Father on Trial 21 Years After Son’s Remains Found Under Billboard

August 13, 2019 Updated: August 13, 2019

A father appeared in court for allegedly murdering his son 21 years after the boy’s body was found under a billboard in North Carolina.

A crew cutting grass found the body under a billboard off I-85 in Mebane in 1998. They alerted authorities when they saw a skull near the woods, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release earlier this year.

The body remained unidentified until this year when a DNA test showed that it was Robert Adam Whitt. He was aged 10 when he vanished in 1998 along with his mother, Myong Hwa Cho.

A naked woman, later identified as the boy’s mother was discovered in South Carolina.

According to an indictment obtained by WRAL, father John Whitt killed the boy, known as Bobby, on or around July 29, 1998. Whitt was already in prison on robbery charges, so he is unable to post bond. Whitt appeared in court on Aug. 12.

Whitt is expected to be charged in the murder of Cho. Relatives said they were told the woman had returned to South Korea, where she was born when she disappeared.

“The state does intend to bring further charges regarding a second count of first-degree murder regarding his wife,” Assistant District Attorney Anna Orr said during Monday morning’s hearing, reported the Herald Sun, noting the indictment could come in September.

Whitt was already scheduled to be held on the robbery charges until 2037.

Tim Horne, who is retired but worked on the boy’s killing from the start until the boy was identified, was in court this week to witness the proceedings.

“I’ve waited 20-plus years for this moment—to start the ball rolling officially. That’s very rewarding to see it move forward, both for me and the family. I’ve been in communication with the family as well, and they were very appreciative of the efforts and happy that we’re going forward,” Horne said.

No family members were in court but Natalie Mosteller, Bobby’s cousin, previously told WRAL: “I’m glad that it’s finally all coming to an end. It’s closure for my family.”

“He does not deserve to see anyone in our family ever again,” she added. “The thing that I want to see the most is the proper justice being served. My uncle has been in a minimum-security prison for a long time. He’s been living a nice, cushy life. I want to see him get exactly what he deserves.”

The sheriff’s office said in the statement that officers tried finding the boy’s identity throughout the years, but nothing came through.

“No matches were found in computer databases of children reported missing throughout the country, which hampered the investigation. Media attention generated few leads over the two decades since the remains were located,” it stated.

“A multi-discipline forensic approach was employed in this case. Dr. Douglas Ubelaker of the Smithsonian prepared a rendering of the boy early in the investigation. Later, famed forensic sculptor Frank Bender who featured on America’s Most Wanted, also created a bust of the child. Despite widespread dissemination of these reconstructions, no one was able to identify the child at that time.”

Horne said that he kept the file under his desk, “purposefully in his way,” so he wouldn’t forget about it.

Newly-found DNA techniques helped find the boy’s identity, including building his identity through ancestry results.

Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogy consultant credited with assisting authorities to solve the Golden State Killer case, reviewed the ancestry DNA and identified a close relative of the child. That family member provided the boy’s name and other critical details. That identification led to the identification of the woman who was found dead as Cho, the boy’s mother.

“This case is an example of dogged determination of investigators who refused to give up,” said Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood. “The efforts of Major Tim Horne and the entire investigation division were exemplary.”

“With technology what it is today, crimes that have gone unsolved before are now ripe for resolution,” he added.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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