SYCAMORE, Ill. – An Illinois woman finally got the chance Tuesday to identify in court a photo of the man she believes kidnapped and killed her childhood friend 55 years ago.
Kathy Chapman, now in her mid-60s, testified against Jack McCullough, a 72-year-old former Washington state police officer who has pleaded not guilty to abducting and killing 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in the winter of 1957.
With the gray-haired defendant sitting across the courtroom, a prosecutor laid out a half-dozen black-and-white pictures of similar-looking men. Chapman proceeded to pick out one of a young McCullough, who in the 1950s went by the name John Tessier.
“This photo, right there,” a sometimes emotional Chapman told the DeKalb County courtroom.
She said a man who called himself “Johnny” approached the two girls as they played on a street corner near their homes in Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957, as an early winter snow fell on the quiet neighborhood.
“He asked if we liked dolls and would we like a piggyback ride,” Chapman told the court.
Chapman said she saw the man give her friend a ride, and then Maria ran home and brought back a doll. Chapman went home herself to grab mittens and returned to find her friend and the man gone.
“I went to the corner looking for Maria – she should still be there,” she testified. “She was not there.”
She never saw her friend alive again.
Chapman told authorities that story after Ridulph disappeared, but she was never shown a picture of McCullough, who would have been about 17 at the time.
The disappearance and murder of the little girl put a national spotlight on the northeastern Illinois town in the late 1950s. Even then-President Dwight Eisenhower asked to be kept up to date on the search.
Ridulph’s badly decomposed body was found in the spring of 1958 about 120 miles from Sycamore. In opening statements Monday, prosecutors said the girl had been stabbed in the throat and chest at least three times.
The defense says there is no physical evidence tying its client to the murder and that authorities have the wrong man.
Under cross-examination on Tuesday by defense attorneys, Chapman conceded she could not remember other details about the man – the kind of belt or boots he was wearing, for example.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell singled out Chapman, whose maiden name was Sigman, as a star witness in his opening statement.
“The defendant thought he could get away with it,” Campbell said. “What he couldn’t count on was that Kathy Sigman could never forget his face.”
McCullough lived a few blocks from the Ridulph family home and was on an early list of suspects. But he had an alibi, saying that on the day the girl vanished, he traveled to Chicago to get a medical exam before enlisting in the Air Force.
He later served in the Armed Forces and ultimately worked as a police officer in Washington and a security guard at a retirement home – where he was arrested on July 1, 2011. He was brought to Illinois and jailed.
Investigators reopened the case a few years ago, after McCullough’s former girlfriend told them she found his unused train ticket from Rockford to Chicago from Dec. 3, 1957, the day Ridulph vanished.
The defense has opted for a bench trial, meaning a judge will decide the verdict.