MEBANE, N.C. (WNCN) — The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has identified the remains of a murdered child that was located under a billboard in Mebane in 1998, according to officials.
Using the latest DNA technology, the sheriff’s office was able to positively identify that child as Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt. Whitt was born on Jan. 7, 1988 in Michigan and raised in Ohio, officials said.
Whitt’s mother has been identified as Myoung Hwa Cho, whose body was found behind a pile of debris on Casual Drive in Spartanburg County, South Carolina in May 1998.
DNA from Cho and Whitt were compared and it was determined they were mother and child.
Cho was identified with fingerprints with help from the Korean National Police and INTERPOL, according to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
The victims’ identifications led investigators to Cho’s husband, also the child’s father, WSPA reports.
Deputies said he confessed to murdering the victims within several months of each other in 1998. The suspect is currently serving time for unrelated crimes.
His name has not been released as of Tuesday morning.
Authorities said he will be charged after jurisdictional questions are resolved and prosecutors make a decision.
Investigators do not believe either victim was murdered in Spartanburg County or Orange County.
Whitt’s body was located by a lawn maintenance crew under a billboard on Industrial Drive near Interstate 85 on Sept. 25, 1998, the sheriff’s office said. The crew found a skull at the edge of the wood line when they were mowing in the area.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and found decomposed human remains, later identified as that of a child.
No matches were found using available databases of children reported missing across the country.
“A multi-discipline forensic approach was employed in this case. Dr. Douglas Ubelaker of the Smithsonian prepared a rendering of the boy early in the investigation. Later, famed forensic sculptor Frank Bender, featured on America’s Most Wanted, also created a bust of the child. Despite widespread dissemination of these reconstructions, no one was able to identify the child at that time,” authorities said in a press release.
Maj. Tim Horne worked the case from the day the body was found.
Upon positive identification of the boy, he said, “I always kept the case file box under my desk, where it was purposefully in my way. Every time I turned, I hit it with my leg. I did this so the little boy couldn’t be forgotten.”
As technology changed, the remains continued to be analyzed in hopes of finding a positive identification.
Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogy consultant who assisted in the solving the Golden State Killer case was able to identify a close relative of the child using ancestry DNA, the sheriff’s office said.
Investigators then contacted various members of the child’s genetic family tree.
At 1:44 p.m. on Dec. 26, 2018, a member of Bobby’s family responded to a voicemail left by investigators, according to the sheriff’s office. That family member was able to provide the boy’s name and “critical details related to the case,” officials said.
“This case is an example of dogged determination of investigators who refused to give up. The efforts of Maj. Tim Horne and the entire investigation division were exemplary,” said Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood.
Based on the information gathered from the family, investigators were able to determine “a strong possibility…that the child’s mother had also been killed during the same time period.”
An unidentified female matching the search criteria was located in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
Officials contacted the sheriff’s office there, and the DNA of the victims was compared. The two were confirmed to be mother and son, the sheriff’s office said.
A suspect in the case is expected to be charged once jurisdictional issues are resolved, officials said.
The suspect is currently incarcerated in federal prison on unrelated charges.
“With technology what it is today, crimes that have gone unsolved before are now ripe for resolution,” Blackwood said.
The family released a written statement regarding the discovery:
Our hearts are broken into a million pieces. We had no idea that Bobby and Myong Hwa were no longer with us and had not been for a very long time.
It came as a total shock to us when we spoke to Major Horne. Our world fell apart.
We don’t think we can ever forgive our brother for what he did.
Bobby was the sweetest, kindest, and funniest little boy. He always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. And to think of that being snuffed out brings a chill to our hearts.
Our brother told us Bobby’s Mother, Myong took him back to Korea to raise him and we believed him.
Now we need to bring him and his Mother home where they belong and bury them next to his Grandmother who adored him.
We would like to thank the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and most especially Major Tim Horne for his 20 plus years of of work and never giving up hope and finding Bobby’s Family.
The Family would like this time for privacy and to grieve.”