Father charged in death of boy whose remains were found under Mebane billboard in 1998

May 13, 2019

The father of a boy whose remains were found under a highway billboard two decades ago was charged Monday in his death.

An Orange County grand jury indicted John Russell Whitt on charges of murder and concealing a death.

Whitt, 57, is in federal prison in Kentucky on robbery charges, and Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said it’s unclear when he will be brought to North Carolina to face the charges.

The boy’s remains were found by a grass-cutting crew under a billboard off Interstate 85 in Mebane in September 1998, and his identity remained a mystery until early this year, when the Orange County Sheriff’s Office used DNA to identify him as Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt, who was born Jan. 7, 1988.

Investigators had earlier reconstructed the boy’s face from his skull and produced sketches of what he probably looked like, but they never got any matches on national databases of missing children.

After seeing information in the National Missing and Unidentified Person System about a woman’s body that had been found off I-85 in South Carolina in May 1998, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office contacted authorities in Spartanburg County, S.C., in December about a possible connection between the cases.

The woman’s body was found naked with binding marks on her wrists. An autopsy performed in 1998 determined that she had been suffocated.

South Carolina investigators were able to identify the woman as Myong Hwa Cho, and a DNA comparison in January confirmed that she was the mother of the boy.

Orange County investigators used leads from DNA results to find close relatives, who said they had always been told that Cho had returned to her native South Korea with her son.

“We believe that both murders occurred in Concord,” Woodall said. “However, in this case, for example, it’s the State of north Carolina against John Whitt. It’s not Orange County v. John Whitt. So, he could be indicted here in Orange County, and because his son’s body was concealed here and our sheriff’s office did the entire investigation, we thought this was the appropriate venue to bring the case against him for the death of his son.”

Authorities “have to do a little bit more work on where the proper and the best venue” for pursuing a murder charge against Whitt in Cho’s death, Woodall said, noting that investigators believe she was killed in North Carolina and her body dumped in South Carolina.

The indictment alleges Bobby was killed on or about July 29, 1998.

“I’m glad that it’s finally all coming to an end. It’s closure for my family,” said Natalie Mosteller, Bobby’s cousin.

Mosteller said no one in her family plans to attend any court hearings in North Carolina because they want nothing to do with her uncle.

“He does not deserve to see anyone in our family ever again,” she said. “The thing that I want to see the most is the proper justice being served. My uncle has been in a minimum-security prison for a long time. He’s been living a nice, cushy life. I want to see him get exactly what he deserves.”

Enough money was raised through a GoFundMe campaign to cremate the mother’s and son’s remains and buy them grave markers, Mosteller said. An investigator will deliver the remains to the family in Ohio on Friday, and a private service will be held Saturday, she said.

“The thing that I’m going to miss the most – before we knew this – was that I always had hope that I would eventually someday find Bobby and Myong on social media or something like that,” she said. “Now, not only am I mourning the loss of my aunt and my cousin, but I’m also mourning the loss of that hope.”