CRIME HUNTER: Cop never gave up finding murdered boy's killer

The mystery of the murdered little boy dragged on for 20 years.

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Tim Horne never forgot the kid.

Seasons came and went but still that boy weighed on him like a ton of bricks.

There are some things you can’t unsee, even if you’re a veteran homicide detective.

For Horne, it was the remains of a body decomposing in the fall of 1998.

Maintenance workers found the boy. He was maybe nine or 10. Why would someone kill a kid?

Last week that tragic little boy got his name back.

Cops announced he was Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt. He was born in Michigan,  raised in Ohio and his young life came to a horrible conclusion.

Horne — an investigator for the sheriff’s department in Orange County, North Carolina — wanted to pack it in. But he couldn’t. The veteran cop had a debt to honour.

“This has been my child for 20 years,” he told CNN. “I needed closure also.”

For 20 years, that tragic boy consumed him. An evidence box from the case that was underneath his desk never moved, no matter how many times he smashed into it.

And the detective was there on day one.

Cops didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl at first. The elements had done their worst.

But it was the clothes that told investigators it was a boy.

Cops were against a wall from the first seconds of that terrible discovery. No missing child reports matched that tragic boy lying dead in the morgue.

Despite Horne and his team’s best efforts, they realize to their horror pretty early on that this one was going to go cold.

Cops were in nowheresville on the 1998 cold cases.

Horne became a one-man band desperately seeking the child’s name — and that of the monster who killed him.

Two hundred miles away another body was found. A woman.

Times being as they were, Horne didn’t know about her. She was the little boy’s mom.

Over the ensuing decades, the veteran cop would become despondent. His efforts were leading to nowheresville.

Horne could have packed it in. He chose not to.

Not yet. The kid and a double homicide that reached back to the 1970s saw to that.

“It was unfinished business,” he said. “No matter how long you stay there comes a day when you have to step away.”

But science was catching up. New DNA tests revealed the child was a first-generation Asian-American. One researcher determined the boy had a cousin in Hawaii.

Horne began putting the puzzle together.

Even on his Christmas break he made phone calls.

Social media has made cops’ — and reporters’ — jobs easier. One thing it cannot do is replace a voice on the phone. A knock on the door.

And on Boxing Day, Horne got the call he had been praying for.

It was five days until retirement and he had the boy’s name: Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt. He was 10.

Turned out the boy’s mom, Myoung Hwa Cho, had also disappeared. She had been left naked and strangled to death.

His mother was also unidentified.

As the clock ticked towards his career finish line, Horne worked his remaining vacation time. DNA confirmed the woman was the boy’s mother.

“I always felt like it would be solved and this is a real victory for an entire team of people who have worked these cases,” Horne told People.

Cho’s  husband — who has not been identified — told relatives years ago she had taken the boy back to her native South Korea. And that was that.

He’s the primo suspect and police claim he’s copped to the murders. He’s doing a 20-year jolt in federal prison on another beef.

For Horne, the marathon towards the justice finish line is over except for his expected testimony at the killer’s trial.

“You almost want to collapse,” Horne told CNN.

As for the unnamed killer’s family, they’re devastated too.

“We don’t think we can ever forgive our brother for what he did. Bobby was the sweetest, kindest, and funniest little boy,” they said in a statement.

“And to think of that being snuffed out brings a chill to our hearts.”

Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt and his mom in happier times. Living and loving.

EXECUTED KILLER FINGERED IN MURDER

Jerry McFadden called himself “Animal.”

Rightly so.

He’d been jailed in Texas on three separate rape charges.

Texas eventually took care of the Animal in the Lone Star state’s inimitable way: They strapped him to a gurney in 1999 and snuffed his life out with poison.

 

Jerry “The Animal” McFadden, executed for a Texas sex murder in 1999 has now been linked to an Oregon murder.

Now, another homicide has been pinned on the departed Animal.

Anna Marie Hlavka, 20, was murdered and sexually assaulted in Portland, Oregon in 1979.

DNA technology has proven that she was a victim of McFadden as well.

Too bad he can’t be executed twice.

bhunter@postmedia.com

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