Authorities say an unstamped train ticket found among an ex-girlfriend's belongings unraveled a half-century-old alibi and led to the arrest of a Seattle man in connection with the slaying of a 7-year-old Illinois girl in 1954.
Authorities say an unstamped train ticket found among an ex-girlfriend’s belongings unraveled a half-century-old alibi and led to the arrest of a Seattle man in connection with the slaying of a 7-year-old Illinois girl in 1957.
Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, is being held in King County Jail in lieu of $3 million bail and is awaiting extradition to Illinois, according to a statement by the Dekalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell. He has been charged with murder in the death of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Ill.
McCullough, who changed his name from John Tessier in 1994, is a longtime Washington state resident who served as a police officer in Lacey and Milton, according to a document of probable cause. When he was arrested this week, he was working as the night watchman at The Four Freedoms House of Seattle, a 300-unit retirement home in North Seattle, where he lived with his wife.
The disappearance of Maria Ridulph in December 1957 terrorized the community of Sycamore, about 70 miles west of Chicago, and shocked the nation. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Dwight D. Eisenhower both took an active interest in the case, according to reports.
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Maria’s 8-year-old friend said the two girls had been playing in a neighbor’s front yard when a man named “Johnny” came up and asked to give them a piggyback ride. The friend went inside for a moment, and when she returned, Maria was gone.
Maria’s decomposed body was found five months later about 100 miles from her home.
McCullough, who was 18 at the time, was an early suspect but had an alibi, claiming he had been in Chicago when Maria was abducted. The case went cold after he joined the military.
The investigation was reopened last year, according to court documents filed in King County District Court, when police re-interviewed a woman who dated McCullough at the time of the abduction.
The document of probable cause revealed that when investigators last year asked McCullough’s ex-girlfriend to look for pictures and other items from their time together, she found an unused and unstamped train ticket from Rockford, Ill., to Chicago.
McCullough had claimed he’d taken the train from Rockford to Chicago on the day of the abduction to enlist in the military, according to the document, which was mistakenly left unsealed and reviewed by a Seattle Times reporter who was not allowed to make a copy.
The unused ticket, dated on the day the girl went missing, poked holes in McCullough’s alibi, according to court documents, and refocused attention on McCullough.
“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,” said Donald Thomas, chief of the Sycamore Police Department. “Once his alibi crumbled, we found about a dozen other facts that helped us build our case.”
Court documents say investigators discovered that a collect phone call purportedly made by McCullough to his ex-girlfriend from Chicago was actually made from his own home in Sycamore on the day of the girl’s abduction. They also discovered he had given a ride to a family member at a time when he should have been on the train, court documents say.
After McCullough got out of the military, he became an officer at the police departments in Lacey and Milton, according to the court documents.
Dawn Gothro, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Retirement Systems, said McCullough, using the name John Tessier, had withdrawn from Washington state’s police pension system in April 1976.
News of his arrest was met with shock and disbelief among residents at The Four Freedoms House of Seattle.
Gaylee Shelton, 73, said McCullough and his wife were well-known throughout the community. He was a “nice guy” who held a disaster-preparedness seminar for residents after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“In all my life, I never would have guessed,” said Rena Rooney, 88, looking over a copy of a brief news article detailing the charges in Illinois. “It’s such a shame. He was so good to us.”
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Times staff reporter Amy Harris and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.