One of the oldest cold cases solved?

Maria RidulphOne of the oldest cold cases in the USA has been solved … or, maybe not. What happened? On Dec 3, 1957, Maria Ridulph(7) vanished from a small-town street corner in Sycamore, IL,while playing in the snow. Ultimately arrested in July 2011 and sentenced in December 2012 for her murder is a man called Jack McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier.

According to the prosecution, McCullough choked Ridulph with a wire and stabbed her. Her body was found five months after she disappeared. At the time Maria disappeared, McCullough was 17 years old. The motive? Prosecutors say McCullough was sexually attracted to Maria. Even in a police interview in 2011, he recalled seeing Maria around the neighborhood, saying she was as pretty as a “Barbie doll.” He wasn’t charged with molesting her, however. McCullough settled down in Seattle and worked as a Washington State police officer.

From the AP: “With no arrests, no new leads and the death of Maria’s parents and investigators involved in the case, the story faded from memory as years passed. McCullough, who told detectives in 1957 that at the time of the girl’s abduction he’d taken a train to Chicago, became the focus of the investigation again last year when a high school girlfriend of McCullough’s discovered an unused train ticket to Chicago behind a framed photograph.

funeral maria ridulphMcCullough, then known as John Tessier, lived near the girl [Maria] in Sycamore, 50 miles west of Chicago, and matched the description of the suspect given immediately after the disappearance by Ridulph’s then-8-year-old friend, Cathy Sigman, who last saw her at about 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, 1957. Sigman said she left Maria with a young man and ran home to get some mittens; when she returned 15 minutes later, the two were gone.

In a July 7 jailhouse interview with The Associated Press, McCullough said he didn’t kill the girl and maintained the same alibi he gave when first questioned by investigators when he was 18: that he could not have committed the murder because he had traveled to Chicago that day for military medical exams before enlisting in the Air Force.

In court, McCullough claimed he was framed by corrupt police and prosecutors. Mr. McCullough’s public defender, Tom McCulloch, said: “There were a lot of problems, adding that he had filed an appeal with the 16th Judicial Circuit Court. No forensic evidence had tied his client to the crime and the prosecution’s main witnesses were Maria’s playmate, now 63, who identified Mr. McCullough from a photograph taken in the 1950s, and one of Mr. McCullough’s sisters, who testified that their mother had identified him as the killer in 1994 as she lay dying.”

Maria's graveThe deathbed accusation by McCullough’s own mother came in 1994 and was passed on to police by his half-sister in 2008. This half-sister apparently did not mind sitting on that information for 14 years. McCullough’s mother, Eileen Tessier, knew that her son had killed Maria. She had lied to police who were canvassing the neighborhood in 1957 about her son’s whereabouts and buttressed his alibi, prosecutor Julie Trevartchen said. “She knew what she did and she didn’t want to die with that on her conscience.” That may be true but do we have that statement on paper? Who else was with Eileen when she said this, heard it, and can verify it?

I wish that we had the Air Force reports of all the military medical exams from that time because that would clearly show whether McCullough was or was not in Chicago on Dec 3, 1957. Also, I have not been able to find any results about the exhumation of Maria’s body and what possible evidence was discovered. If you have any links to newspaper articles with the Air Force information, please let me know. Last, can anyone explain to me exactly how the old girlfriend found that ticket? In some articles it is stated she picked up a frame, took out a picture, and there it was. BUT, where was that framed picture? In her home? In McCullough’s? Was it in storage?

If you have questions in this case as well, I encourage you to read this post by Scott Greenfield. I quote: “This isn’t to say that McCullough is innocent, but that the course of his prosecution made it impossible to defend against the charges.  He wasn’t confronted by the witnesses against him, but by stories told by witnesses that came from the now-dead witnesses against him.”

Hat tip to A for sending me SHG’s link.

UPDATE: in the Huffington Post I found this and I quote “To conceal the body, prosecutors said, McCullough dragged it through a window at his home, then later loaded it into a car and drove to a wooded area.” So, Maria was taken from the street where she played into an alley where she was assaulted and/or killed and then into the woods OR she was taken from the street into an alley and then into the McCullough’s house (did anyone see her there? was she still alive? where was she killed in this scenario?) and then into a car (whose car?) and then into the woods?

I am all for solving cold cases, you know that. However, I wished we had some DNA that connected McCullough to Maria or, some hidden pieces of evidence like Maria’s clothing or property found at a place that can be tied to McCullough. I just feel that there are too many questions left unanswered in this case. This does not mean that I think McCullough is completely innocent. You just have not convinced me yet that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, if you know all the answers to my questions, please place them in the comment box below. Thanks!



  1. Casey Porter says:

    Shoot me an email to send a file to, and I will send you the defense motion, and part of the FBI file … everything you could want. I am the son-in-law. Jack is innocent, BEYOND a reasonable doubt….


  2. Janey O'Connor says:

    It has come out that the train ticket that Brion Hanley used as evidence to get an arrest warrant was issued for 11/21/1957 and was going the wrong direction. The ticket has nothing to do with Jack’s alibi but Hanley kept that to himself until discovery when everything had to be handed over to the defense.

    The first time that Kathy Chapman identified someone was 12/22/1957. The man’s name was Thomas Rivald, he was at least 30 years old, and 5’4″ She was able to testify on the stand that she did not remember traveling to Milwaukee 19 days after the abduction and viewing a live line up in a jail because all documentations of it is contained in the FBI files that Judge James Hallock would not allow in court.

    Eileen Tessier was diagnosed with psychosis, heavily medicated and her doctor noted in her chart that she was “comfortably delusional” Also, the other sister in the room did not agree with what Janet claimed the mother said.

    The six problems with the photo line up given to Kathy Chapman in 2008 by investigating officer Brion Hanley
    all 5 filler photos had a white background while Jack’s had a black background
    all 5 filler photos were of young men wearing suit and tie while Jack was wearing much different clothing
    all 5 filler photos had the young men looking off to the right in a yearbook style photo while Jack was facing the camera
    all 5 filler photos were of young men with neatly combed hair while Jack’s hair was unruly
    The picture of Jack had an amateur quality making his ear shine brightly
    All 5 filler photos were taken directly from a yearbook while Jack’s was not.

    Pat Solar was not allowed to testify to his investigation in this case.

    I happy would happy to e-mail you the FBI reports where three different military officers verified that Jack was in Rockford and with them at the recruitment office between 7pm-7:30pm. Also, in the FBI report that I have is the confirmation of the collect call Jack made at 6:57pm from Rockford to Sycamore.

    For a better understanding into the woman that Jeanne Tessier is you might want to read her memoirs titled the unspoken truth. If you cannot find I would be happy to send you the link.

  3. @ Casey: Done!

  4. Hi Janey, I found the memoire you referred to. Interesting parts about Maria …. I need to mull everything over again. Too many gaps here.

    Please do enlighten me about the line-up and explain why the Chief was not allowed to testify.

  5. Casey Porter says:

    After you get thought the memoirs… have a stiff drink, and read them again.

    Then, the step sister that went to the police in 2008 or 2009 (can’t remember which year) was a care provider of the mother of the author of “Crime of Magnitude.” The author, Mark Lemberger, called her “Jan.”

    “Among the readers of the book, more than a decade later, was Janet Tessier. Mark knew her as Jan. She was a friend of the Lemberger family and helped take care of Ami Lemberger, Mark’s mom, who lives in the Madison area. It was Ami who gave Tessier a copy of “Crime of Magnitude”

    “Crime of Magnitude” is about the murder of a seven year old. Bottom line, Janet who initiates the case spent years with the mother of the author of “Crime of Magnitude.” Janet did not “meet” the author in 2008, she knew him, she spent hour upon hour talking to his mother, probably him also.

    Got that??? Might want to change the title to your story… ;)

  6. Casey Porter says:

    It’s all in the defense motion….

  7. Steve Challis says:

    just reading this fascinating case …
    Q: Why would a murderer whose alibi is that he had gone to Chicago by train want to deliberately hide an unused train ticket to Chicago? If he wanted to make sure no-one could disprove his alibi surely he would destroy the ticket??

  8. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for stopping by. Good question. In the comments below Janey says that it was a ticket for the wrong direction. So far, I have not seen a photograph of that ticket in the papers.

    What is also interesting: where was the picture frame that held an old photograph and that ticket?


  9. Casey Porter says:

    I think the issue with the train ticket it a moot point. It was never used as “evidence” in the trial. In the original reports, and arrest papers there was also noted Jack owned a sweater him mom made for him that his sisters say they never saw again after the abduction, but there again, he left for the military a week later, so obviously they would not be seeing any of his clothes.

    I struggle with always hearing about Jack’s “alibi.” Jack did not have an “alibi” he told the FBI where he was, and the FBI verified he was in Chicago and Rockford during the time of the abduction. I think when you have three military officers saying a man was in Rockford, he was in Rockford.

    As a side point, I feel the press was complicit in Jack’s conviction. There were so many times in the last year and a half where the press never asked the follow up question, but instead went with what the prosecution said, and what law enforcement said. I really don’t think the local press is objective on criminal cases because they depend so much on law enforcement to give them the daily news. I think the fear reporters have of ruffling feathers on one case is just not worth loosing access to those same police departments on other cases when so much of the news is crime reporting.

    I spoke to more than one reporter that had read the FBI report, or defense motion, and knew there were serious issues with the case, but never reported it.

  10. Casey Porter says:

    To expand on my last comment … if news stories on this case started with:

    “Even though the FBI investigated Jack McCullough [John Tessier] and verified with military officer and the phone company Jack was in Rockford IL at the time of the abduction in Sycamore IL, and gave him a polygraph test, the prosecution is confident he committed the crime. Kathy Chapman has positively identified Jack McCullough after having the Brion Hanley (lead investigator) spent an hour helping her remember her original description of “Johnny,” from a photo lineup where only Jack’s picture had a black background.”

    If the news stories started like this, and this is straight fact from court documents most newspapers requested, would Jack be in jail right now?

  11. thelioness06492 says:

    He did it. He is such a con artist. I read the memoire. He probably didnt plan to murder her, but she screamed. Maria’s mother said she was quite a screamer when stressed. This whole murder makes me sick. I am ill thinking that this man was able to destroy so many lives in his life. I’ve read many articles about this case. He may have been at a physical but not on that date. He took advantage of a little girls innocence. I have a little girl. I understand the mind of a child. It breaks my heart. He is scum. He is where he belongs…if he is released…those problems take care of themselves let’s just say. He is found out.

  12. thelioness06492 says:

    I was abused by a terror of a kindergarten teacher in 1969. she threw me again the hall way walls. I remember her face very well and I haven’t seen her since 1969. We moved from a house in 1970 and i remember details of the house my parents don’t remember. He’s so narcissistic that he addressed himself my his name Johnny to those girls. That poor little girl, Maria’s friend traumatized by her friend being missing, pressured to do the right thing…what can you expect? She identified him now with a mature mind and a great memory from a traumatic event. He flapped his pedophile jaws all the way from Seattle to the courthouse, he needs to open his mind just a little and realize it’s not about him anymore. Enough Said. Maria is the one that is the angel.

  13. Here is my problem with your comment Lioness: a memoire is not evidence of guilt. Why? It is only one side of the story. Furthermore, how do you know Maria screamed? If she had, who heard her?

    I agree that the person responsible for Maria’s murder destroyed many more lives than just hers. I just hope we have the right person sentenced to life for this crime.

  14. Lioness, I agree that Maria is an Angel.

    Identifying someone correctly after so many years is not something everyone can do. Not everyone’s memory works the same either. Just because you can recall details from the 70s when you were young does not mean everyone else can and, with the same clarity and detailed descriptions.

  15. Casey Porter says:

    The ” thelioness06492″ says some interesting things, almost none of which are true, but this really is what the case was based on. My comments:
    1. He did it. — Not a single fact supporting this.
    2. He is such a con artist. — Based on what?
    3. He probably didnt plan to murder her, but she screamed. – Zero evidence she screamed.
    4. Maria’s mother said she was quite a screamer when stressed. – Might be true.
    5. He may have been at a physical but not on that date. – Court records show he DID.
    6. He took advantage of a little girls innocence. – Based on What?
    7. He is scum. He is where he belongs – Or innocent, and not where he belongs.
    8. He’s so narcissistic that he addressed himself my his name Johnny to those girls. – Based on What?
    9. She identified him now with a mature mind and a great memory from a traumatic event. – No she identifed him after Brion Hanley spent a half hour “refreshing” her memory. And read about Thomas Rivald above. Kathy did not know what the guy looked like back in 1957, much less today. Which really opens up a can of worms, either Kathy is living in a fantasy that she actually possitively identified a man, or she knows she really has no clue, and is lying to make people happy.

    As a side note, Charles Ridulph said Jack raped Maria in his letter at sentencing. Again, no support for Maria even being raped, but it does make good press.

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