A dogged investigator made sure the ‘Boy under the Billboard’ was not forgotten
More than 20 years after a young boy’s skeleton was found beneath an Orange County billboard, the child’s father made his first appearance in court, charged in his son’s death.
John Russell Whitt appeared in Orange County court Monday on murder and another charge. He was appointed an attorney, and a judge agreed to hold him on the charges without bail.
Whitt is already serving a sentence in federal prison on unrelated charges.
Assistant District Attorney Anna Orr said she expects a second charge of murder to follow in Orange County in the next month or so.
Investigators think Whitt killed his wife, Myoung Hwa Cho, and their son, Bobby, and dumped their bodies along Interstate 85.
Cho, whose body was found in May 1998 in Spartanburg South Carolina, was suffocated, according to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
Bobby died from strangulation, probably in July 1998, an autopsy states.
Investigators think the murders took place in Cabarrus County, Orr said.
“The state does intend to bring further charges regarding a second count of first-degree murder regarding his wife,” Orr said during Monday morning’s hearing.
After the hearing, Orr said Whitt could be indicted for Cho’s killing in September.
Boy’s identity was a mystery
In May, an Orange County grand jury indicted Whitt on charges of first-degree murder and concealment of death in the killing of his son, Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt, according to court documents. The Sheriff’s Office has said he has confessed to the two killings.
In 1998, Bobby’s clothing was the only clue the decomposed body was male, Horne told The N&O in a February interview.
A family member thought he and Cho had returned to her native South Korea, and because he was never reported missing, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) database had no record of him.
For years, the roughly 10-year-old boy’s identity remained a mystery, despite widespread news coverage and 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.
Whitt has been in federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, for robbing people at ATM machines and carrying a weapon in the commission of the crimes.
He is scheduled to be released on those charges in 2037, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.