CRIME

Police: Train ticket helps crack 1957 Ill. killing

The grave site of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Ill., a 7-year-old Illinois girl who was murdered in 1957. A suspect was charged Friday. (AP Photo/ Barbara Rodriguez)
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SEATTLE (AP) - An unused, unstamped train ticket helped lead to charges against a Seattle man in the abduction and killing of a 7-year-old Illinois girl in 1957.

Prosecutors in northern Illinois' DeKalb County charged Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, on Friday with murdering Maria Ridulph, who was last seen playing with a friend near her home in Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago. Mushroom hunters found Maria's remains five months later in a wooded area about 100 miles from her hometown.

McCullough claimed he took the train from Rockford, Ill., to Chicago the day of the abduction. But The Seattle Times, citing a probable-cause statement filed in court, reported Saturday that a woman who dated McCullough at the time found, while searching through personal items last year at the request of investigators, an unused, unstamped train ticket from Rockford to Chicago dated the day the girl went missing.

It's unclear whether McCullough has an attorney. He remains jailed in Seattle on $3 million bond and was scheduled for a court appearance there Saturday.

McCullough's arrest drew elation from Kathy Chapman, the 8-year-old girl Maria played with the night she vanished. Now a grandmother, Chapman told the Chicago Tribune that last year investigators showed her a photo of McCullough as a teenager in a photo lineup, and Chapman identified him as a young man from her Sycamore neighborhood who offered a piggyback ride to her and Maria as the two girls played under a corner streetlight. She knew him as "Johnny."

Chapman, who lives near Chicago in St. Charles, Ill., said she ran home and never saw Maria again.

McCullough's arrest "puts a lot of things to rest now. I'm so happy for the family," Chapman told the Tribune. "And nobody gave up on it. That's the good thing about it."

The search for Maria in December 1957 grew to involve more than 1,000 law enforcers and numerous other community members, ultimately catching the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who requested daily updates, DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell said in a written statement Friday.

Two people foraging for mushrooms in Jo Davies County, in Illinois' northwest corner, found the girl's remains on April 26, 1958.

Officials said McCullough, who was 18 and named John Tessier at the time of Maria's disappearance, was an initial suspect but had an alibi.

Last year, police re-interviewed a woman who dated McCullough in 1957 and asked her to look for pictures and other items of their time together, the Seattle newspaper reported, citing the court documents filed this week.

That's when she found the unused, unstamped train ticket from Rockford to Chicago, poking holes in McCullough's alibi. He was picked up for questioning Wednesday night, Sycamore Police Chief Donald Thomas said.

"He had been a very good suspect in the beginning. He lived about a block and half away from the victim, he fit the description and his clothes matched, but he had an alibi that he was someplace else," Thomas said.

"Once his alibi crumbled, we found about a dozen other facts that helped us build our case."

According to the court documents obtained by the Times, investigators determined a collect phone call McCullough purportedly made to his ex-girlfriend from Chicago actually came from his Sycamore home the day Maria vanished - and he gave a ride to a relative when he should have been on the train.

"This crime has haunted Sycamore for half a century. We hope that the family of Maria Ridulph and this community can find some solace and closure with this arrest," Campbell said Friday.

Charles Ridulph, Maria's brother, told the Chicago Sun-Times his family is in shock over the arrest of a suspect in his sister's death.

"For all these years, my assumption was that he was dead - that he would have been dead - otherwise something would have come up before this time," said Ridulph, 65. That the suspect is someone the family knew from the neighborhood "is just an added shock," he said.

Ridulph said his parents have died and the arrest stoked old anger.

"They talk about closure, which there is never such a thing," he said. "It was pretty well closed for us, and now it's all open again. My daughter said to me when I told her (about the arrest), she said it's too bad my parents aren't alive. I said, `Thank God they weren't alive for this day."'

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