Officials say they exhumed the body of a 7-year-old Sycamore girl kidnapped more than 50 years ago in hopes modern technology will help their murder case against a 71-year-old former neighbor.
The DeKalb County coroner's office could not determine a cause of death for Maria Ridulph after her body was found in May of 1958, five months after she disappeared from her Sycamore home. So "foul play" was listed on the death certificate for the cause of death, DeKalb State's Attorney Clay Campbell said.
"We can look through the lens of modern science and see that those findings were inadequate," Campbell said.
The girl's remains were exhumed from her gravesite at Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore at daybreak today -- around the same time the man accused of her slaying was being sent back to Illinois.
Officials plan to conduct a "thorough pathological exam" on the remains, including x-rays and toxicology, DNA and other tests, a source said.
The family said it agreed to the exhumation, but it was difficult to face.
"Although the events are very difficult and very unsettling we understand the necessity for these things and we are in complete agreement and thankful for the way that this case is being handled," said Charles Ridulph, 65, Maria's older brother.
“It’s an emotional thing for me,” said Maria’s oldest sister, Patricia Quinn, 70, of Morris. “You know, 53 years, it had kind of been all put to rest. . .It’s upsetting to have to go through all this again.
“I am praying that if there’s anything that the investigators can use there, that it will be beneficial in bringing the person to justice that did this.”
Kathy Chapman, who was Maria’s best friend and was with her just before she disappeared, said she understood the need to exhume the girl’s body.
“I’m just anxious to get the process going, to get to the trial,” said Chapman, 61, of St. Charles, who helped authorities identify McCullough as a suspect. “All the results from this will help put everybody’s minds at ease.”
One cold case expert said a body that has been in a casket for more than 50 years can still reveal evidence crucial to prosecutors.
Some of that information has nothing to do with a suspect, but could nevertheless derail any prosecution if authorities leave any doubt about some very basic questions.
"You have to be able to show it's a criminal homicide and you have to establish the identity of the victim," said Richard Walton, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Utah State University and the author of "Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques."
For example, DNA from the girl's teeth could establish her identity, he said.
Walton said even after all this time, there could still be evidence linking a suspect to a crime.
"They might consider fingernail scrapings today to determine if there is any DNA," he said, explaining that while some DNA degrades over the years, some can still be used.
The key, he said, is the condition of the body, as everything from whether the body was embalmed to whether water seeped into the casket or bugs got inside will determine if there is any useful information.
"You're not going to know what you have until you open it up," he said.
Campbell said all of the experts involved in the exhumation are "very, very satisfied" with what was found, but he would not comment on the condition of the remains out of respect for the Ridulph family. The remains will be examined by the medical examiner from Cook County as well as the DeKalb County Coroner and forensic anthropologists, he said.
The case remained cold until earlier this month, when authorities arrested and charged Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, a former police officer who was living in the Seattle area. He has waived his extradition rights and was released this morning to Illinois authorities.
McCullough arrived at the jail in Sycamore at about 4:50 p.m., according to a DeKalb County sheriff department official. He arrived in a gray Ford Expedition with tinted windows.
William Hayes, a spokesman for the King County Jail in Seattle, said McCullough’s extradition was typical.
That means two detectives fromDeKalb County likely rented a car, drove up to the entry way in the jail’s basement early this morning and filled out paperwork for McCullough’s release. McCullough may have had time for breakfast, which starts being served at 5:30 a.m.
He would have been released to those deputies in his street clothes, although they may have outfitted him in a windbreaker with large pockets that had been cut out. That’s common extradition garb -- the inmate then places his hands inside those pockets so they can be handcuffed to a belly chain. That way, to those catching an early morning flight, he looks less like a prisoner and more like a man with his hands in his pockets.
At the airport, the inmate and the deputies typically sit in the last row. If he needs to use the restroom, he typically does so alone, said Sgt. John Urquhart of the King County Sheriff’s Department. He said King County extradites “dozens, if not hundreds” of inmates every year.
In a jailhouse interview with the Chicago Tribune, McCullough denied his guilt and insisted he had an alibi.
McCullough said that, on the day of the girl’s disappearance, he had come to Chicago to take an Army physical exam. But a military archivist later said those records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire.
McCullough was living in a Seattle retirement home when he was arrested. He had been working as a night watchman at the retirement complex.
Court records showIllinois police have investigated the case the last two years and that they interviewed McCullough’s sisters. One of them alleged that he sexually abused her and other girls when they lived in Sycamore.
McCullough joined the Air Force and later the Army. After his discharge, he became a police officer in Milton, Wash., but resigned in March 1982 rather than be fired, records show. That same month he was charged with the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Contributing: Isolde Raftery