It was a shattering death bed confession by a heartbroken mother. But would it solve the oldest cold case murder case in American jurisprudence?
In January 1994, Eileen Tessier told Jack McCullough’s half-sister Janet Tessier that he, her son, kidnapped 7-year-old Maria Ridulph from their neighborhood in Sycamore, Illinois and killed her in December 1957. It was a case that tore the child’s family apart, as well as dividing and terrifying the town as the days, then the months, and finally the years passed with no arrest.
In 2008 the Illinois State police reopened the case against Jack after receiving an email from Janet Tessier about their mother’s deathbed confession. After the Illinois State police interviewed Janet and learned that Jack had also been accused of raping their other sister, Jeanne Tessier, they reopened the case. But would reopening the case solve the question of who killed Maria Ridulph? And was McCullough the killer?
In THE LAST MAN STANDING, true crime author Alan Warren writes in exacting detail about the kidnapping, murder and subsequent investigations—both in 1957 and 2008—that eventually led to the murder conviction of Jack McCullough. But the story doesn’t stop there as it delves into the years McCullough spent in prison and the efforts to have his conviction overturned.
Was McCullough the brutal killer of a little girl? Or was he the last man standing when the justice system decided he needed to pay for the crime? You decide.
From The Book:
The headline on the front page of Sycamore’s afternoon paper screamed the bad news that everybody in town already suspected: “Missing Girl, 7, Feared Kidnapped.” Foul play was suspected, but there were no real clues. When Maria went missing, she was wearing a brown three-quarter length coat, black corduroy slacks, brown socks, and freshly polished saddle shoes. She weighed about 55 pounds, was 44 inches tall and wore her hair in a wavy brown bob style with bangs.
The man who called himself Johnny, police reported, wore a striped sweater of blue, yellow, and green. He had long blond hair that curled in the front and flopped onto his forehead.
But there were conflicting reports about the exact time of Maria’s disappearance. Was she snatched closer to 6 p.m. or did it happen later, at about 7 p.m.? Police and FBI reports as well as newscasts from the time contained details that supported both scenarios.
Sycamore’s police chief, William Hindenburg, told FBI agents that Kathy and Maria went out to play at 6:02 p.m., but the DeKalb County sheriff said that Maria didn’t call Kathy to ask her to come out and play until 6:30 p.m. Maria’s mother later altered her original estimate, saying the girls could have been outside as early as 10 minutes to 6. The time differences would become a very important matter when the case was reopened 50 years later.
After a week had passed, Maria’s mother decided to go to the media and make a plea for her daughter. “God forgives mistakes. We would, too,” Frances Ridulph said to the local newspaper reporter. “Maria was a nervous girl, a nail biter who could quickly become hysterical if things didn’t go her way.” She continued, “Maria would make a noise if something seemed wrong, and no kidnapper would put up with that for long.” She exclaimed, “Whoever took her away hit her weak spot. He played with her.” The frantic mother finished.
Frances then went to the local TV station to deliver a message to Maria. “Don’t cry, Maria. Above all, don’t cry. Don’t make a fuss. We’ll be with you soon.”
About The Author:
Alan R Warren is one of the current hosts of the House of Mystery Radio Show that is heard on KKNW 1150 A.M. in Seattle and is syndicated in many markets throughout the U.S. including 106.5 F.M. KCAA Los Angeles, Riverside & Palm Springs and in Utah on KYAH 540 A.M. in Salt Lake City and KFNX 1100 A.M. Phoenix. He has written six best-selling True Crime Books and Articles for True Crime Case Files Magazine and Serial Killer Magazine.
Alan achieved his Masters in Music and his minor in Criminology at the University of Washington in 1998. He has gone on to receive his Doctorate in Religious Studies in 2016.
He also has his recording and sound engineering certificate from the Award-Winning Bullfrog Studios in Vancouver B.C., Canada