MEBANE, N.C. (WNCN) — After more than 20 years an Orange County cold case has been solved.
A little boy’s body was found under a billboard in Mebane in 1998.
Since that time investigators have been trying to identify the child.
Now we know his name was Bobby Whitt, and his mother’s body was found in South Carolina around the same time.
After more than 20 years working the case it was a “23 and Me” DNA test that led Maj. Tim Horne to track down Whitt’s family just days after retiring from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was September 25th, 1998,” said Maj. Tim Horne. “A hot September afternoon, shortly after lunchtime we got the call.”
It’s a case that haunted Horne for more than two decades.
“I’ve driven past billboard hundreds of times,” said Horne. “Every time I drive by I look, and it just brings it all back. You recall everything that happened that day. Is the killer still out there? Have they come back? Are they transient?”
Underneath that billboard were the remains of a small boy, but for years that was all Horne had to go off.
“I left the case file under my desk where it was in my way,” said Horne. “Every time I turned I hit it with my leg. I did that intentionally to where I couldn’t forget it.”
Working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children they came up with a sketch, but it was a simple “23 and Me” DNA test that broke the case wide open.
“On December 26th at 1:44 p.m. I got the phone call from the family member that said his name was Bobby Whitt,” said Horne.
Whitt’s mother, Hyoung Hwa Cho, was also killed in 1998 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
According to our reporting partners at WSPA, Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Deputies got a confession from the child’s father who is currently in federal prison until 2037 on unrelated crimes.
“I always had a strong sense it would be solved,” said Maj. Horne. I honestly didn’t know that I would be the one that got to participate in that.”
After spending the last 20 years believing Whitt and his mother had gone back to South Korea, the family now has closure.
“There’s certainly relief that you can help the family have some closure, and at least reunite the remains with their family so they have a place to grieve,” said Horne.
Horne said he plans to personally deliver Whitt’s remains to his family in Ohio.
The suspect has yet to be charged in this case until jurisdiction issues between North Carolina and South Carolina can be ironed out.