(SYCAMORE, Ill.) — Former police officer Jack McCullough was sentenced to life in prison Monday for the 1957 murder of a little girl, closing one of the nation’s longest and most notorious cold cases.
McCullough, now 73, was sentenced in Sycamore, Ill., the same town where he kidnapped and killed Maria Ridulph on Dec. 3, 1957.
Prosecutors alleged that a 17-year-old McCullough, who was known then by his birth name, John Tessier, approached Maria and her friend, Kathy, while they were playing outside of her house. He introduced himself as “Johnny” and offered the girls piggy-back rides.
When Kathy left to get her mittens, prosecutors said McCullough dragged Maria to an alley, choked her with a wire and stabbed her in the throat and chest. He then drove 100 miles and dumped the 7-year-old’s body in a wooded area.
The crime horrified the nation so much that President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover requested frequent updates, according to reports.
Maria’s body was found on April 26, 1958.
McCullough was arrested in Seattle last July after his half-sister, Janet Tessier, encouraged police to reopen the cold case and provided new information.
Within days of Maria’s disappearance, police received an anonymous phone call days later that John Tessier matched the description of a man seen talking to her. Tessier changed his last name to McCullough after his mother died in 1994 to honor her maiden name.
When police questioned him, he said he had taken a train from Rockford, Ill., about 40 miles from Sycamore, to Chicago, where he received a physical exam and psychological tests to determine his eligibility for military service.
McCullough left the state soon after the murder and joined the Air Force. He later transferred to the Army and then worked as a policeman in Washington state.
Decades later, new leads emerged, including an unstamped Rockford to Chicago train ticket McCullough’s ex-girlfriend found behind a picture frame.
Under a new cloud of suspicion, McCullough admitted he had never taken a train to Chicago, and said his stepfather drove him there and he then hitched a ride back to Rockford where he called his stepfather to pick him up.
After McCullough was convicted, he wrote an open letter to the residents of Sycamore proclaiming his innocence and alibi, according to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.
“If all parties had read the documents, it should have caused a reasonable person to conclude that I could not have been ‘Johnny,'” he wrote. “Because at the exact time of the kidnapping, I was in Rockford, 40 miles away.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivaylo Vezenkov, CNN
Matt McFarland, CNN
Pamela Brown, Jake Tapper and Dan Merica, CNN