SYCAMORE – Eileen Tessier was weeks from her death in January 1994 when her daughter, Janet Tessier, said Eileen told her a terrible secret from her hospital bed.
It was about Jack McCullough, Eileen’s son and Janet’s half-brother.
“She grabbed my wrist and said, ‘Those two little girls, the one that disappeared, John did it,’ ” Janet Tessier testified in DeKalb County court Tuesday. “ ‘You’ve got to tell somebody.’ ”
Tessier did set out telling people about her mother’s statement linking McCullough to the Dec. 3, 1957, murder of Maria Ridulph. Tessier’s testimony highlighted the second day of the trial of McCullough, 72, of Seattle, on kidnapping and murder charges in the case. McCullough was arrested in 2011 and is being held in the DeKalb County Jail.
Several other prosecution witnesses appeared before Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock, who will give the verdict in the case. Three testified that they did not recall seeing McCullough in Sycamore around the time when Maria disappeared, although most people in town were engaged in the search for her.
McCullough’s defense has said he was in Chicago and Rockford at the time Maria was kidnapped.
Today is expected to feature a full slate of witnesses for the prosecution, with testimony possibly including an anonymous jailhouse informant who claims McCullough discussed kidnapping Ridulph with him in detail.
Tessier’s testimony was challenged by defense attorney Tom McCulloch, who said Tessier’s mother, who was being treated for cancer, might have been incoherent. Tessier said that although her mother became more agitated closer to her death, she was focused and coherent when she made the statement.
“We were made aware of the various stages of dying,” Tessier said of working with the hospice in identifying different signs. “I could tell by her focus she was lucid.”
McCulloch also asked Tessier – who was a year old in 1957 – if her mother explained why she thought McCullough was responsible. Tessier responded that her mother did not explain.
McCullough’s and Tessier’s mother also was the subject of questions for McCullough’s other two half-sisters, Katheran Caulfield and Jeanne Tessier.
Both women said they heard their mother tell FBI agents shortly after Ridulph’s disappearance that McCullough had come home the night of Dec. 3, 1957, but both women said he never came home and that they did not see him the next morning.
On cross-examination, Jeanne Tessier conceded she might have seen McCullough the next day, but stressed she did not see him in the morning when she woke up.
Dennis Twadell, a high school friend of McCullough’s, also testified and provided details about McCullough’s vehicle and his group of friends. Twadell said that when he heard about Ridulph’s disappearance on Dec. 3, he phoned McCullough, who did not answer at home. Twadell said he did not see him that night.
As with almost all of Tuesday’s witnesses, defense attorneys questioned the accuracy of Twadell’s memory. They pointed to a police record from March 22, 2010, that showed Twadell told officers he could not remember anything significant happening Dec. 3, 1957. Twadell said he did need help refreshing his memory before he could recall the incident.
The first witness of the day was the last person to see Ridulph before she disappeared.
Kathy Chapman, whose last name was Sigman at the time, recalled playing on the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street with Ridulph when a man who introduced himself as Johnny approached them.
The man asked if the girls liked dolls, then offered them a piggy back ride.
Chapman said Johnny took Ridulph on a piggy back ride down the street, but both came right back to the corner. Ridulph then ran about three doors down to her home to get a doll. Chapman waited on the corner with Johnny, where she said she observed him but could not recall anything that was said.
When Ridulph returned with the doll, Chapman went home, which also was nearby on Archie, to get mittens. By the time she came back, Ridulph and Johnny were gone. She said she looked outside for Ridulph for a while before telling her parents what happened.
Chapman, 62, of St. Charles, said the following months were filled with daily contact with the police and FBI, she said, as she saw “thousands” of photographs and “probably 100” lineups in an effort to identify Johnny.
It was not until she was approached by Illinois State Police almost 53 years later, on Sept. 9, 2010, that Chapman identified a picture of McCullough as “Johnny.”
Chapman selected the photograph out of six Sycamore High School yearbook pictures from the 1950s. She asked to see two pictures again and then selected McCullough’s, said Illinois State Police Special Agent Brion Hanley, who conducted the lineup and also testified.
Defense attorneys questioned Chapman’s memory, asking if she could recall what boots the man wore, or if he had a belt. She could not recall details but said she had focused on his face and was sure it was the same face as in the photograph she singled out in 2010.
“It was a lot of pictures,” Chapman said in response McCulloch’s question about how many lineups she had seen in the months after Dec. 3. “It was getting to be very old at that time.”