Advanced DNA Technology Finally Helps Identify Boy’s Remains Found Under Billboard In 1998

Facebook: Orange County Sheriff's Office

In September 1998, a maintenance crew stumbled upon the remains of a young boy under a billboard in Orange County, North Carolina.

The police were immediately notified and responded to the scene, but for years were unable to identify the boy or make progress on the case.

Now however, with the use of new advanced DNA technology, authorities have finally given the boy a name.

And it gives one Ohio family closure at last.

The young man was Robert “Bobby” Whitt from Ohio, born January 7, 1988.

This solve has been long-in-coming.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office posted a history of their work on the case on Facebook:

“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 wide-spread dissemination of these reconstructions, no one was able to identify the child at that time.”

“Major Tim Horne who worked the case from the day the remains were found commented, ‘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 advanced, the remains were reanalyzed, yielding new information and possible leads.”

With new technology came new leads:

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office maintained a close collaborative effort over the last 20 years to bring resolution to this case. As a direct result, additional cutting-edge DNA techniques and analysis have been applied over the past few years. Ancestry DNA provided information that the child was first-generation, biracial Caucasian and Asian. DNA results from Parabon also supplied additional probabilities that assisted with the final facial reconstruction produced by NCMEC.

Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, genetic genealogy consultant credited with assisting authorities to solve the Golden State Killer case, reviewed the ancestry DNA, leading to the identification of a close relative of the child. Investigators then contacted various members of the child’s genetic family tree. At 1:44 p.m. on December 26, 2018, a member of Bobby’s immediate family responded to a voicemail left by investigators. The close family member provided the child’s name and critical details related to the case. Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood effused, ‘This case is an example of dogged determination of investigators who refused to give up. The efforts of Major Tim Horne and the entire investigation division were exemplary.'”

Finally, the officers made a breakthrough:

“Based on information gathered from the family, investigators determined a strong possibility existed that the child’s mother had also been killed during the same time period. With the assistance of NCMEC, an unidentified female matching the search criteria was located in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Contact was made with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, and the DNA of the victims were compared. The two were confirmed to be mother and son.”

Twitter was relieved to hear Bobby Whitt would finally be getting the justice he deserved.

Whitt’s tale is a heartbreaking one…but will perhaps have a happy ending.

Social media users were also grateful to Detective Horne, who dedicated a large swath of his career to identifying and making justice for the deceased young man.

It seems Bobby’s story is close to being over.

Sheriff Blackwood stated:

“Formal charging of the suspect will begin once jurisdictional issues are addressed. The suspect does not pose any additional threat to the communities. He is in long-term incarceration in a federal facility on unrelated charges.”

“With technology what it is today, crimes that have gone unsolved before are now ripe for resolution.”


Written by Collin Gossel

Collin Gossel is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, New York, but there are nights when he looks up at the stars and wistfully thinks to himself “there’s got to be more out there…” You can catch Collin improvising new musicals every Tuesday night at the Magnet Theater’s Musical Megawatt, or follow his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @CollinGossel.--