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Witness: McCullough described crime

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 12:43 p.m. CDT
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SYCAMORE – An anonymous jailhouse informant testified Wednesday that Jack McCullough told him in detail how in 1957 he killed a Sycamore girl.

John Doe, a prisoner who stayed on the same cellblock at the DeKalb County Jail as McCullough between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5 of this year, said McCullough – who “would ramble a lot” – told him he was giving a little girl a piggyback ride and ran down an alley when he slipped and fell. The girl hit her head, McCullough told him, and it was an accident.

Doe said McCullough then told him he used garbage cans to climb into a window of his house, carrying the girl. McCullough told him his mother knew he had the girl in the house.

Doe said McCullough first told him he choked the girl, then later said he strangled her with a wire. McCullough also told Doe about his 1948 Ford coupe with flames painted on it, and that he lied about saying the car was sold or that it had a flat tire.

Prosecutors say McCullough, 72, of Seattle, is responsible for the disappearance and death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, who was abducted from her Sycamore neighborhood Dec. 3, 1957. His trial on kidnapping and murder charges is being heard by Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock.

McCullough has listened intently throughout the trial but has displayed no emotion, occasionally taking notes or talking to his lawyer.

On day three of the trial Wednesday, Doe testified that McCullough told him he put the girl in his car, drove to Jo Daviess County to get rid of her body and left her by some trees. Her body was found in that area in April, 1958.

As McCullough spoke about the little girl, “he would seem almost childlike. He would get real giddy,” Doe said.

Other witnesses who testified Wednesday included Christopher Diaz, a jail inmate who wrote prosecutors a letter regarding the conversations he overheard between Doe and McCullough, and Krista Latham, a molecular and forensic anthropologist who examined Maria’s bones.

Diaz, whose testimony was at one point interrupted by a fire alarm going off inside the courthouse, said he heard McCullough say the state offered him a deal in the case, “and he specifically said, ‘[Expletive] that.’ “

Diaz also said McCullough called Kirk Swaggerty a snitch, and asked Diaz and Doe if they could do anything to Swaggerty, who is currently serving a prison sentence after being convicted of murder, home invasion and possession of a weapon by a felon.

Swaggerty has told the state he had a conversation with McCullough while in the county jail, and he is scheduled to testify on behalf of the state.

Diaz, charged in July with aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and Doe said prosecutors have not offered them anything in return for their testimony.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys brought up the criminal histories of both men. Interim Public Defender Tom McCulloch, representing McCullough, asked Diaz about his possible gang affiliations and asked Doe about his two convictions for having shanks in prison.

He also asked Doe if he was promised anything by the state for his testimony. Doe said he was not.

“How come we’re calling you John Doe? Were you born to Mr. and Mrs. Doe?” McCulloch asked, referring to the anonymity the inmate received.

Latham said she observed the exhumation of Maria Ridulph’s remains July 27, 2011, and the autopsy that was performed at the DeKalb County Coroner’s Office.

In studying Maria’s bones, Latham said three deep cut marks near the throat and chest were noted. These cuts were different from those made with a scalpel or saw during an autopsy, she said, and instead were consistent with being made by a larger blade like a knife.

Latham acknowledged that it was possible the cut marks were made during the original autopsy of Maria’s remains, but their location didn’t match what’s noted in that report.

Two Seattle police detectives, Cloyd Steiger and Mike Ciesynski, testified as to various comments McCullough made as he was extradited July 27, 2011, and taken from Seattle to Sycamore.

Both men said McCullough referred to Maria as a “beautiful little Barbie doll.” They said McCullough also brought up the Casey Anthony case and emphasized reasonable doubt with a smirk on his face.

Steiger and Ciesynski said McCullough told them he got a ride with someone from Chicago to Rockford and then hitchhiked from Rockford to Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957.

Once at home, McCullough told them he used garbage cans to crawl in through a window of the house. When asked about hitchhiking from Rockford to Sycamore in winter, McCullough told them he was acclimated to the weather and dressed for it.

McCullough told the detectives he last saw Maria when she was 5 years old. As she stood near the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street, McCullough told her to get back from the street.

When questioned by defense attorneys, Steiger said McCullough denied involvement in Maria’s disappearance and death and said he never gave her piggyback rides.

McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier, was arrested in July 2011 in Seattle. He is being held in the DeKalb County Jail on $3 million bond.

The trial is scheduled to resume today at the DeKalb County Courthouse.

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