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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Crime Tidbit: 50-Year-Old Cold Case Solved

Maria Ridulph (Source)
Did you know...

That in 2011, the oldest cold case in U.S. History was solved with a conviction?

In 1957, Marie Ridulph, a brown-haired, big brown-eyed seven-year-old from Sycamore, Illinois disappeared from her hometown.

It was a small farm town where everyone knew everyone and, in 1957, few people bothered to lock their doors. Marie went out to play after dinner with her best friend Kathy, and they were approached by a light-haired young man who called himself Johnny. He gave them piggy backs and made them laugh. At one point, Marie went home to get some toys, and Johnny asked Marie if she wanted to go on a car or bus ride with him. She said no. When Kathy went home to get her gloves, Marie stayed with Johnny. When Kathy returned, Johnny and her best friend were gone.

The case was huge, making national headlines. J. Edgar Hoover himself requested regular updates and it was said that President Eisenhower followed the case. A community search turned into an extensive policy investigation, which in turn turned into an FBI case. 

A local man who owned a hardware store, Ralph Tessier, opened his store to searchers so they could gather supplies such as flashlights and lanterns. His children, including his stepson Johnny--from his wife's first marriage--had grown up in the neighborhood and knew the Ridulphs well. John's name came up in the investigation eventually via an anonymous tip. When the police came to question his mother, she told them Johnny had been home with her all night the evening Marie disappeared. John's stepsisters stood by listening, knowing their mother was lying to protect their step brother. He'd always been her favorite.

Five months later, Marie's remains were found beneath a fallen tree in a field by a hunter. Animals had been at the corpse and it was most likely that she had died the night she was abducted. She was laid to rest on a warm spring day. 

Identified by dental records, no specific cause of death was determined via autopsy. The only thing listed was "foul play suspected." Of course this was long before the advent of forensic investigations, but not much was done that was helpful to the investigation. 

Months later, the case stalled, eventually fading into the cracks of a mass of cold cases. The lives of all involved stalled as well. Kathy, Marie's friend who was not taken couldn't wait to get out of Sycamore. She endured stares, gossip, mothers who wouldn't let their children play with her for fear that the kidnapper would return and take their children, and others who wouldn't let their teenage boys date her for the same reasons. Eventually she moved away, married, and started her own life. 

Of course Marie's family never got closure, and endless cops, detectives, investigators, and FBI agents were haunted by the case. 

Thirty-six years later, Eileen Tessier (John's mother) was on her death bed. Not long before passing, she called out to her youngest daughter Janet, who was only a year old when Marie disappeared. 

"Those two little girls, and the one that disappeared, John did it. John did it, and you have to tell someone." Eileen said. 

Chills ran up Janet's spine, and she knew she had to tell someone, but she didn't know how to go about it. Over the next fifteen years, she approached several law enforcement agencies but was always overlooked or shut down. Finally she emailed a unit that specialized in cold cases. In the email, she stated that if she was ignored, she would not approach anyone else. She couldn't keep dredging up old memories. That caught the attention of one of the investigators, and new investigation began.

"Jonny"/Jack McCullough as a teen. (Source)
Eventually, a teenage picture of "Johnny" who had since changed his name to Jack McCullough, was found and shown to Kathy. She knew right away he was the young man who had given them piggy backs that night and disappeared with her best friend. 

In 2011, Jack McCullough was convicted of kidnapping, murder, and abduction of a minor. He is now seventy-three and serving a life sentence.

Plenty of people, including his current wife and step daughter believe he is innocent and that the system set him up, but when the verdict was announced, a cheer went up in the court room and the small town of Sycamore finally found some closure.

The investigators believe that getting a conviction fifty-four years after the crime occurred is proof that no one can or should get away with murder. Even decades later, it's possible to achieve justice.

For more info: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/08/us/oldest-cold-case/index.html

What do you think of this case? Do you think Jack McCullough is innocent? What are your thoughts on a conviction after fifty years?

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