Bobby Whitt

‘Boy under the billboard’: Dad charged with son’s murder 20 years after his skeletal remains were found

The father of a boy found dead on the side of a highway in September 1998 was criminally charged Monday, months after he allegedly confessed to his son’s unsolved murder.

WRAL reported that an Orange County grand jury indicted John Russell Whitt, 57, on charges of murder and concealing a death in connection with the death of his son, Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt, 10. Whitt’s has been incarcerated in a Kentucky prison since the 90s for an unrelated federal gun charge and isn’t eligible for parole until 2037.

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The Raleigh News & Observer reported that Robert’s skeletal remains were found under a billboard near I-85 in Orange County in September 1998. His mother, Myoung Hwa Cho, was found naked along I-85 Spartanburg County, South Carolina, in May 1998. Both bodies remain unidentified until recently; the boy’s body was said to be so decomposed that investigators initially couldn’t discern its gender.

Authorities said Cho and Robert were believed to have left Ohio for Cho’s native South Korea in 1998, possibly explaining why they were never reported missing. An autopsy revealed that Robert was strangled in July 1998 while Cho had been suffocated before she was dumped along the highway.

Orange County Sheriff’s investigator Tim Horne previously 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, determined that the 10-year-old’s parents were white and Asian. Rae-Venter reportedly then used DNA ancestry services and discovered that a first cousin of one of the boy’s parents lived in Hawaii.

Late last year, a relative reportedly reached out to authorities and provided them with additional information regarding the unsolved case.

Horne said the pair’s positive identifications prompted John to confess to the murders in February.

This week, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said it’s unclear when John will be extradited to North Carolina to face charges, adding that he’s believed to have carried out the murders in Concord.

“In this case, for example, it’s the State of North Carolina against John Whitt. It’s not Orange County v. John Whitt. So, he could be indicted here in Orange County, and because his son’s body was concealed here and our sheriff’s office did the entire investigation, we thought this was the appropriate venue to bring the case against him for the death of his son,” he said, according to WTVD.

John hasn’t been criminally charged in connection with his wife’s slaying. Woddall mentioned that investigators believe she was killed in North Carolina before her remains were dumped in South Carolina. He said authorities are currently working to determine which jurisdiction will prosecute John for his wife’s murder.

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[Featured Image: Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt/National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]