Jack Daniel McCullough was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph almost 55 years after her remains were discovered in Illinois.
MCCullough’s trial is most likely one of the oldest cold case murder prosecutions in the history of the US, reports NBC News. The trial, which took place in Dekalb County, Illinois, has resulted in a conviction that could put McCullough behind bars for the rest of his life.
The former Washington state police officer’s half-sister, Janet Tessier, expressed her satisfaction that he was found guilty. Tessier, who testified during the trial that McCullough’s own mother admitted on her deathbed that her son was involved, stated, “He’s an evil son of a bitch, and he’s right where he’s supposed to be.”
Prosecutors alleged that McCullough kidnapped seven-year-old Maria while she was playing with a friend, Kathy Chapman, near their houses in Sycamore, Illinois. The 1957 case unsettled parents across America and even then-President Dwight Eisenhower asked that investigators kept him up to date.
The Chicago Tribune notes that Maria’s friend, Kathy Chapman, testified during the trial about the girl’s disappearance. She recalled that the two girls were playing a game on a street corner when a man walked up and introduced himself as Johnny. After several minutes of playing, Chapman went home quickly to get her mittens.
When she returned, Johnny and Maria Ridulph were gone. McCullough, 73, was 17 at the time, and went by the name John Tessier. He was among a group of initial suspects, but his parents told police that McCullough was in Rockford at an Air Force recruiting office when Maria was kidnapped.
Maria’s skeletal remains were discovered 120 miles from her home in 1958, but the case went cold until 2010, when a former girlfriend of McCullough stepped forward to cast doubt on his alibi, producing an unused train ticket to Rockford. Chapman was re0-interviewed by police, who showed her a photo lineup. Chapman picked out an old picture of the now 73-year-old, telling police that he was “Johnny.”
Police arrested Jack Daniel McCullough in July 2011 and went to trial last week after waiving his right to a jury trial. Both sides rested their case on Thursday following a jail inmate’s testimony that McCullough incriminated himself in the 1957 killing of a young girl.
The witness, Kirk Swaggerty, testified that McCullough spoke of suffocating young Maria by accident on December 3, 1957. Swaggerty stated:
“He said he was giving her a piggyback ride on his shoulders, and when she fell, she wouldn’t stop screaming, and when she wouldn’t keep quiet, he suffocated her.”
This account matched testimony by Chapman that Johnny was giving Maria a piggyback ride. Jack Daniel McCullough will be sentenced later this year in the kidnap and murder of Maria Ridulph.