“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.”
Horne, who retired earlier this year, said that he kept the file under his desk, “purposefully in his way,” so he wouldn’t forget about it. Over the years, he said, he began to care about Whitt like a son, and was determined to find an answer.
Horne, who was one of the first investigators on the scene when the boy's remains were discovered said, "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."
Earlier this year, Horne delivered Whitt's remains to his family in Ohio and attended the memorial service. "It was a nice service," he said. "Some of his childhood friends attended from school, and that was nice to talk to them and see pictures and hear about the good times that Bobby did have."
In 1998, a grounds crew mowing under a billboard along I-85 in Mebane discovered remains. The only clue as to the identity and gender of the victim were some tattered clothing on the skeleton. An autopsy revealed that the child likely died of strangulation some time in July of 1998.
Since 1998, Bobby had gone unidentified. He was never reported as missing as his extended family had been told that he and his mother, Myong Hwa Cho, had returned to her native South Korea.
Forensic experts created sketches from the skull to try and get hits to identify the child through the national database of missing children but never received any leads.
Last December, while searching the database of Missing and Exploited persons, investigators learned that a woman had been found nude, with binding marks on her wrists along I-85 in South Carolina in May of 1998. An autopsy performed at the time determined that the woman had died from suffocation. South Carolina investigators were able to determine the identity of the woman as Myong Hwa Cho, Bobby's mother.
It was January when her DNA was compared to those of the body found under the billboard, determining that the remains were in fact those of Bobby Whitt.
His father, John Russel Whitt, 57, who is already in federal custody in Kentucky until 2037 on robbery charges, was indicted in May on new charges of murdering his son and concealing a death. Prosecutors have said that additional charges are forthcoming, likely next month relating to the murder of his wife. According to the Sheriff's office, he has confessed to the two killings.
Authorities said they believe that both murders occurred in the Concord area. The murder trials will take place in Orange County, North Carolina. Horne has said that he intends to attend as many hearings as he can.