Spartanburg, SC (FOX Carolina) - Tuesday, deputies with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office says advances in forensic science have led them with the help of other agencies to solve a 20-year-old cold case.
Deputies say on May 13, 1998, the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office responded to Causal Drive off North Blackstock Road in regards to the discovery of a deceased female.
Upon arrival, deputies say they discovered a nude female in the woods who appeared to be of Asian descent with ligature marks around her wrists. An autopsy conducted determined the unidentified female died from suffocation, and the coroner ruled the death a homicide.
Deputies say after exhausting all leads for nearly two decades, the female remained unidentified.
But in December of 2018, investigators with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office says the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Hillsborough, NC notified them that their agency had an open investigation where they had located a deceased male juvenile about four months after the unidentified adult female was discovered.
The sheriff's office said that Orange County contacted them because the coroner had entered information into NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Person System.
According to the sheriff's office, the child found in North Carolina was badly decomposed, and his death was suspected to also be a homicide. Deputies say both victims were found off frontage roads of Interstate 85.
Deputies say forensic science led them to determine the child was also of Asian decent, and utilizing ancestral DNA, Orange County was able to start contacting possible members of the victim's family tree, and eventually found someone who provided possible names of both victims.
In January of 2019, DNA of both victims was compared, and it was determined that the woman killed in South Carolina, identified by fingerprints with the help of the Korean National Police and INTERPOL as Myoung Hwa Cho, was the mother of the North Carolina victim, identified by the Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, as 10-year-old Robert "Bobby" Adam Whitt.
Major Tim Horne of Orange County Sheriff's office told media about the case that he had worked with the ten year old boy. The case officially broke on Thursday, which was Major Horne's last day. He retired February 1st, with the biggest case of his career finally being solved.
Deputies with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office say that with both victims identified, investigators were led to Cho's husband and Whitt's father who is currently serving federal time for unrelated convictions.
Horne says he had just become a member of the homicide team in 1997 and something about this little boy stayed with him over the years.
Horne says he kept the case box underneath his desk for all of those years so that his leg would bump it every time he moved so he would never forget the boy.
“Here’s this boy who was 10 years old. Always going to stay 10. Meanwhile I have a son of my own who is growing up, passing that age. Bobby was my son. I had to fight for him.”
Horne said he was so moved by the case he called the family of the deceased mom and son, and will be personally delivering the remains to them sometime in the next month. The boy will be cremated.
According to deputies, the husband had been interviewed by investigators from both Spartanburg County and Orange County, who say last week he confessed to the murder of both victims within several months of each other in 1998.
Deputies say at this time, it does not appear that either homicide occurred in Spartanburg County or Orange County 20 years ago, so at this time the suspect's ID is being withheld until that can be determined and a prosecutorial decision can be made.
Coroner Rusty Clevenger took the time to recognize cold case investigator Rick Ellis and his contributions to the case saying he volunteered his time at no cost to Spartanburg County and his work was instrumental in the resolution of both these cases. Clevenger said:
After no new leads were formulated, in 2015, cold case investigator Rick Ellis asked News agencies for help regarding a new Artist rendering that was offered to ask for the public’s help in identifying the unknown Asian decent woman. In 2015, Investigator Ellis also directed more DNA testing be performed by the University of North Texas to formulate a better DNA profile that could be entered into NDIS. The DNA was then entered nationally for periodic searches for comparison.
The comparison request for our unknown female to the child referred to in N.C. is a direct result to tenacious investigating by N.C. and S.C. agencies by entering the best DNA samples possible.
Clevenger also commended both the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Spartanburg County Sheriff's office for their investigation.
The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office thanked the Coroner’s Office, the Greenville office of Homeland Security, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for their invaluable assistance in bringing closure to this tragic incident.