John Russell Whitt Charged with Murder After Two Decades
August 27, 2019
Eight year old Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt and his mother, forty four year old South Korean national, Myoung Hwa Cho, went missing from Concord, North Carolina in 1998. Myoung Hwa Cho disappeared in May, followed by her son Bobby just over two months later.
Cho’s husband, John Russell Whitt, told friends and family that she had left him and taken her son back to South Korea, because of this, extended family members didn’t look for them and they were never officially reported missing.
Bobby’s cousins missed him and over the years they often wondered what had become of the kind and sweet little boy they used to know. They attempted to reach out to him over social media, hoping to one day reconnect, but Bobby had no online presence. They assumed that his family in South Korea had convinced him to cut off communication with his family in the U.S, but the truth was far more sinister.
On May 13th, just one day after Myoung went missing, the naked body of an Asian female estimated to be between thirty to forty five was found cruelly discarded behind by the side of the major Southeastern interstate highway of Interstate 85 in the town of Spartanburg, South Carolina. She was found naked and an autopsy would later reveal the cause of death to be suffocation. It was clear from simply looking at the body that at some point she had been bound at the wrists and strangled with a ligature.
Since Cho was not considered a missing person at the time, no connection was made between her sudden disappearance and the discovery of a body matching her description. The Jane Doe hadn’t been deceased long before she was discovered by the side of the road and an accurate portrayal of her based on a postmortem photograph was printed on posters and circulated locally by The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Unfortunately the public would not recognize the woman and she would lay unidentified for over two decades.
Several months later in September that same year, a team of lawn maintenance workers in Mebane, North Carolina found the skeletal remains of a male child under a billboard. A tractor operator noticed a small white skull sitting in the grass under a billboard just off Industrial Drive and soon realized that it was the remains of a small child. The remains were clad in khaki shorts with money in the pocket. Examination revealed that “Billboard Doe” had been strangled to death earlier that summer and was most likely killed elsewhere before being transported to the industrial area to be discarded. It was estimated that he was murdered sometime around the end of July.
Composites and busts of what the child may have looked like were generated and profiles on missing person’s websites were created, but no one could identify the boy under the billboard. The child’s case received more attention than that of the bound Jane Doe found on I-86 but his remains also sat unidentified in a box in the office of the county medical examiner.
Major Tim Horne, an original investigator in the case back in the early nineties, told ABC11 that he deliberately stored the unidentified child’s file under his desk in a position that would inconvenient him so he didn’t forget him.
"Every time I turned, it hit my leg. I did this so the little boy couldn't be forgotten." He told the media outlet.
Originally Billboard Doe was thought to be Hispanic, but two decades later it was determined that he was first generation Caucasian and Southeast Asian and had grown up in the American South.
As with a lot of older cases, the boy’s identity was discovered by running his DNA through a database, leading investigators to a close relative who was able to provide more information on the deceased child. The family member filled in the blanks for investigators and over two decades later Billboard Doe was finally identified as Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt.
Because of the original confusion over the child’s race he was never connected to the body of the naked Asian female discovered over 200 miles away just several months before. For over 21 years nobody was aware of the identity of the mother and son or that they were connected in any way. Friends and family of the Whitt’s were under the impression that Myoung and Bobby were alive and well on the other side of the globe, which had, unfortunately, never been the case. Cho’s family likely believed she was still in the U.S but had fell out of contact.
After Bobby was identified it wasn’t long before his mother was officially confirmed to be the bound Doe found just off I-86 that same year. Bobby’s family had always felt uneasy with the story that she had taken Bobby and left without so much as a goodbye and were devastated and a state of shock to find out that they had both been murdered.
Suspicion quickly fell on Cho’s husband and the father of her child who had been incarcerated in a Kentucky prison since 1999 on armed bank larceny charges for robbing ATM users and intimidating them with a weapon. John Russell Whitt, now 57, has recently been charged with the 1998 murder of his son and concealing a death. He is currently awaiting trial at a jail in North Carolina. Investigators working the case believe Whitt also murdered his wife however he has not yet been charged.