Maria Ridulph’s brother testifies in trial for 1957 murder
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter September 10, 2012 1:30PM
Jack Daniel McCullough
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:12AM
Charles Ridulph thought his 7-year-old sister, Maria, was playing with a friend outside their Sycamore home on Dec. 3, 1957.
But then her playmate, Kathy Sigman, came to the door, asking where Maria had gone.
“Kathy came back and said, “I can’t find Maria,’ ” Ridulph testified Monday as the DeKalb County murder trial opened for the man charged with killing his little sister more than five decades ago.
Though her disappearance prompted massive searches and an FBI investigation, Maria Ridulph was never seen alive again. Her body was found five months later in a rural area of Jo Daviess County.
It was only last year that a former neighbor and one-time police officer, Jack Daniel McCullough, was charged with kidnapping and murdering the brown-eyed youngster. His trial — nearly 55 years after Maria was slain — is believed to be one of the oldest murder prosecutions ever attempted, authorities have said.
A key witness will be Sigman, who is expected to testify she still recognizes the now-72-year-old McCullough as the man she saw with her friend on the night Maria vanished. “The defendant thought he could get away with it,” State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said of the killing. “What he couldn’t count on was that Kathy Sigman could never forget his face.”
Sigman has told authorities she briefly left Maria alone with a man she did not know while she ran home to get mittens. When she returned, both were gone.
Forensic exams of Maria’s body show she died after being stabbed at least three times in the throat and chest, prosecutors disclosed Monday.
“This ordinary night would end in horror,” Campbell told Judge James Hallock, who is hearing the trial without a jury. “It would end with this defendant dumping her body in the cold, dark woods like a piece of garbage.”
McCullough, who in 1957 was named John Tessier, originally was questioned about the killing, but had an alibi, authorities said.
That alibi crumbled when Illinois State Police in 2009 launched a new investigation of the notorious killing, authorities have said.
McCullough’s court-appointed attorneys denied he had anything to do with the long-ago abduction and murder.
There is no evidence tying him directly to the killing, just vague memories and purported statements McCullough allegedly made to other jail inmates after his arrest, attorneys said.
“Jack McCullough did not commit this murder,” Assistant Public Defender Robert Carlson said. “The reality is it has not been solved by charging Jack McCullough.”
Adding a strange twist to an already bizarre case, McCullough earlier this year was acquitted of charges he sexually assaulted a female relative in 1962.
That charge stemmed from allegations made by the woman to police while being questioned about Ridulph’s disappearance.
Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled in that case the evidence against McCullough was too weak to support a conviction, a decision that riled Campbell and even McCullough’s own relatives.
Stuckert was expected to also preside over McCullough’s murder trial but recused herself from the case earlier this year.
Hallock, a Kane County judge, then was assigned to hear the trial.