Father charged with cold-case murder of boy found under billboard
Nearly 20 years after a young boy’s skeleton was found under an Orange County billboard, the child’s father has been charged with murder.
An Orange County grand jury indicted John Russell Whitt, 57, on charges of first-degree murder and concealment of death Monday morning in the killing of his son, Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt, according to court documents.
For years, the roughly 10-year-old boy’s identity remained a mystery, despite national and international media attention and hundreds of people across multiple agencies working on the case, The News & Observer has reported.
A break in the case followed Orange County Investigator Tim Horne connecting with a genetic genealogy consultant, Barbara Rae-Venter, who had helped solve the Golden State Killer case. Horne has since retired.
Rae-Venter said DNA showed Bobby was a first-generation child of Asian and white parents. When she compared the results to online DNA ancestry services, she found a possible first cousin of Bobby’s parent in Hawaii, Horne told The News & Observer in February.
Horne contacted the relative, who provided Bobby’s name and other information.
Investigators said they were then able to piece together a scenario in which Whitt killed Bobby and his wife, Myoung Hwa Cho, and dumped their bodies along Interstate 85.
Charges in Cho’s death could follow, Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said. He said he believes the killings occurred in Concord, North Carolina.
Bobby died from strangulation, probably in July 1998, an autopsy states.
Cho, whose body was found in May 1998 in Spartanburg South Carolina, was suffocated, according to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
In February, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told The News & Observer the boy’s father had recently confessed to both murders.
Whitt is in federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, for robbing people at ATM machines and carrying a weapon the commission of the crimes. He is scheduled to be released in 2037, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In coming weeks, Whitt will likely be brought to Orange County, where he will be served the indictment and have an attorney appointed.