Murder charges have been filed against a 71-year-old Seattle man who is accused of a 1957 slaying of a girl he allegedly abducted from DeKalb County, officials said today.
Maria Ridulph, 7, went missing on Dec. 3, 1957 after she was last seen playing with her friend near their homes in Sycamore. Her skeletal remains were found on April 26, 1958 in Jo Daviess County, officials said.
Jack Daniel McCullough, now 71, was a suspect at the time of her abduction and murder. But the case turned cold when McCullough joined the military and changed his name, according to the DeKalb County state's attorney's office. McCullough also uses the name John Tessier, officials said.
An arrest warrant containing a $3 million bail was issued for McCullough, who is now in the custody of King County Jail in Seattle and awaiting extradition, officials said.
Maria's brother, Charles Ridulph, spoke briefly today outside his Sycamore home.
"We didn't know until last night," said Ridulph. "My sisters and I are shocked. We have to re-live this now."
Ridulph said his daughter told him today that she was sad her grandparents were not here to see the arrest, but he said he was glad they weren't.
"They don't have to live through this," he said. "We struggled with this so long but now it is happening all over again."
Sycamore Police Chief Donald Thomas said a two-year probe led by Illinois State Police with assistance from the Sycamore and Seattle police departments culminated in Friday’s murder charges.
“This is a very quiet, safe town and this obviously is still quite remembered,” he said.
Thomas said McCullough, who was born with the surname Tessier, lived in Sycamore in 1957, about two blocks from Maria's family. Investigators at the time believed the killer was named "Johnny," but McCullough had an alibi, so they didn't pursue him as a suspect.
Recently, however, new information came to light that implicated McCullough, Thomas said.
Thomas said McCullough as a teen claimed he had been on a train traveling from Rockford to Chicago.
His alibi fell apart in 2010 when a former girlfriend came forward to report she had seen the train ticket decades ago and it was unused and unstamped, said Thomas, citing information contained in a warrant authorities obtained to search the suspect’s Seattle home.
That unused train ticket, dated the same time that Maria vanished, led authorities to refocus their attention on McCullough, Thomas said.
He said police continued their investigation, which this week led them to McCullouch’s door.
“Through a series of interviews, including with Mr. Tessier, we were able to determine he was the person who had killed Maria Ridulph,” the chief said. “We gleaned from that interview that he was the killer.”
On Monday, Illinois authorities sent two Sycamore detectives and two state police detectives toWashington. McCullough was arrested at his home Wednesday.
Asked whether McCullough confessed to the killing, Thomas declined to say. He added that the investigation was not based on DNA or other physical evidence, given that the slaying happened so long ago.
Thomas said McCullough is married and had worked as a police officer in aWashington town until the mid 1980s, when he was arrested and later convicted for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Tribune stories published after the killing say that Maria was playing with a friend in a vacant lot in Sycamore when a young, blond-haired man who called himself "Johnny" approached, telling them he was unmarried and offering to give the girls a piggy-back ride.
The other girl went home to get a doll and when she returned, the man and Maria were still there.
"But in a minute or two the older girl complained of cold hands and went home to get her mittens," reads a story marking the four-year anniversary of Maria's disappearance. "When she returned, both were gone."
Maria's badly decomposed body was found in a wooded area near Woodbine, about 18 miles east of Galena, by a couple looking for mushrooms, according to another Tribune story, dated April 27, 1958.
Maria's parents identified her with a shirt taken from the body and a strand of hair.
Tribune reporter Art Barnum contributed.Copyright © 2015, CT Now