Authorities have identified the skeletal remains of a boy who was found under a North Carolina billboard in September 1998—cracking a case which they’re now treating as a double homicide.
Up until recently, the body of a young boy found near I-85 in Orange County was called John “Mebane” Doe, after the city he was found in. Investigators have publicly identified the remains as belonging to 10-year-old Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt, revealing that his father likely killed him and his mother, according to WTVD.
Advances in DNA technology allowed investigators to identify remains that have been unknown for more than 20 years. Initially, investigators had little to go on as Whitt’s body was so decomposed that they couldn’t discern his gender, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
Orange County Sheriff’s investigator Tim Horne told the newspaper that a break in the case came when Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogy consultant who helped solve the Golden State Killer case, was able to determine that Whitt’s parents were white and Asian. Rae-Venter reportedly then used DNA ancestry services and discovered that a first-cousin of one of Whitt’s parents lived in Hawaii.
KGO reported that a close relative reached out to police in late December, providing them with crucial information related to the unsolved case.
“It took 20 years to finally get the name to be able to get off of ‘go’ where we had been stuck,” Horne told the News & Observer. “Once we were able to, things moved very rapidly, and I worked, as did a number of other people, until my very last day.”
SUCCESSFUL IDENTIFICATION! Robert "Bobby" Whitt has his name back!
— NCMEC (@MissingKids) February 5, 2019
Horne said Whitt and his mother, Myoung Hwa Cho, left Ohio in 1998 and their family thought they had moved to Cho’s native country of South Korea. Meanwhile, Cho’s body—which was found along I-85 Spartanburg County in May 1998—also remained unidentified.
An autopsy revealed that Whitt was strangled in April 1998 while Cho had been suffocated before she was dumped along the highway.
Local police reportedly elicited help from INTERPOL and the Korean National Police to positively identify Cho.
Horne, who said he delayed his retirement to solve this case, alleged Whitt’s father confessed to killing his son and wife in light of their positive identifications. Reports indicated that the unnamed man has been jailed on an unrelated federal gun charge since the 90s. The News & Observer reported that he’s isn’t eligible for parole until 2037.
Orange County police said it’s clear that the murders transpired elsewhere. As a result, they’re not releasing the man’s name “until the jurisdictional question can be answered,” according to WTVD.
Authorities haven’t released a motive in the 1998 murders.
Cho’s family lamented the mother and son’s deaths and thanked law enforcement for their tireless work in the following statement issued to the news station:
“Our hearts are broken into a million pieces. We had no idea that Bobby and Myong Hwa were no longer with us and had not been for a very long time. It came as a total shock to us when we spoke to Major Horne. Our world fell apart. We don’t think we can ever forgive our brother for what he did. Bobby was the sweetest, kindest, and funniest little boy. […] Now we need to bring him and his Mother home where they belong and bury them next to his Grandmother who adored him. We would like to thank the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and most especially Major Tim Horne for his 20 plus years of of work and never giving up hope and finding Bobby’s Family. The Family would like this time for privacy and to grieve.”
[Featured Image: Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt/National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]