Weather Updates

Victim’s family knew man charged in 1957 murder of Sycamore girl

Jack Daniel McCullough | DeKalb Daily Chronicle

Jack Daniel McCullough | DeKalb Daily Chronicle

storyidforme: 14701362
tmspicid: 5128762
fileheaderid: 2499776
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: July 8, 2011 9:17AM

In December 1957, 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was playing with a friend outside her Sycamore home when a young man approached, introducing himself as “Johnny,” and asking: “Do you have any dollies? Would you like a piggy-back ride?”

“Pretty Maria,” as the newspapers would call her, said yes to one piggy-back ride, and then to another. Maria’s friend went home.

For the next five months, almost the entire community of some 7,000 Sycamore residents and dozens of FBI agents frantically searched for Maria. And then in April 1958, Maria’s decomposed remains turned up beneath an oak tree near Galena.

On Friday, more than 53 years after Maria’s disappearance, the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office announced the arrest and murder charges against 71-year-old Jack Daniel McCullough of Seattle in connection with the case.

Maria’s brother, Charles Ridulph, 65, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the arrest, after so many years, stunned him because he had assumed whoever killed her was long dead.

“Otherwise something would have come up before this time” said Ridulph, who was 11 when his sister vanished. “We’re in shock, to tell you the truth,”

Adding to his surprise, the alleged killer was a man from the Ridulph’s neighborhood.

“The shock that it [was] someone that we know from the neighborhood is just an added shock,” said Ridulph, who still lives in Sycamore.

McCullough, also known as John Tessier, was in the custody of the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle Friday, awaiting extradition to Illinois, according to DeKalb County authorities.

McCullough was married, had worked in the Lacey, Wash., police department in the 1970s, and was currently living at a retirement community in Seattle, according to The Seattle Times.

McCullough’s arrest stunned people at The Four Freedoms House of Seattle, where he also worked as a night watchman. One resident told The Times that McCullough was a “nice guy,” who held a disaster-preparedness seminar for residents after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“In all my life, I never would have guessed,” said McCullough neighbor Rena Rooney, 88. “It’s such a shame. He was so good to us.”

DeKalb County investigators said McCullough had been a suspect at the time of Maria’s disappearance, but that “the case ran cold after McCullough joined the military and changed his name.”

But the case was re-opened last year, according to documents filed in King County District Court and obtained by The Seattle Times on Friday.

During the initial investigation, McCullough claimed he’d been on a train from Rockford to Chicago on the day Maria was abducted, court documents state.

But McCullough’s alibi fell apart when one of his ex-girlfriends in 2010 came across an unused and unstamped train ticket for the Rockford-to-Chicago trip, according to the documents. The unused ticket, dated for the day Maria went missing, poked holes in McCullough’s story and refocused attention on him, according to the court papers.

“This crime has haunted Sycamore for half a century,” DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said in written statement. “We hope that the family of Maria Ridulph and this community can find some solace and closure with this arrest.”

Mary Katherine Chapman was the little girl playing with Maria Ridulph the day she was kidnapped. Chapman chose to speak through her husband Friday, saying she’s delighted someone has finally been charged with her childhood friend’s murder.

“She’s very happy an arrest had been made, due to the length of time that has passed,” said Michael Chapman, standing on the front steps of the couple’s St. Charles home.

Back in 1957, the disappearance of Maria, a second-grader who was hoping for a toy typewriter for Christmas, drew national attention. The FBI led the investigation, and both J. Edgar Hoover and President Eisenhower wanted daily updates on the search.

Charles Ridulph vividly recalls the turmoil his family endured as the search for Maria got under way.

“The family was in complete disarray,” Ridulph said Friday. “Shortly after [Maria] was gone, the FBI moved into the home and had wiretaps in the home, and they were there 24 hours a day.”

At one point, Maria’s mother, Frances Ridulph, took to the radio and newsreels: “If the person who kidnapped her is listening, it couldn’t have been done in malice. It was a little mistake. God forgives mistakes. We would, too. Don’t cry, Maria, above all, don’t cry. Don’t make a fuss. We’ll be with you soon.”

But on April 26, 1958, Maria’s skeletal remains were found near Galena by a couple looking for mushrooms. The dark hair matched Maria’s; so did the checkered shirt and little brown socks.

Charles Ridulph said today that he’s dealing with a range of emotions, including anger.

Ridulph’s parents have since died, and he said it would have been very difficult for them to deal with the pain anew.

“They talk about closure, which there is never such a thing,” Ridulph said. “It was pretty well closed for us, and now it’s all open again. My daughter said to me when I told her [about the arrest], she said it’s too bad my parents aren’t alive. I said, ‘Thank God they weren’t alive for this day.’”

Contributing: Janelle Walker

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.