1957 murder suspect may return to Illinois soon

July 12, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Jack McCullough is fighting extradition from Washington state. That's where he was arrested in the 1957 murder of a 7-year-old girl in rural Sycamore.

Maria Ridulph was 7 years old, enjoying the first snow of the season, on an early December evening over 53 years ago on a street corner in quiet Sycamore, Illinois. And then she vanished.

Days became weeks became months. The search teams worked. The family waited.

The abduction of a little girl in Middle America sent shockwaves far and wide. The president of the United States and the head of the FBI were given daily briefings.

And then, five months after she disappeared, Maria Ridulph's decomposed remains were found 120 miles from her home.

The case went cold.

Fast forward to today: The DeKalb county state's attorney says he is confident prosecutors will be able to prove that Jack Daniels McCullough, now 71 and locked up in Washington state, was the killer of Maria Ridulph.

McCullough, who had a different name five decades ago, used to live in Sycamore, not far from the Ridulph home. Investigators had him on their radar screen back then, but he had an alibi for the day in question. He said he was in Chicago being screened for military service and he had a train ticket to back it up.

State police said Tuesday that three years ago they got a tip on the case, but they would not discuss what it was.

Questions were then asked of a long-ago girlfriend of McCullough. And when she produced a picture of him for investigators, a train ticket from the day in question fell out of the picture frame. It had not been used. The state's attorney would not say if the fractured alibi led to the arrest.

"I'm not going to specifically comment on whether or not Mr. McCullough's statement in regards to his alibi is an accurate statement. I can say that we have marshaled a team of professionals here that will track down any lead," said DeKalb County state's attorney Clay Campbell.

In fact, the state's attorney wouldn't substantively answer any questions Tuesday, saying that McCullough's right to a fair trial trumps the public's desire for details on a murder, no matter the attention it has received.

McCullough insists he is innocent and intends to fight extradition.

In Sycamore, where Maria Ridulph is buried, residents must wait to hear the prosecution's case for a murder that shocked more than a community half a century ago.

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