UPDATE 4:15 p.m.
The man accused of killing a Sycamore girl in 1957 has been hospitalized for an undisclosed reason.
The Seattle Times is reporting that Jack D. McCullough, 71, did not appear at a brief hearing Saturday afternoon at the King County Jail in Seattle because he was reportedly hospitalized at Harborview Medical Center for an undisclosed reason. During that hearing, a judge found probably cause to hold him in connect with the 1957 kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph of Sycamore.
The Seattle Times reported that the judge ordered McCullough be held pending a bail hearing on Monday; the newspaper said it was not clear whether court would be held that day because of the Fourth of July holiday.
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SYCAMORE – He said his name was Johnny.
For decades, that was one of the scant pieces of information authorities had about the man who abducted 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957.
According to Daily Chronicle archives, Maria was playing with a friend about 7 p.m. that evening near their Sycamore homes when they were approached by a man. He introduced himself as Johnny and asked if they wanted piggyback rides. He asked Maria if she had any dollies, and she ran home to get one. When she returned, her friend went home to get her mittens.
When Maria’s friend returned, the man and Maria had disappeared from the corner of Center Cross Street and Archie Place. An intense search for the girl – led by the FBI and including more than 1,000 law enforcement officials and most of the Sycamore community – lasted more than four months. Maria’s skeletal remains were found April 26, 1958, in Jo Daviess County.
The case has been cold, but not closed, for more than a half century. A few times, police personnel thought they had a viable suspect, but nothing panned out.
That changed this week with the Wednesday arrest of a 71-year-old Seattle man who has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Maria.
And his name, at one time, was John.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell announced Friday in a news release that Jack Daniel McCullough was charged with murder for allegedly causing Maria’s death after she was abducted.
“This crime has haunted Sycamore for half a century,” Campbell said in the news release. “We hope that the family of Maria Ridulph and this community can find some solace and closure with this arrest.”
In 1957, McCullough was 18 years old, lived within two blocks of the Ridulph family and was known by the name John Tessier, Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas said.
At the time of the kidnapping, Tessier was a suspect, according to the news release from Campbell’s office. But he had an alibi, Thomas said. And the case ran cold after Tessier joined the military and changed his name to Jack McCullough.
Thomas said authorities received new information several years ago and that caused them to focus on McCullough.
Thomas confirmed that an old train ticket dated the day of Maria's disappearance was one of clues that led to McCullough's arrest. As a teen, he claimed to be traveling between Rockford and Chicago at the time of the abduction. When interviewed by police in 2010, a former girlfriend reported that she had seen the train ticket and claimed that it was unused and unstamped.
"That was one of the things that re-opened the case," Thomas said. "Some of the information came forward a few years ago."
The information caused authorities to re-interview some people – including McCullough.
That interview allowed police to “disallow his alibi,” Thomas said, and develop probable cause necessary to make the arrest. There is no DNA evidence at this point, he said.
“I am not going to comment on the particulars of the interview,” Thomas said. “I will say this: During the interview, we were able to confirm that he was the offender.”
The investigation was led by the Illinois State Police, with assistance from Sycamore and Seattle police departments and the FBI, Thomas said.
“This was a very careful reopening of a cold case,” Thomas said. “We were very careful to take this step by step.”
Two Sycamore officers, along with Illinois State Police troopers, went to Washington state Monday and arrested McCullough on Wednesday, Thomas said. Detective Mark Jamieson with the Seattle Police Department said the ISP contacted his office and asked for assistance in locating McCullough. He said McCullough was taken into custody without incident.
McCullough was booked into the King County (Wash.) Jail about 2:50 a.m. Thursday, according to the jail’s booking log, and is awaiting an extradition hearing. The Associated Press is reporting his first court appearance is set for today.
The Seattle Times reported Friday that McCullough worked in the Lacey Police Department in Washington in the early 1970s, according to a police assistant. She told the Seattle Times that none of the officers currently on duty worked with McCullough.
An arrest warrant in the amount of $3 million was obtained for McCullough, according to the news release. McCullough’s court file at the DeKalb County Circuit Clerk’s Office in Sycamore shows he is facing charges of murder, felony kidnapping and abduction of an infant. The papers were filed Friday.
The murder charge alleges McCullough “unlawfully killed Maria Ridulph by means which human nature may be overcome and death thereby occasioned, in the peace of the people, with the implied malice aforethought,” according to court documents.
The kidnapping charge accuses him of “willfully and without lawful authority secretly confined Maria Ridulph within this state, against her will,” while the abduction of an infant charge says he “willfully and without authority, forcibly took, carried or enticed away Maria Ridulph, an infant under the age of twelve years to wit: age seven, without consent of the parents, with intent to conceal Maria Ridulph.”
"When this happened to little Maria, it shocked the community," said Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy, who grew up in Sycamore with Charles Ridulph.
They were about 11 years old when Maria disappeared, he said. Mundy said he's been in touch with the family, offering comfort as they relive the painful details of the decades-old case.
"I said to [Charles], hopefully this is the right suspect so you and your family will never have to re-open these wounds again," he said. "... It's hard for a family, even if it was decades ago."
Family at the Sycamore home of Maria’s brother, Charles Ridulph, declined to comment Friday on the arrest. Charles Ridulph declined to comment on Saturday.
Campbell and an ISP spokesman said the only comments they had was what was provided in the news release. A message left with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office was not immediately returned Friday.
“When I arrived here 10 years ago this was an open case on the books and there were still family members that live in town,” Thomas said. “We are hopeful that this arrest and subsequent conviction will bring some degree of closure for the family.”
Mundy commended all of the police agencies who worked to piece together old and new information to bring a suspect into custody.
"I think everyone collectively wants to be absolutely sure that this case is as strong as it can be," he said.