With new lead, 1957 murder victim's body exhumed

In this undated photo, Maria Ridulph is seen with family members in Illinois. A Seattle man was charged Friday, July 1, 2011 in the long-unsolved slaying.
Associated Press

It is a mystery that has haunted a Chicago suburb for more than a half century. A little girl was found murdered, and the only suspect in the case had gone free, until now.

CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports that police went to great lengths to try to close this cold case.

For 53 years, the grave of seven-year-old Maria Ridulph was undisturbed. Her unsolved murder case as cold as the ground that held her coffin.

On Wednesday morning, however, her remains were exhumed to see if modern science - and DNA - can support the authorities' belief that they've cracked this case at last.

Arrest made in unsolved 1957 murder of little girl

"We want to bring the best minds available to us to have them conduct a thorough examination of her remains," says Clay Campbell, DeKalb, Ill., county state attorney.

On that December evening back in 1957, Maria's friend Cathy Sigman recalled playing together outside when a man calling himself Johnny asked if they wanted to play.

Cathy went to get her mittens, but when she returned, the man and the little girl known as "Pretty Maria" by her friends were gone.

The case was so notorious it drew the attention of President Dwight Eisenhower, who asked for daily updates.

Maria's body was found the following April, 120 miles from her Sycamore, Ill., home.

Fast forward to early this month when police in Washington, acting on a tip from Illinois- arrested and charged Jack Daniel McCullough - a 71-year-old former policeman from the Seattle area - with kidnapping and murder.

Back in 1957, his name was John Tessier and he was Maria's neighbor. When questioned by police then, he said he was on a train to Chicago when she disappeared.

But three years ago, after he had changed his name to McCullough, an old girlfriend produced an unused train ticket of his from the very same day.

That sparked an intense focus on him.

"We've been fairly astonished at not only the leads that we've gotten, but the recollections of some of the local residents," Campbell says.

More than half a century later, this case is no longer cold.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.