A Case for Solomon

Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation

About The Book

The spellbinding story of one of the most celebrated kidnapping cases in American history—the kidnapping of Bobby Dunbar—and a haunting family mystery that took almost a century to solve.

THE MOST NOTORIOUS KIDNAPPING CASE IN AMERICAN HISTORY

In 1912, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar went missing in the Louisiana swamps. After an eight-month search that electrified the country and destroyed Bobby’s parents, the boy was found, filthy and hardly recogniz­able. A wandering piano tuner was arrested and charged with kidnapping— a crime then punishable by death.

But when a destitute single mother came forward from North Carolina to claim the boy as her son, not the lost Bobby Dunbar, the case became a high-pitched battle over custody—and identity—that divided the South. A gripping historical mystery, A Case for Solomon chronicles the epic century-long effort to unravel the startling truth.

About The Authors

Photograph by Stefanie Spina

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.

Photograph by Wayne Cutright

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.

Raves and Reviews

“Rarely do nonfiction books engage me so deeply and satisfyingly as . . . A Case for Solomon has. Exhaustively researched . . . [the book] reads like fiction.”

– Elissa Schappel, Vanity Fair

“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

"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

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images