Girl's Body Exhumed for Clues in 1957 Murder

Investigators say new technology may help solve 1957 cold case.

July 27, 2011, 1:42 PM

July 27, 2011— -- The skeletal remains of Maria Ridulph, a 7-year-old girl who was murdered more than 50 years ago, were exhumed today by investigators hoping to find clues to convict her suspected killer.

"I don't know what we're going to find, but we would be remiss if we didn't make some effort," said DeKalb County prosecutor Clay Campbell.

The decision to exhume the girl's body from Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore, Ill., was made after "much consultation with the coroner's office," Campbell said.

He believes new tools available in 2011, especially advances in DNA technology, will help scientists examine the remains.

In recent months the investigation, aided by the FBI, has centered on one of Maria's former neighbors, 71-year-old Jack McCullough, who is being extradited from Washington State and is expected to arrive in Illinois today.

"We're confident we have the right person," said Campbell.

Maria's oldest sibling told the Associated Press she cried after hearing her sister's body had been exhumed, even though she knew it was going to happen.

"It's brought it back again and crammed it into our faces," said Patricia Quinn, 70, of Morris. "I had put it to rest a long time ago."

Maria's brother Charles Ridulph, 65, spoke at the press conference today saying it has been a very difficult time, adding, "We are so thankful to all the agencies involved in this as to how they have so respectfully treated our family."

Who Was Maria Ridulph?

"She was a beautiful little girl -- she was very smart, and she really -- she was the little girl that everyone would want to have," Ridulph told during an interview prior to the exhumation.

Ridulph, who shared a room with his sister when they were growing up, said Maria was very athletic, but she wasn't a tomboy, preferring to play dress-up and hold tea parties, using a toy oven to bake for her siblings.

One of his last memories of Maria was teaching her how to swim while they were on vacation at Lake Ripley in Wisconsin, the summer before she was kidnapped.

The murder, he says, is "just as vivid as if it was yesterday."

"It's something that really touched this town and community," he said.

Prosecutor Narrows In on Murder Suspect Jack McCullough

When Maria first went missing on Dec. 3, 1957, police received an anonymous phone call days later that John Tessier, McCullough's birthname, matched the description of a man seen talking to her.

When police questioned Tessier he said he had taken a train from Rockford, Ill., about 40 miles from Sycamore, to Chicago where he received a physical exam and psychological tests to determine his eligibility for military service.

Nearly five months later, Maria's bones were found about 120 miles from where she vanished.

Tessier left Sycamore soon after the murder to serve in the Air Force. He eventually transferred to the Army and later became a policeman.

Maria's murder remained a cold case for decades until new leads began emerging.

According to a police affidavit in 2010 McCullough's ex-girlfriend found an unused train ticket from Rockford to Chicago behind a framed picture. The ticket had a government stamp, the report stated, indicating it was issued to the government, a common practice at the time when distributing tickets to military recruits.

"It was just astonishing that somebody would keep that for as long as they have," said Illinois State police special agent Brion Hanley.

Jack McCullough Will Face Murder Charges in Illinois for Death of Maria Ridulph

Ridulph remembers McCullough and had even visited his home when he was a child, but couldn't place his face until he saw it in the newspaper.

"The whole town was our playground," Ridulph said. "I think one of the shocking things about when this hit was that he lived just a block and a half away. We played on that street, all of us kids, and he had stepsisters."

Ridulph, a deacon and director of the Christian Senior Ministries in Sycamore, Ill. said it seems everything is "falling into place regarding what I am hearing about this case."

"I have to trust in what the state's attorney and chief of police here is saying and I cannot imagine proceeding with this if they weren't certain that they had a solid case."

McCullough told the Associated Press during a jailhouse interview that he had an "iron-clad alibi."

He admitted he had never taken a train to Chicago, saying his stepfather drove him there and he then hitched a ride back to Rockford where he called his stepfather to pick him up. McCullough's stepfather is dead and his sisters could not be reached.

According to the police affidavit investigators verified that a collect call was made from a payphone in Rockford from 6:57 to 6:59 p.m., so McCullough says that proves he is innocent.

"How am I involved in a kidnapping at 6 p.m. in Sycamore? A fifth-grader can figure this out," he told the Associated Press.

McCullough is being held on $3 million bail on a fugitive charge after being arrested June 29 for the 1957 murder.

Police are asking anyone with more information on McCullough to call a tip line: 1-800-843-5763.