Produced by Greg Fisher, Judy Rybak and Peter Henderson
[This story first aired on March 9, 2013. It was updated on June 3, 2017]
December 3, 1957. It was the day that changed Kathy [Sigman] Chapman's life forever.
Chapman was just 8 years old that December and like nearly every child in Sycamore, Ill., she couldn't wait for the first snowfall. Chuck Ridulph, then 11 years old, remembers his little sister, 7-year-old Maria, rushing out to play with Kathy around 6 p.m., just as flurries and the dark night settled over the idyllic Midwestern town.
"Today, I'm sure a lot of parents ... are sayin', 'How could that young girl have been out after dark on that corner?' Well, this was a norm," Chuck Ridulph explained.
No one ever locked doors in Sycamore or thought twice about letting little girls out to play a game they called "duck the cars."
"We would go around the pole until a car would come up the street and then ... you had to ... get behind [a] tree before the car lights hit you," Chapman said, smiling at the memory.
Retired Sycamore Police Lieutenant Patrick Solar has studied the cold case extensively.
"The unknown subject would've approached from ...south on ... Center Cross Street. Probably had a vehicle parked on the road. He may have gone by and seen the girls playing," said Solar.
"Had you ever seen him?" Moriarty asked Kathy.
"I had ... never see him before," she replied. "Not at all."
"And were you nervous at all with someone walking up towards you?"
"No ... we didn't even think twice about it," Chapman explained. "He stopped to talk to us ... told us that his name, his name was Johnny. ... Maria took the piggyback ride and he went maybe 20 feet away with her and then ... came back, and asked if we liked dolls. ... And Maria went home to get a doll.
"She went home and brought her doll back. And I said I was gonna go home and get my mittens. I was cold," Chapman continued. "I left both of them standing there on the corner ... and when I got back they were gone. ...No sign of her doll, no sign of her, no sign of anybody."
"Kathy came to the door and asked if Maria was there. I didn't think anything of it. I just said, 'No, she's still outside,'" Chuck Ridulph recalled. "It was a few minutes later -- she came back. 'I can't find Maria.'"
When Chuck searched for Maria and couldn't find her, he finally told his parents. According to public records, it was another hour before the Ridulphs called police, who joined an already frantic search for Maria and the man who called himself Johnny.
"If you can imagine ... armed citizens walking the streets with shotguns and rifles and handguns tucked in their waistband, knockin' on your door. 'We need to search your home. There's a girl missing,'" Solar said. "They set up -- roadblocks on rural roads ... They stopped every car. Searched every trunk."
"Some men came to the back door of our house and -- knocked and asked for dad," said Jeanne Tessier.
Jeanne, then 10 years old, lived with her large family just down the street from the Ridulphs. Her baby sister, Jan, was just a year old. Their father ran the hardware store and was asked to open it up. "... so they could get flashlights and lanterns," Jeanne explained.
"We didn't have a lock on our back door ... dad cut a two-by-four and jammed it into the door ... so that it wouldn't open," she continued.
"Were you scared?" Moriarty asked.
"Yeah, I was scared," Jeanne replied. "The thought of having to lock a door against an intruder was -- was new..."
No one knows exactly when Maria was taken, but two neighbors reported hearing a scream around 7 p.m. In an alley not far from where Maria disappeared, her doll was found.
"The doll was found ... between the fence and a garage which is set back on Center Cross Street," said Ridulph.
Within days, the FBI took over. Dozens of G-men descended on Sycamore and turned a small motel into their local headquarters. But there was little to go on. The crime scene had been trampled before any physical evidence could be gathered. All that investigators had was one eyewitness who was 8 years old.
"I did have to go to the police station and view lineups of different individuals. I had to go through mug shot books," Chapman explained.
"Now, do you know how many pictures you looked at? Do you have any idea?" Moriarty asked.
"Lots and lots and lots," said Chapman.
"Hundreds?" Moriarty wondered.
"Yes," Chapman replied.
"They talked to probably 1,000 people in our community," Solar explained, "but they had a short list of about a dozen individuals who were on their A-list, so to speak."
"There were a lot of suspects in that ... little town of Sycamore," Ridulph said. "It's surprising how many people were on lists of sexual predators. Of course, being ... a sexual predator at that time could have been a young man caught peeping into a window".
Three weeks later, when Christmas came around, Maria was still missing.
"I remember Maria's wrapped gifts still under the tree," said Ridulph.
"And your mom hoping she was still somehow alive," said Moriarty.
"That's right. That's right. Hoping she would be home for Christmas," he said.
"How long did it take before you found out what had happened to Maria?" Moriarty asked Chapman.
"Five months. She was found five months later," she replied.
On April 26, 1958, the case went from a kidnapping to a murder when Maria's tiny body was found partially clothed 90 miles away, near Galena, Ill.
"A farmer and his wife ... wound up finding the body partially concealed under a downed tree," said Solar.
Because Maria had not been taken across state lines, the FBI handed the investigation over to the Illinois State Police (ISP). Two years later, the ISP ran out of new leads and the case went cold. Kathy Chapman never stopped looking for the face that only she had seen.
"I never stopped looking for him, never," she told Moriarty.
"This is still hard for you, isn't it, Kathy?"
"Yeah, it is. It's been a long struggle," an emotional Chapman replied.
But Kathy hasn't been alone. Jeanne Tessier has also been haunted by the night Maria disappeared, but for a very different reason. Days later, her brother, John Tessier, became a suspect in Maria's murder after investigators received an anonymous phone call.
"At some point, the FBI came to your home," Moriarty noted to Jeanne.
"They did," she said. "...they were scary men in suits ... and they asked my mom whether John had come home that night. And she said 'yes.'"
But according to Jeanne, that was a lie.
"Why do you think your mom lied about your brother being home when you knew he wasn't," Moriarty asked Jeanne.
"I thought she must be protecting him because she had, to my knowledge, lied to protect him before..."
As years turned to decades and there was still no arrest in the kidnapping and murder of little Maria Ridulph, it seemed the mystery of her death would haunt the town of Sycamore forever.
"I think a lot of people look at Sycamore, Ill., and they say, 'Oh, the perfect American town, the great place to raise kids.' There were a lot of dark secrets in that town, too, weren't there?" Erin Moriarty asked Jeanne Tessier.
"Oh, well, there certainly were in my family," she replied.
Fifty-years after Maria's mysterious murder, one of those dark Tessier family secrets would shock their tiny town.
"[It] stirred up many old wounds. And ... dragged me against my will back into a past that I was glad to have survived," said Jeanne.
The year was 1994, and Jeanne's mom was on her deathbed -- about to make a stunning confession about her son. Tessier sisters Jan and Mary were at their mother's bedside.
"I knew she was taking to her grave so many demons," said Mary Tessier.
"She seemed like she was fighting dying," Jan Tessier said. "All of a sudden I hear, 'Janet.' ... she grabbed my wrist in -- in the strongest grip ... and she said, 'Those two little girls and the one disappeared. John did it. John did it. And you have to tell someone.'"
"Was what she said to you that clear? 'John did it.' It was that clear?" Moriarty asked.
"Yeah. Very clear," Jan replied. "... she was frantically adamant that I do something."
Jan says she was so focused on calming her dying mother that she never asked why Eileen Tessier suspected her own son of snatching and killing Maria Ridulph.
"I promised her I would take care of it. ... I said, 'Mom, don't worry, I'll take care of it," Jan explained. "And finally she just, kinda -- put her head back on the pillow and said, 'Oh,' you know, and closed her eyes."
Eileen Tessier died weeks later. Jan says she didn't trust her father to be honest about this, so she made it her mission to find the truth.
"I was kinda the family screw up for a lot of my life. And-- if I touched something it broke. And I think -- in a way it was me fulfilling an obligation finally, you know, living up to my promise," she told Moriarty.
While Jan's sibling's had their doubts, they all decided to support her in her quest for justice and risk revealing even more painful family secrets.
"We all realized that this is what we had to do," said Jeanne.
"We had to open up all --" said Jan.
"-- all the secrets," Jeanne said. "And -- this nightmare of a past. Who wanted to do that? And put it out for the world to see?"
Jan called the FBI and the Sycamore Police Department, but her brother appeared to have an alibi, placing him miles away from the crime. John Tessier even passed a polygraph. So, both agencies chose not to investigate and Jan gave up. Then, 10 years later, a friend got Jan thinking again...about the promise she made to her mother.
"He says, 'You never know. You may find a real bulldog of an investigator.' And for some reason those words hung in my head," said Jan.
The one law enforcement agency that Jan hadn't contacted yet -- the Illinois State Police -- was about to get an email.
"I hit 'send'. And then I went outside -- to have a cigarette. And I looked up at the sky and I said, 'Mom, listen, you and God better get something rolling here because I can't keep doin' this,' she said. "And two days later I get a phone call. ... I remember lookin' up and going, 'Well, that was pretty good, Ma.'"
Special Agent Brion Hanley wanted to hear more.
"Why? What was so significant about what ... Jan had to tell you about this case," Moriarty asked.
"She came to us and ... told us that her brother committed this murder," said Hanley.
"And that this is going to be something that drags the whole family into the spotlight?"
"Correct," he said.
"I knew that it would be like ripping the scab off of this -- very deep wound," said Jeanne.
Jeanne Tessier didn't hold back when Hanley interviewed her, starting with the lie she says her mother told the FBI about her brother.
"All I knew was that John didn't come home that night that Maria disappeared and that mom lied to the FBI and said he had," she told Moriarty.
Jeanne says she also wanted Hanley to know just how evil her brother could be. So, for the first time ever, she revealed what she says is a long buried family secret.
"He asked me something about -- what I knew about John's -- sexual proclivities. And -- and I told him that John had abused me," she continued.
Throughout her childhood, Jeanne says her brother sexually abused her ... and so did her father. She says her own mother knew, but kept it secret.
"I love my mother. I love my father. I love John. But they all did great harm to me," she said.
By this time, Jeanne's father has also died. There was only one person who could say for sure if John Tessier was the "Johnny" who kidnapped and killed Maria Ridulph.
"Boy, my eyes lit up. A suspect, after all these years? I thought the case was closed," said Maria's playmate, Kathy Chapman.
Chapman was by then a 61-year-old grandmother when Hanley showed her a photo lineup of six pictures of young men who lived in Sycamore in 1957. One of them was John Tessier.
"She picks this one and says, 'No,'" Hanley said of the photo lineup.
"And -- points to this one..."
"That was Johnny," said Chapman.
"Immediately, you knew it?" Moriarty asked.
"Immediately," she replied.
"And, so, in the back of your mind, what are you thinking?" Moriarty asked Hanley.
"I'm thinkin' we've got the right guy," he said.
Agent Hanley tracked John Tessier to Seattle, Wash., but his name was now Jack McCullough. He says he took his late mother's maiden name to honor her family and then married Janey O'Conner's mother.
"When my mother called me to tell me that Jack had been arrested, I laughed. ... it was unbelievable. I mean, it-- those aren't words I ever expected to hear," O'Conner said. "I've known Jack since I was 8 years old. I grew up with him. I can't -- I can't see that."
But Hanley and two veteran Washington State cold case detectives saw something different in "Janey's stepfather." Especially when they showed him the photo lineup that Kathy Chapman saw.
"I don't know any of these guys. I don't think any of these guys are from Sycamore," McCullough told detectives.
Like it or not, Jack McCullough was about to come face to face with John Tessier and his alleged dark past.
JOHN TESSIER AKA JACK MCCULLOUGH
At a police station in Seattle -- 2,000 miles away from Sycamore, Ill. -- the main suspect in Maria Ridulph's kidnapping and murder is taken in for questioning:
The suspect, John Tessier, is a 72-year-old former police officer, living in Seattle under a new name: Jack McCullough.
When investigators make it clear they suspected McCullough of being Maria Ridulph's killer, he goes on the defensive.
"I did not kidnap that little girl. ... look in my eyes. ... She was loved in the neighborhood. She was a little ... girl with big brown eyes. And she was sweet as could be, hardly said a word to anybody. And everyone loved her," McCullough told detectives.
To State's Attorney Clay Campbell, McCullough's clear and detailed memory of the child was a red flag.
"It appeared to us that he was describing somebody that he was obsessed with. That he had thought a lot about," he told Erin Moriarty.
Even more troubling to investigators, McCullough makes an astounding claim: he knows the identity of the killer... someone from the old neighborhood.
"I wanna talk to you ... about who I think did it," McCullough told detectives.
Seattle cold case detectives Cloyd Steiger and Mike Ciesynski assisted in McCullough's interrogation.
"That's a classic, like a lotta serial murderers actually that I've interviewed, it's the same thing ... They're gonna help you find the real murderer," Ciesynski told Moriarty.
"This guy would've been perfect. He was about my height. He looked something like me," McCullough told detectives.
"He doesn't say he looks like the description given. He said, 'He looks like me,'" Steiger pointed out.
"What does that say to you?" Moriarty asked.
"That says to me that, 'It is me. And I'm just tryin' to push your attention over here,'" he replied.
Jack McCullough, aka John Tessier, chose to sit down with "48 Hours" to tell his story.
Erin Moriarty: Are you the Johnny who kidnapped and killed Maria Ridulph?
Jack McCullough: Absolutely not.
McCullough does admit to "sex play" with his sister, Jeanne, when they were younger:
Special agent Brion Hanley: You said ... you had a sexual encounter with your sister...
Erin Moriarty: Did you abuse your sister, as she was growing up? You did, didn't you?
Jack McCullough: My sister and I were very close.
Erin Moriarty: What do you mean that you were very close with your sister?
Jack McCullough: We're done with this. This is -- has nothin' to do with Maria, has nothin' to do with murder.
Erin Moriarty: You were.
Jack McCullough: We're done.
Erin Moriarty: So, you're not gonna answer anything more on that?
Jack McCullough: Correct.
Special agent Brion Hanley: As you got older there could there have been other times?
Jack McCullough: Yeah ... but this doesn't make me a suspect in a murder...
Still, when Clay Campbell watched the interrogation, he was convinced they had Maria's killer.
"I thought to myself, 'Time should not allow you to get away with murder,'" he said. "I thought I had an obligation to go after him."
At a press conference, Campbell announced that McCullough was charged with murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant.
"If they had a tiny bit of evidence, maybe I'd think, 'could it be?' But they have no evidence. They have no proof," said Janey O'Conner.
McCullough's stepdaughter says Campbell has the wrong man.
"But why would his own siblings say that he killed that little girl?" Moriarty asked O'Conner.
"I have no idea," she said. "But to wait, 54 years, to sit on info ... I mean ... I can't imagine waiting a day, if you believed you knew who killed a little girl."
O'Conner says her stepfather was a decorated Air Force captain and police officer. But she had never heard Michelle Weinman's story.
When detectives in Seattle started looking into McCullough's background they found Weinman, a bartender, in Tacoma.
"This man is not what he claims to be ... he's a monster," Weinman told Moriarty. "And I said, 'Yeah, I know him ... You know, he molested me.'"
Weinman told detectives that back in 1982, when McCullough was "Officer Tessier," she was a 14-year-old runaway, seeking refuge from an abusive home. Weinman says he took her in and then made a move.
"I was on the couch and he just started to -- touch me and tried to kiss me. And -- he assaulted me," she said.
"When you say 'assault,' did he rape you, Michelle?" Moriarty asked.
"You know..." an emotional Weinman replied, then buried her head in her hands.
Tessier was charged with statutory rape, but eventually pleaded guilty to "communication with a minor for immoral purposes" -- a misdemeanor - and was fired from the force.
Jack McCullough: It didn't happen.
Erin Moriarty: If nothing happened, why would you plead guilty?
Jack McCullough: I didn't have money to fight it.
Erin Moriarty: So you're saying you never touched Michelle Weinman?
Jack McCullough: I'm saying I never raped her. I never attempted to rape her. I never had sex with her.
But State's Attorney Clay Campbell still had to prove that McCullough was a killer. In search of DNA evidence, the state had Maria Ridulph's body exhumed. After a half century, they found nothing.
"There's no physical evidence at all to tie Jack McCullough to this murder?" Moriarty asked Campbell.
"That is correct," he replied.
"It's all circumstantial?"
"That's correct," said Campbell.
So, Campbell made a surprising move: he charged Jack McCullough with a different decades-old crime. During the investigation, Jeanne Tessier had revealed a specific incident that she says happened when she was 14, and her brother was home on a military leave.
"He drove to a home I didn't know in another part of town and raped me with great -- cold anger. And then shared me with his friends," she told Moriarty.
Normally, a 55-year-old rape case would be barred by the, but because Jack returned to the military and never came back to the jurisdiction, the statute didn't apply. So Campbell made the controversial and risky decision to try Jack McCullough for the rape of his sister.
"My thinking was, let's try that one first and if he's convicted on that, it takes a lot of pressure off us in this next case," Campbell explained.
"Prosecution has really nothing on murder ... They've ripped this man from his family, destroyed his life, extradited him to another state, and they have not a shred of evidence. So now, we're gonna do 'this,'" O'Conner said of the rape charge.
But Campbell had a problem. He had promised Jeanne Tessier, now the mother of two grown children and a chaplain, being considered for an Episcopal priesthood, that he would never pursue a rape trial without her consent.
"He said, 'Well, I know I told you I wouldn't go forward without your blessing. But I am," Jeanne explained. "And I felt as powerless as I'd felt that day. I felt like I was being raped again by this legal process.
A SISTER SPEAKS OUT
On April 10, 2012, Jeanne Tessier took the stand in a Sycamore courtroom and accused her brother of raping her when she was just 14-years-old.
"I made myself look at him as soon as I sat in the witness stand. Because I had to have done that already before I could even speak," Jeanne told Erin Moriarty. "I had never said that story out loud to anyone except Brion Hanley. And they were asking me to go in this very public forum and talk about ... the most painful day of my life."
But State's Attorney Clay Campbell felt he had a better chance of convicting Jack McCullough of rape than murder and was determined to put the 72-year-old former cop away for life.
Asked what it was like telling her story on the witness stand, Jeanne told Moriarty,
"It was terrible. Because I had no control over the story. ... I had to only answer the questions that I was given. In a room full of strangers, except for the -- the man who had done this to me."
"Of course he says he's innocent," said Michelle Weinman, who was allowed to testify about what she says McCullough did to her when she was also a teen.
"I'm here to tell you right along with his sister, this man is not what he claims to be. He has -- wears a mask, and it's -- it's scary," she told Moriarty.
McCullough, concerned he couldn't get an impartial jury in Sycamore, chose to let a judge decide his fate. The trial lasted four days. Two men who lived in the house where Jeanne says the assault took place denied any knowledge of the event.
With no evidence to back her story, Jeanne feared that her word wouldn't be enough for the judge and left before the verdict was in.
"I was several hours towards home -- driving home," she explained. "I didn't wanna be there to hear it."
"Why were you so sure that he wouldn't be convicted?" Moriarty asked.
"Because," Jeanne replied, "he'd gotten away with everything he'd done his whole life, including what he did to Michelle."
Jeanne was right. Jack McCullough was found not guilty of rape and not guilty of indecent liberties with a child. Jeanne says she was publicly humiliated for nothing.
"The judge ... said ... why had I waited so long to come forward? And why was I telling this story now?" she said.
Jeanne says she wasn't allowed to tell the judge that she felt pressured to take the stand.
"It felt like another violation," she told Moriarty.
Erin Moriarty: Did you think when you were acquitted on rape then that it would be much easier than -- you might not even go on trial for the murder?
Jack McCullough: No, I was never worried about the -- about the murder trial because I had FBI evidence that I couldn't have done it.
Five months later, Campbell went ahead with the murder trial. The talk around Sycamore was that, with an election coming up, Campbell was grandstanding for votes. He says, if anything, he was risking his re-election.
"I consulted with an awful lotta people. And almost every single one of 'em told me, 'Clay, you cannot do this. ... It's a political -- disaster. And there's no way you can find him guilty of this,'" Campbell told Moriarty.
With no physical evidence, Campbell's case relied on an eyewitness and two sisters testifying against their brother more than 50 years after the fact.
Erin Moriarty: Do you think your mother thought you had something to do with Maria Ridulph's death?
Jack McCullough: [Sighs] I don't know. She was not all there. ... She was under the influence of drugs and psychotic. ... Nobody knows what she was talkin' about, it was all in her head.
Asked if her mom might have been confused, Jan Tessier told Moriarty, "I did not at the time. I don't know why, but I knew she was -- she was speakin' the truth."
"We knew it was a long shot trying to get that evidence in," Campbell explained. "The mother isn't here to be interviewed."
McCullough was certain the judge would never allow testimony of the deathbed confession, but the judge did allow it. Still, Campbell was worried. Would the judge believe his eyewitness Kathy Chapman's positive ID of the defendant so many decades after the crime?
"Small town, down the street ... and you don't recognize him as the guy who lives down the street?" Janey O'Conner commented.
"But I didn't know him. He was 10 years older, now that I know who he is," Chapman told Moriarty.
The State's credibility problems didn't end there. Three jailhouse informants would testify that McCullough confessed to them behind bars. One snitch, now serving 33 years for murder, claimed that McCullough told him he killed Maria by accident.
"The rules were very clear up front, there was absolutely nothing we were offering in exchange for their testimony because I knew the judge would view it with the same skepticism that you are..." Campbell told Moriarty.
"Why would I run up to somebody who I did not know and say, 'Oh, you look like an honest person, why don't you listen to my story. ... I murdered a little girl and I want to stay in prison forever.' Stupid," McCullough told Moriarty.
But the biggest obstacle for Campbell was in the original FBI case file. Remember, according to statements made by witnesses at the time, McCullough has an alibi -- something he tried to tell police when they arrested him:
Jack McCullough interrogation: The day Maria was kidnapped I was in the induction center ... joining the Air Force.
McCullough told Moriarty, "The only thing that matters is where I was at the time of kidnap. I was in Rockford, 40 miles away. You can't beam me up, Scotty. He wasn't even invented!"
As his murder trial approached, Jack McCullough felt confident.
"I have an alibi. We're talkin' about the FBI here, OK? J. Edgar Hoover's signature is on some of my documents," he told Erin Moriarty.
"48 Hours" couldn't find Hoover's signature, but the FBI file still made McCullough feel confident. And that's not all. McCullough also points out that he isn't the only credible suspect to have surfaced over the years; before him, there was William Henry Redmond.
"You remember the newspaper articles written at the time?" Moriarty asked Patrick Solar.
"Yes," he replied.
"And what were the headlines?"
"Case closed" he replied.
In 1997, Sycamore police Lt. Patrick Solar was sure he had identified the man who likely killed Maria. Redmond had been arrested for the 1951 rape and murder of another little girl.
"He was a carnival worker and a truck driver and a day laborer," Solar explained. "But there's a twist."
"By the time you heard about him?" Moriarty asked.
"He had died in 1995," Solar explained.
"If you're Jack's defense attorney, Pat Solar is your dream witness because he pointed the finger at a totally different suspect and said, 'Case closed,'" Moriarty noted.
"Yes," Solar affirmed.
Before McCullough's trial even began, the judge ruled out any testimony about Redmond, stating that he was not a credible suspect. But the defense still had McCullough's alibi: FBI documents that indicate he made a collect call, which placed him miles away in another town when Maria Ridulph was snatched.
Jack McCullough: [Sighs] At 6:57, I made the call. ... I had proof of where I was. Three people -- a telephone operator and her supervisor, a -- a Air Force colonel, and an Air Force tech sergeant all had me in Rockford from 6:57 until about 7:30.
Erin Moriarty: And why is that so crucial in this case?
Jack McCullough: Because she was kidnapped at 7:00.
But the State's attorney believes that other reports in the case file indicate Maria might have actually been abducted an hour earlier.
"It was easy for us to imagine him killin' her, at least kidnapping her, getting her in the car, and then drivin' up there and stoppin' at a pay phone and makin' a phone call from somewhere," said Campbell.
"You think he was setting up an alibi by calling," Moriarty noted.
"There's no question," sad Campbell.
That alibi was McCullough's best hope. But court appointed defense attorney Tom McCulloch and investigator Crystal Harrole were worried that they wouldn't be allowed to use these now more than 50-year-old documents at trial.
"It's not standard in any trial that you ever allow reports in. That's why you call witnesses to testify -- the police," Harrole explained. "But in this case, all of our witnesses were dead or senile."
And so, just like the police reports of other suspects, the judge kept the FBI file out.
Erin Moriarty: You understand why a judge would keep out these documents. These documents were written 55 years ago, and the people who wrote them are dead. There's no way to verify how credible they are.
Jack McCullough: But it's OK for him to use hearsay in the case of my mother, isn't it? ... she was dead.
Erin Moriarty: You could have given your alibi if you took the stand, why didn't you take the stand?
Jack McCullough: That's what you got attorneys for. My attorneys told me they didn't want me to take the stand.
When both sides rested, the judge announced he would take the night to review the evidence, but that he already had his decision. On Sept. 14, 2012, the Ridulph and Tessier families gathered at the courthouse to hear the verdict.
"We filed into the courtroom and the judge started to speak. And at first I went, 'Oh, no,' because it sounded like he was going to say 'not guilty,' Jan Tessier said. "And then he said, 'Therefore I find the defendant guilty.' And the place exploded!"
"Maria got her justice!" Jan said giving a thumbs up to reporters outside the courthouse.
In his decision, the judge said he found credible all the prosecution's witnesses, even the jailhouse informants.
But it was Kathy Chapman's identification of the man she encountered as a little girl one winter evening 55 years ago that made the crucial difference.
"This time ... the long arm of the law reached out and got him," Campbell told Moriarty. "I think the reason there's not a statute of limitations on murder is because ... we all think that ... if you take a human life, that no matter how much time passes if you can still come forward in a court o' law and prove that that person did it, then that person oughta suffer the consequences of having taken a human life."
McCullough was sentenced to life in prison.
Erin Moriarty: Did you get a fair trial, Jack?
Jack McCullough: I did not. ... Where is the proof beyond a reasonable doubt?
Erin Moriarty: Can anybody get a fair trial after 55 years?
Jack McCullough: No. ... There's nobody to testify on -- on my behalf. They're all dead. That's the problem with gettin' old.
"Is the mystery finally solved?" Moriarty asked Jan Tessier.
"Yes, absolutely. The Ridulphs believe it. They know it. I know it. My family knows it," she replied. "The investigators know it. The prosecutors know it. It's a done deal. It's a done deal."
Erin Moriarty: Earlier in this interview, you told me that these accusations of rape and the sex allegations are irrelevant to this murder. But in fact, whoever killed Maria Ridulph was a pedophile, somebody who abused little girls.
Jack McCullough: You don't know that. Nobody knows that. ... That's supposition.
Erin Moriarty: But why are you unwilling to talk about these accusations of rape?
Jack McCullough: It has nothing to do with murder.
Erin Moriarty: But it has something to do with your character. It says a lot about you.
Jack McCullough: I may have -- I may have been a sinner, but I'm not a murderer.
Erin Moriarty: Is it possible then that you were acquitted of what you did do and convicted of what you didn't?
Jack McCullough: That could be.
Erin Moriarty: Is that what happened?
Jack McCullough: Don't know.
As a convicted child killer as well as an ex-cop, prison life was particularly hard on Jack McCullough. For his own safety, he was kept in protective custody -- locked up in a tiny cell 23 hours a day.
But all that would change on April 15, 2016, at a hearing inside a packed Illinois courtroom.
After serving five years of his life sentence, Jack McCullough heard the words that would set him free.
Judge Bradley: I will sign an order vacating the judgment of conviction…
This remarkable turn in the case came after State's Attorney Richard Schmack had conducted his own review and found there was no way McCullough could have killed Maria Ridulph. The investigation was prompted by McCullough's motion for a new trial.
After reviewing thousands of documents ruled inadmissible at trial, Prosecutor Schmack found himself in the unusual position of siding with the defense.
"The prosecutor in this county has made very clear that he believes Mr. McCullough is actually innocent and the facts demonstrated that," McCullough's defense attorney told reporters outside the courthouse.
Those facts included newly discovered phone records that confirmed that McCullough was miles away when Maria was kidnapped.
A week after he was released, McCullough was back in court to hear his case dismissed.
"Coming from an environment of 'you can't do anything' to where you can do anything, you gotta know what freedom is and it's just plain wonderful," McCullough said after his release from prison.
And there was even more stunning news to come.
In April 2017, Judge Bradley officially declared Jack McCullough innocent of Maria's murder.
But McCullough will be tied up in court for years because he has filed a federal lawsuit against numerous Illinois state and local authorities for wrongful conviction.
While sadly, one of the nation's oldest cold cases … is cold again.
Maria Ridulph's case is now a reopened and active investigation being conducted by the Illinois State Police.
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