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Proving the Coldest of Cold Cases: a 1957 Murder

“The deceased Maria Ridulph came to her death by unknown means as a result of foul play at a place or places and time unknown and inflicted by a person or persons unknown,” a coroner’s jury concluded in 1958.

Not much has changed since then. At the time of the discovery of the 7-year-old’s body, there was little evidence left. She was abducted on December 3, 1957. Her body was discovered, badly decomposed, in the spring of 1958. According to the Chicago Tribune, the only clue to her abductor was her 8-year-old friend Kathy Sigman’s eyewitness description of a young man who introduced himself as Johnny.

John Tessier, who has since changed his name to Jack Daniel McCullough, was looked at initially as a suspect. He matched the description and the name. However, he claimed that he was in Chicago undertaking a pre-enlistment physical. His parents vouched for the alibi. Days later, he was enlisted in the Air Force.

In 2010, his ex-girlfriend discovered an unused train ticket to Chicago, from December 3, 1957, tucked into the back of a framed photo of the former couple. Fifty-three years after the abduction, Kathy Sigman identified an old photo of Tessier/McCullough out of a photo lineup as “Johnny”.

The only other evidence that ties McCullough to the crime is an alleged dying declaration by McCullough’s mother. She told her daughters in 1994 that their brother was at fault for Maria’s murder, reports the Tribune.

In addition to the circumstantial evidence related to the actual crime, the prosecutors will attempt to present evidence of other sexual misconduct by the defendant. McCullough’s sister claims that she was sexually abused by her brother and two other men in 1962. He was acquitted of that crime in April.

According to the Huffington Post, McCullough also pled guilty to unlawfully communicating with a minor in 1983, after a runaway girl that he and his girlfriend took in accused him of sexual abuse. It was at that point that he lost his job with the Milton Police Department in Washington.

Evidence of past acts in order to prove present conduct is generally not allowed. However, in certain sex offenses, especially regarding children, evidence of these past acts are sometimes allowed.

In addition, any physical evidence that remains will likely have to be vouched for by the person who collected it or analyzed it. Finding the former investigators, evidence technicians, and autopsy doctors is a nearly impossible task after fifty-three years.

Keep checking back for more coverage on the Tessier/McCullough case, including the defense and the outcome.

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