SYCAMORE - A judge deliberated for about 30 minutes this morning before sentencing 73-year-old Jack McCullough to life in prison for murdering a 7-year-old Sycamore girl 55 years ago.
Judge James Hallock also found him guilty Sept. 15 for the murder, kidnapping and abduction of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in 1957 in one of the oldest unsolved crimes in American history to go to trial. McCullough faced between 14 years in prison and life, with prosecutors asking Hallock to sentence him to life in prison and defense attorneys requesting 14 years. McCullough was also sentenced five years for kidnapping and seven years for abduction, but those will be merged into the life sentence.
Ridulph was last seen Dec. 3, 1957, near her home at the corner of Center Cross Street and Archie Place. Her remains were found five months later in a wooded area in rural Jo Daviess County. During the trial, a forensic anthropologist testified that marks on bones of her throat and chest areas looked to be those left by a knife.
McCullough, a 17-year-old known as John Tessier when Maria was murdered, moved to Seattle, changed his name, and worked for a time as a police officer in Washington state. He was arrested in 2011.
During the trial's closing arguments, prosecutors said Maria and her friend, Kathy Chapman, were playing on the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street the day she disappeared. A man named Johnny approached the girls and talked to them about dolls and offered them piggyback rides.
At one point, Chapman went home to get her mittens. When she returned, Maria and the man were gone.
Her disappearance and the subsequent massive search made national headlines, with President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly asking for regular updates on the case.
McCullough was one of more than 100 people who were briefly suspects, but he had what seemed like a solid alibi. On the day of the girl vanished, he told investigators, he'd been traveling to Chicago for a medical exam before joining the Air Force.
But 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. Chapman also identified McCullough in a photo line-up as the "Johnny" that had approach her and Maria the day she disappeared.