SYCAMORE – Charles Ridulph doesn’t know who his sister would have been if she hadn’t been murdered 55 years ago, but he’s confident her killer is going to prison for life.
Ridulph, of Sycamore, asked Judge James Hallock to give Jack D. McCullough the maximum sentence for kidnapping 7-year-old Maria Ridulph from a street corner near her home in Sycamore, murdering her and dumping her body in a wooded area in rural Jo Daviess County.
For Ridulph’s family, Monday’s sentencing ended a difficult year-and-a-half of reliving painful memories and discovering disturbing details about Dec. 3, 1957.
“The fact is I see no victory here. ... No amount of punishment will undo the evil which Jack McCullough has done,” Charles Ridulph wrote in a letter to the court. “However, the maximum punishment does speak volumes. The maximum punishment says that we will protect our children and that we will punish those who bring them harm.”
McCullough, 73, received a life sentence Monday for the murder of Maria Ridulph and additional sentences of five years for kidnapping and seven years for abduction of an infant. McCullough, who has been in jail since June 2011, was charged and sentenced under 1957 statutes.
It is among the oldest cold cases in American history to go to trial.
McCullough’s attorneys requested the minimum sentence allowed under 1957 law – 14 years. But McCullough, who did not take the stand during his weeklong trial in September, maintained his innocence Monday morning, pointing to a box with thousands of documents he said proved he could not have committed the crime.
McCullough referred to phone records, FBI investigation reports and comments from military recruiters that he said showed he was in the Rockford area when Maria was abducted. Those records were not allowed in the trial because they were considered hearsay; the people who created them died years ago or do not have the mental capacity to testify in court.
“In the name of justice and fairness, open the box and view the truth,” McCullough told Hallock. “I did not, did not, kill Maria Ridulph.”
McCullough, a 17-year-old known as John Tessier when Maria was murdered, was one of more than 100 people who were briefly suspects decades ago, but he had what seemed like a solid alibi. On the day the girl vanished, he told investigators, he’d been traveling to Chicago for a medical exam before joining the Air Force.
But chief investigator Brion Hanley with the Illinois State Police said Monday that McCullough skewed dates and times to his benefit to create an alibi. Hanley said McCullough also was wrong to say Kathy Chapman, the neighborhood friend who was with Maria Ridulph before she disappeared, had identified a different man in a lineup a few weeks after the kidnapping.
Prosecutor Victor Escarcida attacked McCullough’s character and dismissed his military service and career as a police officer. In his final statements to the judge, Escarcida demanded the maximum sentence for McCullough, who he said made Sycamore a scary place.
“This defendant went into the military as a child killer ... there is nothing honorable about that,” Escarcida said. “Jack McCullough left a lifetime of emotional wreckage in his wake.”
While McCullough’s Sycamore family agreed with prosecutors, the family he lived with in Seattle saw him in a different light. In a letter to the court, Janey O’Connor, McCullough’s stepdaughter, said McCullough was innocent and prosecutors were able to paint a false picture of her stepfather while the defense was limited because of the banned documents.
“As good as our [legal] system is, it is still flawed,” O’Connor wrote. “Our legal system is corrupted and manipulated by the egos, desires and wants of the men and women who comprise it.”
Janet Tessier, McCullough’s half-sister, came forward and told police about incriminating comments McCullough’s and Tessier’s mother made just before the mother died in 1994. Prosecutors also relied on fellow jailhouse inmates who testified McCullough shared with them details of Maria’s death and the case against him.
After all the statements were read and the sentence was handed down, Pat Quinn, Maria’s older sister, said she hoped to find the peace she had before the case started in July 2011. She said she has no interest or time to harbor hate and would continue to pray for McCullough.
“I had moved on with my life,” Quinn said. “I just want to move forward.”
McCullough has appealed the decision.