Some say ‘justice has been served’ at McCullough trial

By Alan Kozeluh

On Friday, Jack McCullough, 72, was found guilty of the 1957 kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph, 7.

Ridulph was abducted from the corner of Center Cross Street and Archie Place on Dec. 3, 1957. In April 1958, Ridulph’s skeletal remains were found in Jo Daviess County. Ridulph’s death is one of the oldest unsolved crimes to make it all the way to trial in the U.S., according to a Sept. 14 Huffington Post article.

The gallery leapt to its feet and applauded before James Hallock, 16th Judicial Circuit associate judge, could finish reading the verdict.

The state built its case on physical evidence concerning the condition of Ridulph’s body and testimonies of McCullough’s inmates and family and friends of the suspect and victim.

In closing arguments, public defender Tom McCulloch pointed to a lack of direct physical evidence linking McCullough to the crime. He also questioned the credibility of some of the witnesses.

“Jailhouse informants are not inherently reliable,” he said of the inmates, who testified that McCullough confided in them about the murder. “Such a witness has a motive to falsify.”

Kathy Chapman, a childhood from of Ridulph’s, testified that she was with Ridulph when a man who identified himself as Johnny approached them in 1957 and asked if the girls wanted piggy back rides. Chapman went home to get her mittens and when she came back, Ridulph and Johnny were gone. At the trial, McCulloch called into question Chapman’s identification of McCullough from a photo of him from around the time of the murder. McCulloch said since the incident happened so long ago, Chapman pointing out McCullough and identifying him as Johnny from a line of photos should not carry much relevance.

“Why is it that, 50 years later, this process is more accurate or more reliable?” McCulloch said.

The prosecution also called upon inmates who testified that they were involved in conversations with McCullough or overheard conversations in which McCullough admitted to murdering Ridulph. Julie Trevarthen, DeKalb County assistant state’s attorney, said it should come as no surprise that McCullough would confide in untrustworthy people.

“Crimes conceived in hell don’t have angels as witnesses,” Trevarthen said.

Members of McCullough’s family testified, as did Charles Ridulph, Maria Ridulph’s older brother. Janet Tessier, McCullough’s half-sister, testified that her mother, Eileen Tessier, told her in 1994 that McCullough killed Maria Ridulph. Charles Ridulph talked about his sister and their community prior to and after her disappearance.

Hallock acknowledged the arguments of both sides in his verdict. He said he had confidence the prosecutors had not promised the inmates anything in exchange for their testimony, but that did not necessarily make the testimony credible.

“It is the function of the court to weigh the credibility of all witnesses,” Hallock said. “The court finds the other witnesses were credible although their memories were clouded by the passage of time.”

Following the verdict, a number of people spoke about the case in a press conference.

“I apologize that this took so long, that justice was so long delayed, and you lost your sister,” Janet Tessier said.

Members of the Tessier family, including Janet, expressed thanks to those who investigated the case. According to an ABC news article, Charles Ridulph, Maria’s brother, said he knew McCullough had to be guilty.

“I was one who, from the very beginning, never doubted the guilt of John Tessier, also known as Jack McCullough,” Charles said. “He got to live with the memory that he did this to her, and we just kept looking for him.”

McCullough reportedly showed no emotion as the verdict was announced. Chapman and Tessier family members said justice has been served. McCulloch said McCullough has brought up the appeal process.

McCullough’s official sentencing will be Nov. 30. He can choose whether to be sentenced under 1957 or current day statutes, said Clay Campbell, DeKalb County state’s attorney, according to a Sept. 15 Daily Chronicle article.

Editor’s note: City Editor Lauren Dielman and Editor in Chief Kelly Bauer contributed to this article.