The Bizarre Kidnapping Mystery That Stunned the 1910s South

Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Family Photo: Unknown, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. Headlines: Clarion-Ledger, April 26, 1913; The Madison Journal, May 3, 1913; The Times-Democrat, August 7, 1913. Background: iStock
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Family Photo: Unknown, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. Headlines: Clarion-Ledger, April 26, 1913; The Madison Journal, May 3, 1913; The Times-Democrat, August 7, 1913. Background: iStock

The last time anyone could say with certainty that they saw the real Bobby Dunbar was August 23, 1912. Later described in newspapers as stout “but not fat,” rosy-cheeked, and sporting a straw hat, the 4-year-old son of Percy and Lessie Dunbar had accompanied his parents and their friends to a weekend camping retreat at Swayze Lake near Opelousas, Louisiana. Percy, who ran a successful real estate and insurance company, quickly left to attend to business; Lessie stayed behind to care for Bobby and his 2-year-old brother, Alonzo.

The morning they arrived, Bobby left his mother to go watch his father’s friend, Paul Mizzi, shoot fish in the murky water, a muddy splash of swamp surrounded by trees. As lunchtime neared, Lessie began calling everyone to help set up for the meal. According to a contemporary newspaper report, as Mizzi and Bobby walked to the dining area, the young man told the little boy to get out of the way; Bobby laughed and said something sassy, then "disappeared like magic."

When Bobby failed to reappear, his mother grew frantic. It's easy to imagine her worst fears about the alligator-infested waters nearby. By the time Percy returned to the lake around noon, he found friends searching for his son, and more than 100 locals quickly joined the search party.

For over a week, they combed the swamp and surrounding area, looking for bones, a body, or Bobby’s straw hat. Gators dragged from the water had their bellies sliced open to check for body parts. Some of the men set off dynamite in the water to see if his corpse would rise to the surface.

The good news was that nothing was found. The terrible news was that nothing was found. For eight excruciating months, Percy and Lessie were in a state of shock, unsure whether to grieve for Bobby or hold on to a thread of hope.

Then, in April 1913, Percy got a telegram from Columbia, Mississippi. The telegram said that a transient had been spotted with a boy matching Bobby’s description. Within days, Percy and Lessie were convinced it was their Bobby. They would take him in, raise him, and love him, even as the man accused of kidnapping Bobby protested his innocence—even as he insisted the boy’s real name wasn't Bobby Dunbar, but Bruce Anderson, his traveling companion.

The Dunbars hadn't found their child, he said. They had kidnapped someone else's.

BOBBY LOST AND FOUND

The confusion surrounding the Dunbar mystery seems hard to understand today. With DNA testing, questions over Bobby's identity could now be resolved in a laboratory. But in the Louisiana of 1912, a lack of forensic science, among other issues, helped perpetuate a tragedy that wound up affecting multiple generations of families.

Owing to the wealth and influence of the Dunbars, Bobby’s disappearance earned plenty of attention. At first, Percy sent hundreds of postcards with Bobby’s photo and description to town officials in Florida, Texas, and other states. He offered a $5000 reward for information leading to Bobby’s recovery, with the local citizens and the Planters National Bank of Opelousas joining together to offer another $1000. Newspapers around the country made it a national headline. Percy traveled to orphanages around the state, hoping to see that his fair-haired, blue-eyed boy had been safe and sheltered the entire time.

As is often the case with missing parties, the search turned up several leads without merit. But according to the book A Case for Solomon, co-written by Bobby’s granddaughter Margaret Dunbar Cutright, a few weeks after Bobby's disappearance the family received a letter from Poplarville, Mississippi, saying that a boy looking remarkably like their own had been seen in the company of an itinerant worker. Fatigued by false hope, Percy asked his brother, Archie, to go to Poplarville on his behalf. But Archie reported that the boy was not Bobby.

In April 1913, eight months after Bobby had last been seen, a telegram came from Columbia, Mississippi, saying that a boy looking very much like Bobby had been seen in the company of an itinerant worker named William Cantwell Walters—likely the same itinerant worker seen in Poplarville. After asking a favor from a sheriff friend, Percy was able to have authorities in Columbia detain Walters and the child until the Dunbars could judge for themselves.

The Dunbars arrived by train and were greeted by a cluster of locals who wondered if the mystery of the missing Dunbar boy was about to unravel in their hometown. But accounts vary about precisely what happened next. In one version of the story, Percy was alleged to have cautioned his wife not to see Bobby right away, since the townsfolk seemed ill-at-ease and may have had intentions to beat, or even lynch, Walters, a suspected kidnapper, if he was proven to be at fault. Another description has Lessie racing to meet Bobby for the first time and being uncertain if it was her son; she felt his eyes were too small. For his part, Bobby shrunk away, insisting his name was Bruce.

Newspapers compared a photo of Bobby Dunbar (L) with an image of the boy believed to be Bobby following his disappearance (R).
Newspapers compared a photo of Bobby Dunbar (L) with an image of the boy believed to be Bobby following his disappearance (R).

The next day, Lessie was permitted to give the boy a bath. After examining his moles and other distinguishing features, she pronounced him to be her Bobby without a doubt. The child seemed to have had a change of heart, too, embracing her and calling her “mama.”

It was a fairy tale ending. The Dunbars quickly returned home to Opelousas, where a veritable parade was awaiting them. Their son was invited to ride a fire truck and celebrated at every turn; he soaked up the adulation.

Newspapers eager to promote a feel-good story largely backed the Dunbars’ assertion, though some of the copy seemed to hint at the same doubt Lessie had initially experienced. “The Dunbars say they have identified the child by marks on his body,” The Los Angeles Times reported, “and they hope that the environment of their home will reawaken some memories in his mind by which they will be more certain.”

A CRIME WITH NO MOTIVE

Back in Mississippi, Walters was dumbfounded. Awaiting extradition to Louisiana on a capital charge of kidnapping that could see him executed or sent to prison for life, he told anyone who would listen that it was the Dunbars who were the kidnappers. The boy was Bruce Anderson, the son of Julia Anderson, he said, a woman from back home in North Carolina who had been involved with Walters’s brother for a time. Although the stories would differ, Walters maintained that a little over a year prior he had agreed to look after Bruce because he felt Julia didn’t have the means to provide for him. As a traveling worker, or “tinker,” Walters found that having Bruce around made strangers more likely to take him in for food and lodging.

It seemed easy enough to clear the matter by inviting Julia, ostensibly the boy’s actual mother, to support his story. Eager to have a possible exclusive, a New Orleans newspaper paid for Julia to travel from her home in North Carolina in May 1913 to meet Bobby. She was asked to identify her son among a group of several boys.

Just as Lessie had hesitated, Julia also didn’t seem sure she was meeting her son. Maybe it was Bruce, but perhaps it was not. The media latched on to her hesitation—surely a mother could identify her own child—and used it to bolster the case against Walters, who was finally extradited to Louisiana in 1914 to stand trial for the kidnapping of the Dunbar boy.

It took two weeks for an Opelousas court to try and convict Walters, who continued to protest his innocence. Julia was also scheduled to testify on his behalf, but fell ill and instead gave a statement from her bed. Wanly, she insisted "Bobby" was Bruce and that Walters should not be condemned for any crime. The jury was not swayed, and sentenced Walters to life imprisonment.

As bleak as things were for the Anderson side of the controversy, Walters did get one break. His lawyer was successfully able to argue that Louisiana law regarding kidnapping was unconstitutional by focusing on a legal technicality based on an omission in the text. That appeared to sway the court into having the case thrown out. Mindful of how expensive it was to try him the first time, the district attorney declined to attempt a second conviction. Walters was free to go. Meanwhile, Julia Anderson was married and starting another family.

DISCOVERING THE TRUTH

Bobby continued life as a Dunbar, remaining in Louisiana and becoming a salesman for Briggs Electrical Supply. He had four children of his own, before succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 58 in 1966. He never seemed to express any curiosity about his national fame, or the strange circumstances surrounding his alleged disappearance.

Questions over Bobby’s lineage would have likely ended with the court case had it not been for the work of Cutright, who became interested in her grandfather’s case in 1999. Her father, Bobby Dunbar Junior, gave her a massive scrapbook of newspaper clippings, much of it revealing the contradictory stories of how unsure Lessie had been about her son’s reappearance. She also dug up the case file kept by Walters’s attorney, reading testimony from several people who had placed Walters and Bruce together.

In 2004, she was able to convince her father to take a DNA swab and see if it matched with a sample taken from the son of Bobby’s brother, Alonzo. The results proved they were no relation: Bobby Dunbar was almost certainly Bruce Anderson. The real Bobby Dunbar likely met a swift and unfortunate fate at Swayze Lake, perhaps left alone just long enough to disappear into the water.

The DNA solution provided an answer, but it could never provide context. Why, Cutright wondered, did Percy and Lessie so readily accept a child that was not their own? And why did Julia Anderson waver when presented with the opportunity to conclusively identify Bruce?

The answer may lie in the wealth that the Dunbars enjoyed—not as a means of influence, but as a promise for a better life. Julia had, after all, already allowed Walters to care for Bruce. Now he’d be in a steady home and a supportive family.

Percy and Lessie’s motives are more difficult to understand. It’s possible the weight of their grief caused them to latch on to the fantasy of their child being returned to them. Maybe Lessie, who had grown frail during the search, embraced the lie to the extent that Percy felt the need to go along with it. Perhaps Bruce, only around 5 years old, was able to comprehend that his new life of riding fire trucks and being the toast of the town was better than trailing Walters as he performed odd jobs in odd towns.

The Dunbars separated in 1920 and divorced soon after. Some time later, Lessie wrote a letter to her granddaughter that made reference to her “shell of grief.” It’s hard to know whether she was referring to the pain of losing a child, the regret of taking one—or both.

46 Weird Laws Still on the Books

sfe-co2/iStock via Getty Images
sfe-co2/iStock via Getty Images

You go about your day trying to be a good citizen, but you have no idea how many laws you're probably breaking. Maybe you're throwing snowballs, yelling at an umpire, or using high-tech equipment to make sure your shoes fit right. You know, everyday stuff.

Just to be safe, check out this list of 46 weird laws so you know what not to do.

1. Vermont banned banning clotheslines.

Colorful clothes hanging on a clothesline
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You read that right. In 2009, Vermont made it illegal for groups like neighborhood associations to ban clotheslines.

2. You can't throw rocks at trains in Wisconsin.

A train moving down the tracks.
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Wisconsin has a law that you cannot "propel any stone, brick, or other missile at any railroad train." I think this means that you can technically drop a brick onto a railroad train, but no one's ever tested it.

3. You can't make fake drugs in Arizona.

A bottle of pills and money.
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In Arizona, you can not manufacture or distribute "imitation controlled substances," which I guess is why they didn't film Breaking Bad there.

4. Blasphemy is still illegal in Michigan.

A woman screaming in her car.
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Blasphemy laws used to be very common in the United States, but there are still some in existence, including in Michigan, where cursing God is a G**-d*** misdemeanor.

5. Dogs can't hunt big game mammals in California.

Two dogs running in a field.
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Allowing dogs to pursue big game [PDF] mammals, such as bears or bobcats, is illegal in California. We were surprised to learn that this was an issue, because our office dog runs away from squirrels - although to be fair, they are larger than her.

6. Don't bite while boxing in Utah.

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Bad news for Damon Salvatore and Mike Tyson, boxing in Utah cannot feature any biting.

7. Swearing at sports events is illegal in Massachusetts.

Angry fans at a sporting event.
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If you're over 16, it's against to law to swear at players or officials during sporting events in Massachusetts, so I guess at the end of every Red Sox game, 37,000 people are taken into custody.

8. You can't use a false name at a hotel in New Hampshire.

Hotel front desk.
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In New Hampshire, it is illegal to check into a hotel using a false name.

9. Pretending to be a religious figure is illegal in Alabama.

Hands held in prayer.
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And speaking of false identities, at public places in Alabama, you cannot pretend to be a minister, nun, priest, or rabbi if you aren't one, thereby making productions of The Sound of Music technically illegal. Unless the nuns are played by nuns, that is.

10. You couldn't throw snowballs in Severance, Colorado until 2019.

Kids having a snowball fight.
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This one isn't technically still on the books, but it juuuuuuuuust got changed. Thanks to a precocious 9-year-old boy, it's finally legal to throw snow balls in a Colorado town known for its snow.

11. You have to believe in something in order to hold public office in Texas.

A hand on a book while taking an oath.
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In Texas, officials aren't allowed to be, "excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being." So, if someone doesn't believe in a Supreme Being...exclude away?

12. Bingo games can't last more than five hours in North Carolina.

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That's great news if, like me, you find Bingo boring after four minutes.

13. You can't sniff glue with the intent to get high from it in Indiana.

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In Indiana, you're not allowed to sniff toxic vapors of any kind (including glue) with, "intent to cause a condition of intoxication, euphoria, excitement, exhilaration, stupefaction, or dulling of the senses." So if you're doing it for other reasons, that's fine.

14. Adultery is still a crime in New York.

Man looking at a woman walking down the street.
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Spitzer. Giuliani. Weiner. Paterson. FDR. They all did something punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

15. Biting someone's arm off is illegal in Rhode Island.

A cat biting its owner's arm.
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Rhode Island has a law against biting off the limbs of another person. It's a shame you have to legislate things like that, but I, you know, guess it will be good for when the zombies come...

16. Teachers can't talk to students about hand-holding in Tennessee.

A group of children holding hands.
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The Gateway Sexual Behavior Law in Tennessee prevents teachers from discussing anything that might be considered a "gateway" to sex. That includes kissing and hand-holding.

17. You can't sell your eyes in Texas.

A woman holding money in front of her face.
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When they sang, "The eyes of Texas are upon you," they meant that the state already has a pair and doesn't need to buy yours. It's not just eyes, either. It's illegal to sell any of your bodily organs.

18. Dance halls can't be close to cemeteries in South Carolina.

A group of kids at a dance hall.
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In South Carolina, dance halls are not allowed to be within a quarter-mile of a rural church or cemetery.

19. They also can't be open on Sundays.

A business hanging a closed sign.
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South Carolina also requires their dance halls to be closed on Sundays. It's almost like they don't like dancing.

20. Florida passed a law in 1974 allowing the state to ban alcohol sales during hurricanes.

A man and woman drinking beer on the beach.
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As a matter of public safety, the state wanted to curb people's ability to throw "hurricane parties," which are apparently a thing in Florida.

21. Utah doesn't have happy hour.

A group of people holding pints of beer.
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It's illegal to discount booze or do anything that might promote overindulgence, so Happy Hour is right out.

22. You can't use X-rays for shoe fittings in Washington.

An X-ray of a foot.
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Don't worry Dorothy, they fit.

23. You can't wound a fish with a firearm in Wyoming.

A woman holding a gun to a goldfish.
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You literally cannot shoot fish in a barrel in Wyoming, where they have a law against fishing with firearms that specifically says you cannot "wound" the fish with a gun, either.

24. Delaware doesn't like r-rated movies at drive-ins.

A movie drive-in sign.
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The state has a ban on playing R-rated movies specifically at drive-in theaters (because they're outside, maybe?), but it's probably unconstitutional and no one enforces it.

25. Don't try to corrupt public morals in Florida.

Thumb and fingers pulling out a red block that reads "Ethics" out of a stack of blocks.
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Attempting to "corrupt public morals" makes you guilty of a misdemeanor in Florida. How high is the bar here, exactly?

26. You can't live on a boat for more than 30 days in Georgia.

A photo of a house boat.
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That's during a calendar year, which presumably means you could spend 59 legal days crashing on your boat from December to January.

27. Silly string has been banned in Southington, Connecticut since 1996.

Children playing with Silly String.
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No word on whether Serious String is still allowed. Selling or using the silly stuff in public places comes with a $99 fine.

28. Hitting a vending machine is a no-no in Derby, Kansas.

A woman at a vending machine.
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Even if you're really frustrated because you paid for those Cool Ranch Doritos, and you desperately need those Cool Ranch Doritos and... GIMME MY DORITOS!

29. You can't make someone get a microchip in Wisconsin.

A person holding a microchip.
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In Wisconsin, "no person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip." ONLY IN WISCONSIN? Can we take this thing nationally?

30. Billboards are illegal in Hawaii.

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This is probably the best idea.

31. You've gotta keep your hypnotizing indoors in Everett, Washington.

A woman being hypnotized on a couch.
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Planning to mesmerize people? Absolutely do not do it with your storefront signage or out on the street or at your theater's ticket booth.

32. Avoid hunting in cemeteries in Enfield, New Hampshire.

A photo of a foggy graveyard.
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You also can't hop the fence to get in [PDF].

33. People with sexually transmitted diseases can't get married in Nebraska.

A sign welcoming people to Nebraska.
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The law says, "No person who is afflicted with a venereal disease shall marry in this state." As you're probably guessing, that's a tough one to enforce, so if you get a marriage license without being detected, the marriage license still counts.

34. Every tanning bed in Iowa needs a warning sign.

A tanning bed.
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The hazards of using tanning beds must be posted conspicuously next to every single tanning bed.

35. Doors to public buildings in Florida must open outward.

A government building in Texas.
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Which makes sense. If you're running away from an alligator in the library, you don't want to have to stop to pull a door open.

36. Reno, Nevada, doesn't allow people to lie down on sidewalks.

A welcome sign in Reno, Nevada.
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So what's even the point of visiting?

37. you can be fined for leaving your car door open too long in Oregon.

A man with his car door open.
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Sounds silly, but cyclists get why.

38. You also can't throw your urine out of your car there.

Cup of urine.
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Oregon also has a law preventing improper disposal of human waste while you're on the road, so if you're traveling with containers of urine through Oregon, don't toss them out.

39. It's illegal to play dominoes in Alabama on a sunday.

A man playing dominoes.
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You also aren't supposed to hunt, shoot, play cards, or race that day. You also can't promote or engage in a bear wrestling match (any day).

40. Do not molest butterflies in Pacific Grove, California.

A butterfly landing on someone's hand.
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When the monarch butterflies make their annual pilgrimage to town, give them a wide berth. Look with your eyes, not with your hands, people.

41. Emergency medical technicians aren't allowed to help dogs in Massachusetts.

A police dog.
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A bill was put forward in 2019 to allow them to treat police dogs who are injured in the line of duty.

42. You can't sell dog hair in Delaware.

A dog next to a pile of dog hair.
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You can't "recklessly" sell cat hair, either, nor "any product made in whole or in part" by your furry friends' fur.

43. Farmers can't sell pickles to customers at farmers' markets in Connecticut.

A pickle jar.
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It's a myth that a pickle has to bounce to be legally a pickle, but it's not a myth that you can't sell a pickle (bouncing or otherwise) if you're a farmer in Connecticut. Salsa, too. Anything with a pH value at 4.6 or below is forbidden, but there's a bill trying to change that.

44. You can't screech your tires in Derby, Kansas.

Tire marks on the pavement.
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According to code 10.04.200, you can be fined $500 for your tire noise, so drive politely out there.

45. You can't wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a crime in New Jersey.

A bulletproof vest.
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If you're planning to rob a bank, you'll get in double trouble if you're wearing bullet-resistant gear during the stick-up.

46. It's illegal to be drunk on a train in Michigan.

Seats on a train.
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Once that train enters Ohio, shots for everybody.

For more on these weird laws, check out the full video below.

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14 True Crime Songs About Murder and Mayhem

Bob Dylan performs a concert at the Warfield in San Francisco, California, in 1979.
Bob Dylan performs a concert at the Warfield in San Francisco, California, in 1979.
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The phrase “ripped from the headlines” doesn’t just apply to Law & Order episodes and Lifetime movies. Songwriters throughout the history of popular music have drawn inspiration from real-life tales of murder and mayhem to craft their tunes. From old-timey folk ballads to modern-day trap bangers, true crime songs shock and excite us while forcing us to consider the darkness lurking all around. Here are 14 of the best examples.

1. “Nebraska” // Bruce Springsteen

In January 1958, a 19-year-old Nebraska teenager named Charles Starkweather went on an interstate killing spree that left 11 people dead. Along for the ride was his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, whose role in the slayings remains a point of debate. On the title track of his 1982 album Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen sings from the perspective of Starkweather on the electric chair, offering a chilling explanation for his crimes: “Well, sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

2. “Georgia Lee” // Tom Waits

“Why wasn’t god watching?” asks Tom Waits in this 1999 ballad about Georgia Lee Moses, a 12-year-old black girl who was abducted and murdered in Petaluma, California, in 1997. Moses was a middle school dropout from a troubled home, and barely anyone noticed when she went missing. “Georgia Lee did not get any real attention,” Waits told LA Weekly in 1999. “And I wanted to write a song about it.”

3. “Annie Christian” // Prince

Over disorienting synths and a clipped beat, Prince references a handful of true crimes in this 1981 parable about evil in society, which was included on his Controversy album. The titular character—whose name is a play on “antichrist”—is apparently responsible for a string of child murders in Atlanta, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the killing of John Lennon, and even the high-level government corruption unearthed by the FBI’s Abscam investigation.

4. “Stagger Lee” // Lloyd Price

On December 25, 1895, William “Billy” Lyons and his buddy “Stack” Lee Sheldon were knocking back drinks in a St. Louis bar. They began arguing about politics, and Billy snatched the white Stetson off Stack’s head. When Billy refused to give the hat back, Stack shot him dead. The murder made Stack (alternately known as “Stagolee,” “Stack-O-Lee,” “Stack O’Lee,” and “Stagger Lee”) an American folk antihero. He’s been immortalized in hundreds of songs by artists ranging from Ma Rainey to Nick Cave. R&B singer Lloyd Price reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with 1959’s “Stagger Lee,” the most famous telling of this timeless story.

5. “1913 Massacre” // Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie penned this plaintive 1941 folk ballad about the “Italian Hall Disaster” of 1913, which took place at a Christmas party for striking miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan. Someone yelled “Fire!” in the crowded hall, and the resulting stampede killed 73 people, most of them children. It’s unknown who gave the false fire call, but many people—Guthrie included—believe it was an anti-union operative looking to spoil the party.

6. “Suffer Little Children” // The Smiths

Growing up in Manchester, England, in the ‘60s, Steven Patrick Morrissey was haunted by the “Moors Murders,” a gruesome series of child murders perpetrated by couple Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Morrissey name-checks three of the five victims in “Suffer Little Children,” a song about the case featured on the 1984 self-titled debut album by his band The Smiths. Morrissey’s lyrics created a great deal of controversy, but the singer claimed he meant no harm. He even became friendly with Ann West, mother of Lesley Ann Downey, one of the slain children.

7. “Darkness” // Eminem

Depending on your point of view, Eminem either denounces or glorifies gun violence on 2020’s instantly controversial “Darkness.” Eminem raps this novelistic song from the perspective of Stephen Paddock, the mass shooter who killed 58 people at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, before reportedly turning the gun on himself. “You’ll never find a motive, truth is I have no idea,” Em raps. “I am just as stumped, no signs of mental illness.” The music video ends with a message urging fans to vote and help change America’s gun laws.

8. “Brenda’s Got a Baby” // 2Pac

2Pac was moved to write this harrowing 1991 hip-hop classic after reading a newspaper article about a 12-year-old Brooklyn girl who threw her newborn baby into a trash compactor. (Miraculously, the child survived.) In a 1997 interview with The New Yorker, Pac said he considered the song a political statement about poverty, child abuse, drugs, and other issues. “It talked about how the innocent are the ones that get hurt,” he said.

9. “Deep Red Bells” // Neko Case

“He led you to this hiding place,” sings Neko Case to open this 2002 country-noir stunner. The “you,” she explained to The New York Times Magazine in 2009, is one of the young women killed by Gary Ridgway, a.k.a. the “Green River Killer,” throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Ridgway is said to have murdered at least 49 women, many of them prostitutes and runaways. Case—who grew up in Tacoma, Washington, before Ridgway was apprehended—carried a knife with her to school.

10. “Son of Sam” // Dead Boys

For a yearlong stretch beginning in July 1976, New Yorkers lived in fear of the "Son of Sam," a mysterious figure who murdered six people with a .44 caliber revolver and taunted police with handwritten letters. In August 1977, police apprehended the killer, David Berkowitz, who claimed he was given the murderous orders by his neighbor’s dog. (Berkowitz later admitted that story was bogus.) Cleveland-born, New York City-based punk rockers Dead Boys seem to accept Berkowitz's initial explanation for the slayings on their 1978 tune “Son of Sam,” painting the infamous serial killer as a helpless slave (in his own mind, anyway) to demonic forces.

11. “I Don’t Like Mondays” // The Boomtown Rats

On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, a 16-year-old San Diego girl named Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on Grover Cleveland Elementary School, which was located right across the street from her house. She killed two people and injured nine others, eight of them children. Asked why she did it, Spencer told a reporter, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” Upon hearing this, The Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof—the Live Aid guy—dashed off “I Don’t Like Mondays,” a mournful response to the senselessness of it all. The song reached #1 on the U.K. charts.

12. “Wildside” // Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg followed his 1991 chart-topper “Good Vibrations” with “Wildside,” a series of musical vignettes about the sorry state of the nation. He references two real-life crimes that shook his hometown of Boston. First, the murder of a pregnant woman named Carol Stuart by her husband, Charles, who blamed the killing on a fictitious black man in hopes of pocketing the insurance money. Next, the tragic death of 12-year-old Tiffany Moore, who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting.

13. “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” // Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’s 2005 concept album Illinoise references many famous figures from the Prairie State, including serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr., who murdered at least 33 boys and young men in the ‘70s. What’s interesting—and a little unsettling—is how tenderly Stevens sings of the man known as the “Killer Clown.” “I felt insurmountable empathy not with his behavior but with his nature, and there was nothing I could do to get around confessing that, however horrifying that sounds,” Stevens said in a 2005 interview.

14. “Hurricane” // Bob Dylan

In the court of public opinion, Bob Dylan’s epic 1975 song “Hurricane” went a long way toward clearing Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an African American boxer convicted of killing three white people in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. Carter always maintained his innocence, and Dylan’s song blames the racist criminal justice system for jailing a man who “coulda been the champion of the world.” After being released in 1976 and then convicted again in a second trial, Carter was finally freed in 1985, when a federal judge ruled that the prosecution had based its case on “racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure.”

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