines and a mother's agony. Within the life of Bobby Dunbar, a man who was a mystery even to himself, Tal McThenia and Margaret Cutright have uncovered a dramatic case of families caught between grief, injustice, and the desperate will to believe." --Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century

"A Case for Solomon is haunting and unforgettable. It swept me up like no other book I've read in a long time. It is a mystery story finally solved after a hundred years, but it's also a profound and heartbreaking examination of identity and loss told by writers whose hard-won research and narrative gifts are plain on every page. The exotic settings, the characters whose love redeems as well as destroys, a plot that is downright biblical...and in the end a little boy with arms outstretched and this question on his lips: Who am I?" -- John Ed Bradley, author of Tupelo Nights and It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium

A Case for Solomon can easily be read as a kidnapping mystery or a legal thriller or a saga of class privilege or a lively indictment of the deadly shenanigans when the media circus comes to town. To me, it’s a tragic accounting of the abuses inherent in our confidence about what's in the best interests of a child. And all of it is evidence of the power of nonfiction--fact after astonishing fact.” --Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx

"a solid read that provides plenty of food for thought." --Library Journal

A Case For Solomon is a thoroughly researched and detailed work of history that lets its mystery unfold with the restraint and craft of a detective story. Though as suspenseful and dark as any good thriller... it wonders, through the telling of the shocking tale, at greater questions - about the nature of identity, and family, and to what lengths people might go to avoid knowing a terrible truth." --The Times-Picayune

"A Case for Solomon... which reads like fiction, revisits the sensational 1912 kidnapping of four-year-old Bobby Dunbar from the swamps of Louisiana. The discovery of a boy matching Bobby’s description in rural Mississippi and the shocking emergence of an indigent woman from North Carolina claiming to be his mother were red meat to newsmen ravenous for scandal. The nation was rapt for months, although the mystery wouldn’t be solved for a century." --Vanity Fair

"The saga related in the book is so mind-bending that some readers might need to digest certain passages about family connections more than once, as I felt compelled to do. It is worth the effort." -- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A fascinating narrative about an ostensible kidnapping and a 90-year case of mistaken identity, fully steeped in the flavor of the era. [A Case for Solomon] is a narrative about the fierceness of parental love, the flaws of the legal system, and ultimately about how we derive our own sense of who we are." --The Boston Globe

About the Author

Tal McThenia is a freelance writer who reported and wrote The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, a one-hour radio documentary for the acclaimed public radio series This American Life. He has received residencies at the ShenanArt’s Playwrights’ Workshop and the MacDowell Colony. He lives in New York.

Margaret Dunbar Cutright is the granddaughter of Bobby Dunbar, the victim of the kidnapping in A Case for Solomon. She has researched the case for more than a decade, gathering and analyzing legal documents, family correspondence, and newspapers, and has had extensive and ongoing contact with descendants of all three of the families involved in the story. She lives in North Carolina.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (August 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439158592
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439158593
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #995,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Philly gal VINE VOICE on August 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the story of a sensational kidnapping of a four year old boy in Louisiana in 1912. The coauthors have produced an extremely well researched book. The story in a nutshell - Bobby Dunbar son of Lessie and Percy Dunbar disappears from a family campsite right around dinner time. Despite extensive search efforts no trace of Bobby is found. Initially it is believed he has drowned or perhaps been eaten by an alligator (remember we are in Louisiana) but as time goes on with no sign of him his parents become convinced that he has been kidnapped. Bobby has a distinguishing mark - a burn scar on his big toe. The public's fascination with the boy's disappearance leads to many reported sightings throughout the Gulf Coast. Bobby's father faithfully follows up on each sighting. Finally William Walters a travelling piano tuner accompanied by a young boy with a strong resemblance to Bobby becomes the focus of the search. Despite the fact that this boy does not have a scar on his foot and despite the fact that Bobby's parents do not immediately identify him as their son and despite the fact that after 8 months the child does not recognize the Dunbars nor a younger brother Alonzo the child is taken from Walters and taken in by the Dunbars as their son Bobby. When a destitute single mother from North Carolina Julia Anderson steps forward to claim the boy as her son Bruce Anderson she is consistently shunted aside.
The story takes some twists and turns after this. Walters is tried and found guilty of kidnapping despite all kinds of evidence that should have helped acquit him. Various neighbors and friends are fairly sure that this child is not Bobby Dunbar. Through some strange legal maneuverings Walters is released from jail (again remember we are in Louisiana).
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Having first heard of the Bobby Dunbar case from the 2008 "This American Life" radio show episode devoted to it, I was looking forward to this book for a long time. The case is fascinating still to this day, the 100th anniversary of the disappearance of Dunbar that put the whole story in motion. And the book mostly lived up to -- and exceeded -- my expectations, until it came to the end.

"The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar", the radio show from '08, focused mainly on Margaret Dunbar's search for the truth to her grandfather's heritage in the early 21st century. Of course, it told the backstory of the Dunbar "kidnapping" in excellent detail too, but the meat of the story was Margaret's quest for the truth and how it isolated her from her family that really didn't want to know the truth.

When reading through "A Case for Solomon", I was overwhelmed at times. The level of detail, culled from old newspaper reports, legal briefs and other historical records, is truly amazing. Especially when it came to the trial of Cant Walters: I found myself having to go back to the "Cast of Characters" section at the beginning of the book to keep straight who was who.

As a piece of reporting, as a legal thriller, as a missing persons/kidnapping epic, "A Case for Solomon" has few peers. It really is exceptional in this regard. Once it gets past the trial, though, the next 80 to 90 years are told in a much more condensed fashion. I was looking forward to that high level of detail being given to the story told in "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar", including more about Percy Dunbar, Margaret meeting the descendants of Julia Anderson (and totally rubbing them the wrong way at first), and more about the DNA test that broke this story wide open, and all the drama surrounding that.
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I live in the city in which this occurred, and I found it very interesting. Being an history student, I found the story extremely informative. It was fascinating to read stories (and get a glimpse at their character)about folks whose names have been revered and which are on street signs. The fact that this incident was even able to occur was disturbing. It made me thankful for the progress that has been made in forensic science, making it less likely something like this would ever happen.
My sympathies go out to the families involved, and I am grateful to the authors for having the wherewithal to follow through on researching and writing this book in spite of family dissent.
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Here we have the intriguing story of little Bobby Dunbar, who disappeared during a family stay at a lakeside camp. Now really, what kind of parents would be so careless as to not watch such a young child on the shores of alligator infested water? This wasn't a case of somebody being distracted for a couple of minutes; they just plain weren't watching this child. A search is mounted to no avail. Many months later a child who looks like Bobby is found with a traveling repairman. He says he is caring for the child, and the mother is back in NC. This is confirmed by the mother and many witnesses, but the Dunbars also lay claim to the child. SPOILER ALERT--it's very obvious from the amount of evidence on the side of the NC mother and the tinker that the child is not Bobby Dunbar, but justice isn't always served. Here we see how in the beginning of the 20th century, money and connections counted more than truth. The real mother was poor and unmarried. The strong suspicion is that some people realized this wasn't the Dunbar child, but thought he'd be better off with a "nice" family rather than with a "fallen" woman. The irony of that is that the Dunbars didn't turn out to be a very solid family, while the real mother went on to a fine, solid life. The questions that are raised in the reader's mind are what did the Dunbars really know? Did they truly believe Bobby was their child, or did they know or least have doubts? What did the child really remember? How much of his behavior was coached by the Dunbars and their lawyers? In later years did he know the truth? His actions indicate he may have suspected. Of course, the largest question is, what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? Was he eaten by an alligator? Drowned?Read more ›
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