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Published: Friday, 7/1/2011

Seattle man arrested in 1957 slaying of 7-year-old Illinois girl that sparked massive search


SYCAMORE, Ill. — A Seattle man was charged Friday in the long-unsolved slaying of a 7-year-old girl who was abducted in 1957 near her home in the northern Illinois, prosecutors said.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said that Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, was charged with murdering Maria Ridulph, who was abducted while playing with a friend near her home in Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago.

The search for Maria involved more than 1,000 law enforcement officers and numerous other community members, and it caught the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who requested daily updates, Campbell said in a written statement.

Maria disappeared on Dec. 3, and the search lasted five months, until two people foraging for mushrooms in Jo Davies County, in the northwest corner of the state, found her remains on April 26, 1958.

Campbell’s office said no additional information about the investigation would be released until next week. The King County, Wash., prosecutor’s office and the Illinois State Police did not immediately return calls Friday afternoon for comment.

Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas said McCullough was picked up for questioning on Wednesday night.

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

He said McCullough is in the King County jail awaiting extradition.

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. The case went cold after he joined the military and changed his name to McCullough.

“He matched the description of the suspect, he wore the same clothing, he had the same first name “Johnny” and he lived about a block away,” said Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas.

Thomas said the Illinois State Police received new information a couple of years ago that led to McCullough, and have been working with local detectives.

“We were able recently to totally disallow (McCullough’s) alibi with fresh information and new interviews,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he spoke to Maria’s family on Thursday to prepare them for the news. A message left for Maria’s brother, Charles Ridulph, was not immediately returned Friday.

“We’re hoping that his arrest and eventual conviction will bring some measure of closure for the family,” Thomas said.

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