SYCAMORE – Janet Tessier became tearful as she apologized Friday to the Ridulph family for the delay in justice in Maria Ridulph’s 1957 kidnapping and murder.
“And I apologize on behalf of my mother,” Janet Tessier said.
The Tessier siblings said Friday they don’t know exactly what their mother, Eileen, knew, but believe she was trying to protect her children by keeping quiet about their half-brother Jack McCullough’s involvement in Maria’s disappearance Dec. 3, 1957.
Janet Tessier testified that their mother said, “ ‘Those two little girls, the one that disappeared, John did it,’ ” just weeks before her death in 1994.
In covering for McCullough, they said, Eileen Tessier hurt the Ridulph family and kept a crime that changed the community from being solved.
She also allowed McCullough, 72, to walk free for more than 50 years. He moved to Seattle, changed his name, and worked for a time as a police officer in Washington state. It was not until 2011 that McCullough finally was arrested.
“She always shielded John in particular,” Jeanne Tessier said.
After a weeklong trial, Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock found McCullough guilty Friday of murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant. Witnesses said McCullough strangled Maria, and later stabbed her in the throat and chest before abandoning her body in Jo Daviess County.
Maria’s older brother, Charles Ridulph, and Pat Quinn, Maria’s older sister, thanked prosecutors and investigators for their work on one of the oldest cold cases ever brought to trial in the U.S. Ridulph said the process had been difficult for the family, and they are thankful it has concluded.
“We’re happy,” he said. “We’re relieved that this part of the story is now behind us.”
Although some said the verdict was a victory for Maria, “I can’t view it as such,” he said.
He choked up recalling the recent reburial of his younger sister’s remains and the two photo boards filled with images of her short life.
Ridulph said he felt spent, exhausted and distraught over the details of his sister’s death that he learned during the investigation.
“In reality, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” he said.
McCullough’s attorneys, Tom McCulloch and Robert Carlson with the public defender’s office, were disappointed with the judge’s decision. McCulloch said there were several things he disagreed with Hallock on, including the credibility of the state’s witnesses.
McCullough wants to appeal, McCulloch said, and attorneys will do that.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said Janet Tessier’s initial contact with Illinois State Police in 2008, informing them of her mother’s comment made just before her death, was what set the current investigation in motion.
Without that, “we would not be here,” he said.
Hiram Grau, director of the Illinois State Police, said the case proved that whether five days, five years or 50 years have passed, investigators can work a murder case and be successful.
Grau said he couldn’t recall another case as old as Ridulph’s being solved.
Campbell and Brion Hanley, investigator with the Illinois State Police, said police interviews with McCullough in Seattle sold authorities on McCullough’s guilt. Hanley added that Kathy Chapman’s identification of McCullough in the photo lineup also convinced police.
Chapman, who testified that she was with Maria the night she was abducted and identified McCullough in a photo lineup more than 50 years later, said she never stopped looking for Johnny.
“You never forget a face,” she said. “You never forget the face.”
Campbell said it would be disingenuous to say a judge’s April verdict finding McCullough not guilty of the 1962 rape of his half-sister didn’t affect him, but he remained confident in investigators and prosecutors working on the murder case and took comfort that the two cases were separate.
Jeanne Tessier, the accuser in the rape case against McCullough – who was known as John Tessier when Maria was murdered – said she and her siblings felt for the Ridulph family and were grateful their half-brother would no longer be able to hurt others. Bob Tessier said it was difficult for the family to come forward.
Although the siblings were worried about how they would be received in Sycamore, the community welcomed them.
Bob Tessier said the siblings have not had contact with McCullough for years, and they don’t want the name John Tessier to be used anymore.
Chapman and her husband, Mike, said they planned to visit Maria’s grave Friday afternoon in Sycamore’s Elmwood Cemetery. After McCullough was arrested last year, the couple visited her grave and found a note left on the tombstone.
The note read, “They got him.”