Jack McCullough, 72, convicted in 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph, 7

September 14, 2012 (SYCAMORE, Ill.)

More than 50 years after 7-year-old Maria Ridulph went missing, her former neighbor Jack McCullough was convicted of killing the Sycamore girl.

"I was one who, from the very beginning, never doubted the guilt of John Tessier, also known as Jack McCullough," said Charles Ridulph, the victim's brother.

McCullough was found guilty of the 1957 abduction, kidnapping and murder. He was on an early list of suspects but was not arrested until 2011 in Washington state after the discovery of new evidence.

" He is guilty and he really did do it. That's a great relief for us," said Bob Tessier, McCullough's brother.

McCullough showed no emotion as Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock delivered his decision.

A courtroom filled with Ridulph's family and friends erupted with cheers.

" After all this time, moments ago, a court of law determined who was responsible," DeKalb Count State's Attorney Clay Campbell said.

Nearly a dozen witnesses testified for the state during the weeklong bench trial,, including three jailhouse informants who claimed the former Washington state police officer admitted to killing the girl. The trial also included one of McCullough's half -sisters who contacted authorities after their mother made a death bed confession that McCullough killed the second grader.

"I apologize on behalf of my mother that this took so long," said Janet Tessier, McCullough's half-sister.

But Ridulph's playmate, Kathy Sigman Chapman, was the star witness. She identified McCullough -- whose name was John Tessier then - as the 17-year-old who called himself "Johnny" when he approached the girls as they played.

Ridulph's remains were found five months later in rural Jo Davies County.

"He got to live with the memory that he did this to her, and we just kept looking for him," Chapman said.

Mccullough's defense was brief. He did not take the stand, but in his closing, public defender Tom McCulloch said, "There is an absolute absence of evidence" as he asked for an acquittal.

At a hearing, he and his attorneys will decide if he will be sentenced under 1957 statutes or the current law. That hearing happens November 30.

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