Guilty! Former police officer, 72, convicted of the abduction and murder of 7-year-old 'Pretty Maria' after 55 YEARS . . . the longest cold case in history
A former police officer was today finally found guilty of the abduction and murder of a seven-year-old girl 55 years ago.
The conviction of Jack McCullough, 72, represents the longest cold case in history after a DNA breakthrough placed him at the scene of the abduction of Maria Ridulph in 1957.
Maria's mother died without seeing justice for her daughter's slaying - a case that caused so much of a national outcry that President Eisenhower and FBI director J Edgar Hoover demanded daily updates.
McCullough, 18 at the time, was initially considered a suspect when the young girl's decomposed remains were found a year after she disappeared. But he had been ruled out thanks to a fabricated alibi, and thought he had got away with the terrible crime for most of his life.
Closure: Jack McCullough has been convicted of kidnapping and killing Maria Ridulph in 1957, when she was just seven years old, putting to an end a 50 year cold case
When an old girlfriend of McCullough's provided new evidence a few years ago proving he had not boarded the train he claimed to have been on the day the girl disappeared, the case was re-opened.
McCullough had lived near the Ridulph family in Sycamore, Illinois on December 3 - the time that Maria went missing - though had gone by the name of John Tessier in those days.
The case of 'Pretty Maria', as the newspapers called her, developed a national following as almost the entire community and law enforcement searched for her.
For the next five months around 7,000 Sycamore residents and dozens of FBI agents frantically searched for her.
Then in April, 1958, Maria’s decomposed remains were found beneath an oak tree near Galena by a couple foraging for mushrooms in Jo Davies County, in the northwest corner of the state.
McCullough was just 18 at the time.
Maria's friend, Kathy Sigman, told authorities that a young man calling himself 'Johnny' had approached them while they were playing outside on Dec. 3, 1957, and offered to give the girls piggyback rides.
Guilty: Jack McCullough was living in Seattle when new evidence re-opened the case in July 2011
Sigman left to get mittens and when she returned, Maria and the man were gone.
After the initial 1950s case went cold, Tessier, as he was known then, left the Chicago area, joined the United States Army and changed his name to Jack McCullough.
He had told investigators that he was on a train to Chicago to get a medical exam before enlisting in the Air Force, but his then girlfriend later found the Rockford-to-Chicago train ticket from that day that was unused and unstamped.
Maria's remains were exhumed from her grave in July 2011 so that modern-day forensic scientists may be able to find DNA evidence to implicate McCullough that could not be detected in 1958.
Sycamore police chief Don Thomas explained: 'He matched the description of the suspect, he wore the same clothing, he had the same first name 'Johnny.'
'We were able recently to totally disallow (McCullough's) alibi with fresh information and new interviews.'
At the trial this week, DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell told the jury of the night Maria and Kathy were approached by McCullough: 'This ordinary night would end in horror.
'It would end with this defendant dumping her body in the cold, dark woods like a piece of garbage.'
The slain girl's friend, now in her 60s, took to the stand to identify McCullough.
'The defendant thought he could get away with it,' Campbell said Monday. 'What he couldn't count on was that Kathy Sigman could never forget his face.'
Maria went missing in 1957 after a man who called himself 'Johnnie' offered to give her a piggy back ride one night and her friend had run home to get mittens
Accused: Jack McCullough, then 18, went by the name of John Tessier and lived a block away from Maria Ridulph's family in Sycamore, Illinois but after his alibi cleared him of involvement he left and changed his name
Forensics examinations indicate that Ridulph was stabbed at least three times in the throat and the chest, prosecutors said.
The court also heard how McCullough's half-sister Janet Tessier claimed their mother, Eileen Tessier had told her on her deathbed: 'John did it, John did it - and you have to tell someone.'
Janet Tessier testified said her mother, who died two weeks later, was 'lucid' when she made the claim.
She told the court: 'She was very agitated and emotional and she expressed a great deal of guilt.'
His two other half-sisters said McCullough never returned home the night the seven-year-old girl vanished but their mother told police he had.
Katheran Caulfield said she stayed up until at least 11:30pm on the night the child vanished but never saw her brother come home.
But she claimed her mother told police he had been home that evening.Maria's murder is not the only atrocity of which the former cop has been accused of committing in the past.
Gone: Maria Ridulph's body was exhumed last year in order to find new DNA evidence after McCullough's ex-girlfriend provided new evidence that cast his alibi into doubt
Birthday girl: Forensic testing showed that 'Pretty Maria' Ridulph, as she came to be known in the press, was stabbed at least three times in the throat
McCullough, was indicted on one count of child sexual assault and four counts of indecent liberties with a child in October last year according to the Illinois State Police and the Dekalb County State's Attorney's Office.
The victim had told investigators that McCullough raped her when she was 14 in Sycamore, the statement said.
A probable cause statement filed by Seattle police in conjunction with McCullough's arrest in June said that a runaway teenage girl who met McCullough - who used to go by the name John Tessier - in the early 1980s accused him of sexually assaulting her.
He was convicted of unlawful communication over his interaction with the girl and fired from his job with the police in Milton, Washington, the Seattle statement said.
Family: Charles Ridulph, the older brother of Maria, outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore, after attending Jack McCullough's trial
The former police officer had also been accused of raping one of his 14-year-old half-sisters 50 years ago before being acquitted after two key witnesses changed their testimony in court in April this year.
The alleged victim, now 64, gave emotional testimony about being sexually assaulted by Jack McCullough, now 72, and two friends in 1962 - but in the end, too much time had passed.
In July 2011, when McCullough was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph after 50 years, brother Charles Ridulph, then 65, said his family could not believe it.
'I just can't believe that after all these years they'd be able to find this guy, ' he said. 'It's in my every thought, even in my dreams. It was just like it was yesterday.'
The verdict draws to a close the longest cold-case in history