September 25, 1998. A hot and humid Friday in Mebane, North Carolina. With the sun bearing down, a landscaping crew worked to cut grass next to a billboard near the intersection of interstates 85 and 40. One of the workers noticed something that looked out of place under the billboard. As he approached, he discovered the remains of a child.
Major Tim Horne was one of the first to arrive on scene that day, as an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. For the next 20 years, Horne would work to identify the remains of the child who became known as “The Boy Under The Billboard.” In 2018, a break in the case would lead Horne to solve not only the mystery of the boy under the billboard, but a second murder case, 216 miles away.
In 2018, genetic genealogy consultant Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, helped break open the case. The name may be familiar to you because of her work on the team that helped solve the Golden State Killer Case in 2018.
Detective Horne heard of Rae-Venter’s methodology and reached out to her, asking that she analyze the DNA of the boy under the billboard. Rae-Venter’s work would lead Horne to family members of the “Boy Under the Billboard” and on December 26, 2018 he was able to hear what he had been waiting to hear for 20 years – the boy’s name.
The family was shocked to hear of the murder because they had been told that Bobby’s mother returned to her native South Korea in 1998 and had taken Bobby with her. Within days, Horne would learn that Bobby’s mother, Myoung Hwa Cho, had been murdered and discovered off a South Carolina interstate in May of 1998.
Detective Horne and his team had found Bobby’s mother and helped South Carolina investigators give her a name. They were able to get a confession from the man they believed to be behind the murders – Bobby’s father, John Russell Whitt. Whitt is currently in prison in Kentucky for crimes committed in the late 90s. It’s unclear when he’ll be transported to North Carolina to face charges handed down by a grand jury- charges of murdering his son and concealing his body in July of 1998. Authorities are still working out jurisdiction details in Myoung’s case before charges are sought in her murder.
This month, Tim Horne was able to do something he’s wanted to do for over 20 years. He was able to take Bobby Whitt home.. Horne drove Bobby’s remains from North Carolina to Ohio and attended a small memorial service for Bobby and Myoung.
In 2011, Detective Horne called on Frank Bender for help in the case of “The Boy Under The Billboard”. Bender was a forensic sculptor who had been enlisted to work on cases with the FBI, Scotland Yard and even the television series “America’s Most Wanted”. Bender referred to himself as a recomposer of the decomposed. Bender used DNA and the child’s remains to create a clay model that helped authorities update the image of the child. This would be Frank Bender’s final case. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer while working on the case and he passed away in 2011.
Karen Mintz is a documentary film maker who followed Frank Bender and he worked this case. She’s continued to follow the case and her true crime documentary Does Anyone Know My Name? will have a final chapter when it’s released. The identity of the child and his mother. You can follow updates on the documentary and future release on the Facebook page for the project.
Obituary for Myoung Hwa Whitt and Bobby Whitt. Cahall Funeral Homes, May 2019.
“Dad charged in 1998 ‘Boy Under the Billboard’ Orange County murder case”. CBS 17 News, 14 May 2019
“He said his wife and son moved to South Korea. Decades later, a detective learned the truth”. Washington Post. 6 February 2019.
“Murdered woman found dumped in Spartanburg Co. in 1998 finally ID’d”. WSPA 7 News. 5 February 2019.
“His Last Case: He Brings Back the Dead”. People Magazine. 18 July 2011.
“My Uncle Is An Amazing Con Man”. Rob Williams Anytime From Cincinnati Podcast
“Northern Lights” by Chris Haugen; “Impact Prelude”, “Lost Time”, “Long Road Ahead B” by Kevin MacLeod; “Slow Hammers” by The Mini Vandals Licensed under Creative Commons