Modern technology makes it pretty difficult for a person to drop off the face of the Earth. We leave such large digital footprints everywhere we go that if you suddenly stop tweeting or Facebooking, a lot of folks are going to notice. That wasn't always the case.
As recently as the 1990s, vanishing forever used to be as simple as leaving your hometown without telling anyone or hiding in your boyfriend's closet, resulting in a whole mess of confusion when you showed up again years later, completely oblivious to how everyone thought you were totally dead, and may or may not have replaced you with an entirely different person. What we're trying to say is that missing persons cases used to get super weird.
A "Missing" Child Is Mistakenly Taken Away From His Mother And Given To The Wrong Family
Dunbar Family Collection
In 1912, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar vanished during a trip with his wealthy family at Swayze Lake in Louisiana, and the nation lost its fucking mind. Hundreds of volunteer rescuers scoured the swamp, dissecting alligators and dynamiting the water in hopes of uncovering little Bobby's body, but failed to turn anything up. Thankfully, eight months later, the Dunbar family received some shockingly good news: A child resembling Bobby had been found in Mississippi, travelling in the company of a drifter named William Cantwell Winters.
Dunbar Family Collection
Back in the days when not having a mustache made people suspect you were a pedophile.
Winters claimed the boy was his nephew, Bruce, the son of his brother and a family servant named Julia Anderson. However, the Dunbar family became convinced that Bruce was their missing Bobby. He had a burn scar on his left foot, just like Bobby, as well as a similar mole. And really, don't all of us have nothing but vague ideas of what our immediate family looks like, save for a few distinguishing marks?
Julia Anderson, for her part, stubbornly insisted that Bruce was her son. Historically, disputes over the parenthood of a child are resolved using empirical evidence or, like, proving one of the alleged parents is really a child-stealing robot or something. But in the case of "wealthy, well-respected family v. unwed servant woman," the court skipped the whole "evidence" thing and awarded custody of the boy to the Dunbars.
The Day Book
Many reporters invoked King Solomon, because back then,
"maybe hack the kid in two" was legitimate, responsible journalism.