Suspect in '57 slaying of Sycamore girl pleads not guilty; DNA testing ordered

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A Seattle man charged in the 1957 slaying of a Sycamore girl pleaded not guilty this morning, as authorities revealed they will test his DNA against evidence recovered from her recent exhumation.

Appearing at his arraignment via a video feed from the DeKalb County Jail, Jack McCullough entered the perfunctory plea during a brief court appearance after Judge Robbin J. Stuckert formally read the indictment that charged McCullough with abducting, kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Maria Ridulph Dec. 3, 1957, as she played in her neighborhood. At the time, McCullough, now 71, was a local teen who went by the name John Tessier.

Authorities found the child's partially nude body five months later about 120 miles away in Jo Daviess County. A cause of death was not determined. The child’s remains were exhumed July 27 in Sycamore’s Elmwood Cemetery – the same day McCullough was extradited to Illinois from Seattle.

Stuckert granted the prosecution's request for a swab of McCullough's DNA for testing against evidence recovered from Maria's body after the exhumation. According to court documents, hair and fabric was recovered, as well as finger and toenail clippings from the child's body.

McCullough may have an expert present during the DNA testing, Stuckert said. He continued the case until Sept. 22.

McCullough, dressed in orange jail garb, appeared focused but relaxed as Stuckert  detailed the charges and possible penalties at the three-minute hearing.

 “Yes, your honor,” McCullough responded when Stuckert asked him if he understood he could go to prison for life.

McCullough had been a suspect at the time of the slaying, but he had an alibi, police said. McCullough said that on the day of the girl's disappearance, he completed a physical exam in Chicago to join the Army and then traveled to Rockford to try to turn in the paperwork, according to court documents. Authorities now say they have discredited that alibi.

McCullough left Sycamore the same year as Maria’s disappearance. He joined the Air Force and later the Army. After his discharge he became a police officer in Milton, Wash, but resigned in March 1982, according to records. That same month he was charged with the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

At the time of his arrest, McCullough was living in a Seattle retirement community, where he also worked as the night watchman. He maintains his innocence.

cmgutowski@tribune.com

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