SYCAMORE – The older brother of Maria Ridulph became emotional as he testified this morning that his sister was a beautiful girl who was always smiling.
Charles Ridulph was called as the state's first witness this morning as Jack D. McCullough's kidnapping and murder trial began at the DeKalb County Courthouse. Ridulph described his younger sister, the neighborhood where the family lived and the searches that ensued after Maria went missing.
Sycamore was a safe town where everyone knew each other, he said, and children frequently played at the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street, where Maria was last seen. He called her the baby of the family who had the run of the house, and said she was a smart, active, outgoing girl.
Ridulph said he remembers Maria's friend, Kathy Sigman, coming to the home the evening of Dec. 3, 1957, and saying she couldn't find Maria. Ridulph and a friend then began to walk the neighborhood looking for his sister.
He testified that police were soon notified of his sister's disappearance and neighbors began to help the family search for the little girl.
"I don't think I'd be exaggerating by saying there were nearly 100 people already," Ridulph said.
Searches continued the next day, with no sign of Maria, he said. He never saw his sister again. After her remains were found, she was buried in May 1958, he said.
During opening arguments, State's Attorney Clay Campbell said McCullough didn't join the search for Maria, when every man in town took part in looking for the little girl. Maria's remains were found in a wooded area of Jo Daviess County; she was wearing only an open shirt and socks. An exhaustive examination of her remains determined she was stabbed in the throat at least three times, Campbell said.
One of McCullough's attorneys, Robert Carlson with the public defender's office, said the state has no eyewitnesses to Maria's abduction, no murder weapon and no DNA evidence linking McCullough to the incident.
Prosecutors also filed two motions this morning, seeking a gag order so that the identity of an informant would not be released, and asking the judge to allow the informant to testify as a John Doe witness.
A letter written by a DeKalb County Jail inmate claims McCullough approached he and another inmate about intimidating or hurting Kirk Swaggerty, one of the state's witnesses. Swaggerty is currently serving a sentence in prison after being found guilty last year of murder and home invasion and told prosecutors he had a conversation with McCullough while in the county jail.
Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock granted the first of the state's motions. For the second motion, attorneys and Hallock discussed in private whether that would be allowed. McCullough's attorneys had asked Hallock to bar the state from calling the informant as a witness, but the judge denied that request.
Charles Ridulph will be questioned by defense attorneys after the trial resumes this afternoon.
Prosecutors say McCullough, 72, of Seattle, is responsible for the disappearance and death of Maria, who was abducted from her Sycamore neighborhood Dec. 3, 1957. McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier, was arrested in July 2011 in Seattle.
Police have said authorities received new information on the case several years ago that led them to focus on McCullough, who lived near Ridulph in 1957.
Ridulph’s remains were exhumed from a Sycamore cemetery last year as prosecutors searched for DNA evidence.
They have said the case will be largely circumstantial.
McCullough was indicted Aug. 19, 2011, by a grand jury on charges of murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant.
The charges are based on the Illinois Revised Statutes as they were written in 1957.