Longest Solved Cold Case - The Murder of Maria Ridulph
On December 3, 1957, 7-year-old Maria Ridulph and her friend, Cathy Sigman played in the snow in front of Maria's house. A youth they didn't know, but who called himself Johnnie, approached and offered Maria a piggyback ride. Cathy ran home to get her mittens, and when she returned Maria and "Johnnie" were gone. On April 26, 1958, a farmer and his wife discovered the child's body under a tree. After a long search, the case simply went cold until 2008, when Janet Tessier convinced detectives to look into her brother. Finally, on September 14, 2012, 73-year-old Jack Daniel McCullough (formerly John Tessier) was convicted of the murder of Maria Ridulph, making it the longest cold case to end with a conviction in U.S. history.
Backstory and Context
The original story took place in the small town of Sycamore, IL. While many facts of the story have been disputed greatly among prosecuting and defending lawyers of Jack Daniel McCullough, what is known that on the evening of December 3rd, 1957, Maria Ridulph and her friend, Cathy Sigman, were playing in the snow, when a young man, who called himself Johnnie, approached and offered a piggyback ride. When Cathy went inside to get mittens, Marie and "Johnnie" disappeared. Maria's body was found four months later.
Originally, McCullough (then John Tessier) appeared to have a solid alibi. He had traveled by train to Rockford, IL to enlist in the Air Force. This was verified by officers at the recruiting station, who said they spoke with Tessier around 7:15 p.m. Additionally, someone by the name "John Tessier" made a collect call to his parents from Rockford at 6:57 p.m.
However, the case was reopened in 2008, when Janet Tessier convinced officers that her mother had made a deathbed confession in 1994 that her son (Janet's older brother) had been the murderer of Maria Ridulph. Janet's younger sister, Mary Pat, was also in the room at the time of the confession and remembers it more as an inference than a direct statement, but both believed their mother suggested that McCullough was the murderer.
Detective reopened the case, and an interview with McCullough's girlfriend from the time of the murder turned out to be key. The Illinois State Police had originally only contacted her to ask for a photograph of McCullough from 1957. She called them back, instead, to inform them she had found an unused train ticket from December, 1957. The ticket suggested Tessier had not traveled by train as he suggested, and as this was key to his alibi, his alibi began to unravel.
Later, Cathy Chapman (formerly Cathy Sigman) positively identified a photo of the teenage John Tessier as the "Johnnie" who had given Maria Ridulph a piggyback ride. While no material evidence ever formed to prove McCullough's murder, the testimony of his half-sisters who suggested he had had an on-going interest in young girls, Mary Chapman, his former girlfriend, and others who knew him at the time were enough to gain a conviction. At the age of 73, he received a life sentence to prison.