More than half a century later, the case is closed.
Seventy-three-year-old Jack McCullough received a life sentence Monday for the 1957 abduction and killing of 7-year-old Maria E. Ridulph of Sycamore, Ill. A lifetime ago, the two had been neighbors.
In those days -- when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and Elvis dominated the airwaves -- Ridulph's disappearance one night, while playing with a friend in the dark on a December evening, horrified the state and the country. Eisenhower himself was reported to have asked for updates on the case. (Read a Los Angeles Times retrospective about the disappearance here.)
After her decomposed body was found nearly 100 miles away by mushroom hunters a few months later, the crime went unresolved for decades with nary a solid suspect.
That changed after Janet Tessier told Illinois state police in 2010 that she suspected McCullough, her half-brother -- who had changed his name -- committed the midcentury killing. In 1994, their dying mother grabbed Tessier's wrist and said, "Those two little girls -- and the one that disappeared -- John did it, John did it, and you have to tell someone," Tessier said of McCullough, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Investigators got moving. Ridulph's then-playmate, Cathy Chapman, who said she'd seen a man named Johnny approach them and ask to play that night, picked McCullough out of an old photo lineup. Then came the arrest, a bench trial in front of Judge James Hallock and a Sept. 14 conviction.
At McCullough's sentencing on Monday, he remained defiant.
“I did not kill Maria Ridulph. I did not," he said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Other reports said he cited FBI records that would have showed his innocence had they not been stricken during pretrial hearings.
He had previously been accused of raping another sister, Jeanne Tessier, and ended his career as a cop in the 1980s after a misdemeanor conviction related to sexually abusing a teenage runaway. Most recently, he'd been working as a security guard for a Seattle retirement home before his arrest.
Ridulph's brother, Charles Ridulph, told the Sun-Times he was satisfied with the sentence. “I wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything other than life,” he said.