Seven-year-old Maria Ridulph was your average midwestern child growing up in the fifties.
She enjoyed spending time with her neighbor and best friend, Kathy Chapman. Her eleven-year-old brother, Chuck, even tucked away his sibling rivalry long enough to enjoy fun games with his sister.
In the year 2018, most parents are aware of the dangers of criminals who prey on small children. In the fifties, however, it was a different story. As the sun set on a cold December evening, Kathy would be the last person to see Maria alive.
That is, other than her cold-hearted murderer.
December 3, 1957
Kathy Chapman can still recall the details of this harrowing night. As she and Maria played near an alley, a stranger approached.
He introduced himself as “Johnny,” and he offered both girls a piggyback ride. Kathy felt a bit uncomfortable, but Maria smiled sweetly at the man and suggested she grab her doll for him to see.
Kathy left the area to grab mittens for her freezing hands. Both Maria and the individual were gone upon her return.
The only trace of Maria was the doll she so innocently produced for the stranger. It was left lying in the alley near where she was last seen. From the same area, neighbors reported hearing a scream around seven that evening.
For the next few months, Kathy was shown thousands of mugshot photos. There was not one photo that she could identify as “Johnny.”
Five months after her disappearance, Maria’s body was found partially clothed and 90 miles away on a farm underneath a downed tree.
The Tessier Family
That same December night that Maria was taken, Jeanne Tessier can still recall her mother answering the door for the police scavenging the neighborhood.
She also remembers the lie that her mother, Eileen Tessier, told the cops. When asked if her son was home, she quickly gave affirmation.
Even at age ten, Jeanne knew her mother had just lied to a member of the police department. As she claims, her brother was not home on December 3, 1957. It wasn’t until she was on her deathbed almost fifty years later that Eileen would profess the truth. She whispered to Jeanne that she, too, knew she had lied that fateful night. Her son, Jeanne’s older brother, was not home that night.
She also shared with Jeanne that she knew he had something to do with Maria’s death. This man’s name was John Tessier, who sometimes went by “Johnny.”
Jeanne told her other siblings of the news. Together, they went to the FBI and the Sycamore Police Department.
The investigators reported a known alibi for John that night as well as a passed polygraph test.
Ten more years would pass before Jeanne went to the last group she knew could look into the case: the Illinois State Police. Their investigation went much further. Unfortunately, Jeanne was just at the beginning of a long, painful road to possible justice for Maria.
Dark family secrets emerged. Jeanna admitted that both her brother and father had raped her for years. Her mother knew of the abuse, but she never protected her. Special Agent Brion Hanley took over the case and quickly found John in Seattle, Washington.
His name was no longer John. It was now Jack McCullough.
Putting The Evidence To The Test
McCullough was now 72-years-old and a former police officer with one charge for communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
All of the evidence against him was circumstantial, filled with eyewitness testimony and even jailhouse informants claiming that Jack admitted to murdering Maria. The judge was convinced that the witnesses were truthful.
He sentenced Jack McCullough, formerly John Tessier, to life in prison on September 14, 2012.
In a shocking twist of fate, McCullough would only serve five years of that life sentence.
On April 15, 2016, the State’s Attorney uncovered new facts in the case, including a phone call that confirmed McCullough’s claim that he was 40 miles away at the time of the abduction.
In April 2017, Judge Bradley, who had previously sentenced McCullough, declared him innocent of all charges. And with that, the case quickly went back to being unsolved.
After over 50 years, justice has still not been served for the young and vibrant Maria Ridulph.