In 2012, former police officer Jack McCullough was convicted of the 1957 kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, a case that ran cold for almost 60 years. Now an Illinois court is considering an appeal filed by McCullough, whose lawyers claim that an eye-witness to 1957 events was having a "romantic notion."
A key witness of the crime was Ridulph's childhood friend Kathy Sigman Chapman, who is now in her sixties. Chapman claimed she had seen McCullough, then a teenager, giving Ridulph a piggyback ride in Sycamore, Illinois before she disappeared. In a 72-page appeal, McCullough's lawyers contest that Chapman's memories of Ridulph's vanishing were so deeply ingrained into her mind that she could have mistakenly identified McCullough five decades later. The case was once the oldest unsolved murder in the United States, before McCullough, formerly John Tessier, was arrested in July, 2011.
Chapman testified during the trial that on December 3, 1957, a teenager who called himself Johnny had approached her and Ridulph. Chapman went home briefly to get mittens, and upon her return both Johnny and Maria were missing. Ridulph's body was found the following spring roughly 120 miles away. The case received national attention, and the FBI became involved under J. Edgar Hoover.
Here is a 48 Hours documentary on the case:
The case was reopened decades later, after Janet Tessier, McCullough's half sister, contacted Illinois State Police. Janet Tessier had been a caretaker of McCullough's biological mother Eileen Tessier, who had been dying of cancer. On her deathbed, Tessier's mother confessed that McCullough murdered Ridulph. McCullough was then arrested at a retirement community in Seattle where he'd lived and worked.
Prosecutors said McCullough, now 74, choked Ridulph with a wire and stabbed her, and he was found guilty. Though, McCollough's lawyers have testified that Eileen Tessier, who was in the end stages of cancer, was sedated, "emotionally disturbed," sometimes "basically comatose" and at other times "pleasantly confused."
Man serving life in 1957 cold case appeals murder conviction/Could be another legal system error. Look how they bumbled the '06 WAMU case!
— Edward (@Edward508) April 22, 2014
McCollough's appeal states that by allowing prosecutors to introduce "irrelevant, but highly prejudicial evidence, no rational trier of fact would have found the defendant guilty."
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