The cold case of Maria Ridulph

Maria RidulphOn Dec 3, 1957, Maria Ridulph (7) vanished from a small-town street corner in Sycamore, IL, while playing in the snow. Arrested in July 2011 and sentenced in December 2012 for her murder was Jack McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier. McCullough was released from prison on April 15, 2016. Charges against him were dismissed on April 22, 2016. Without other suspects, Maria’s case remains unsolved. There are two updates at the end of this post.

Jack McCullough

Maria’s body was found five months after she disappeared. At the time Maria disappeared, McCullough was 17 years old. The motive? Prosecutors say McCullough was sexually attracted to Maria. They alleged that McCullough choked Ridulph with a wire and stabbed her. In a 2011 police interview, he recalled seeing Maria around the neighborhood, saying she was as pretty like a “Barbie doll.” He wasn’t charged with molesting her, however. McCullough settled down in Seattle and worked as a Washington State police officer.

From the AP: “With no arrests, no new leads and the death of Maria’s parents and investigators involved in the case, the story faded from memory as years passed. McCullough, who told detectives in 1957 that at the time of the girl’s abduction he’d taken a train to Chicago, became the focus of the investigation again last year when a high school girlfriend of McCullough’s discovered an unused train ticket to Chicago behind a framed photograph.

funeral maria ridulphMcCullough, then known as John Tessier, lived near the girl [Maria] in Sycamore, 50 miles west of Chicago, and matched the description of the suspect given immediately after the disappearance by Ridulph’s then-8-year-old friend, Cathy Sigman, who last saw her at about 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, 1957. Sigman said she left Maria with a young man and ran home to get some mittens; when she returned 15 minutes later, the two were gone.

In a July 7 jailhouse interview with The Associated Press, McCullough said he didn’t kill the girl and maintained the same alibi he gave when first questioned by investigators when he was 18: that he could not have committed the murder because he had traveled to Chicago that day for military medical exams before enlisting in the Air Force.


In court, McCullough claimed he was framed by corrupt police and prosecutors. McCullough’s public defender, Tom McCulloch, said: “There were a lot of problems, adding that he had filed an appeal with the 16th Judicial Circuit Court. No forensic evidence had tied his client to the crime and the prosecution’s main witnesses were Maria’s playmate, now 63, who identified Mr. McCullough from a photograph taken in the 1950s, and one of Mr. McCullough’s sisters, who testified that their mother had identified him as the killer in 1994 as she lay dying.”

Maria's graveThe deathbed accusation by McCullough’s mother came in 1994. It was passed on to police by his half-sister in 2008. She apparently did not mind sitting on that information for 14 years. McCullough’s mother, Eileen Tessier, “knew that her son had killed Maria.” She lied to police about his whereabouts and confirmed his alibi when they were canvassing the neighborhood in 1957, prosecutor Julie Trevartchen said. “She knew what she did and she didn’t want to die with that on her conscience.” That may be true but do we have that statement on paper? Who else was with Eileen when she said this, heard it, and can we verify it?

I wish that we had the Air Force reports of all the military medical exams from that time because that would clearly show whether McCullough was or was not in Chicago on Dec 3, 1957. Also, I have not been able to find results about the exhumation of Maria’s body and what possible evidence was discovered. If you have any links to newspaper articles with the Air Force information, please let me know. Last, can anyone explain to me exactly how the old girlfriend found that ticket? In some articles it is stated she picked up a frame, took out a picture, and there it was. BUT, where was that framed picture? In her home? In McCullough’s? Was it in storage?

I encourage you to read this post by Scott Greenfield. I quote: “This isn’t to say that McCullough is innocent, but that the course of his prosecution made it impossible to defend against the charges.  He wasn’t confronted by the witnesses against him, but by stories told by witnesses that came from the now-dead witnesses against him.”

Hat tip to A for sending me SHG’s link.


1: in the Huffington Post I found this and I quote “To conceal the body, prosecutors said, McCullough dragged it through a window at his home, then later loaded it into a car and drove to a wooded area.” This doesn’t help to clarify the situation. Either Maria was taken from the street where she played and was then taken into the alley where she was assaulted and/or killed and then into the woods OR she was taken from the street into an alley and then into the McCullough’s house (did anyone see her there? was she still alive? where was she killed in this scenario?) and then into a car (whose car?) and then into the woods?

I am all for solving cold cases, however, I wished we had DNA to connect McCullough to Maria or, some hidden pieces of evidence like Maria’s clothing or property found at a place that can be tied to McCullough. I just feel that there are too many questions left unanswered. This does not mean that I think McCullough is completely innocent. You just have not convinced me yet that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

2: In March 2016, the DeKalb County State’s Attorney announced that a post-conviction review of available evidence showed that McCullough could not have been present at the time and place of Maria Ridulph’s likely abduction. McCullough was released from prison on April 15, 2016. Charges against him were dismissed on April 22, 2016. In November 2016 there was a hint towards a new suspect but there are no updates in the public domain. The case remains unsolved.


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