Man wrongfully convicted in 1957 cold case killing of Maria Ridulph, 7, ruled innocent


An Illinois man wrongfully convicted of the 1957 kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl was granted a certificate of innocence this week after serving four years of a life sentence, making it possible for him to sue the state.

Jack McCullough was found guilty in 2012 of the murder of Maria Ridulph, who was kidnapped on December 3, 1957 while playing in the snow outside of her Sycamore home.

Maria and a friend had been approached by a young man who offered them piggyback rides, the friend told CBS.

"He stopped to talk to us... told us that his name, his name was Johnny," Kathy Chapman told 48 Hours.

Maria jumped on the man's back, went home to get a doll, returned and then Chapman left to get mittens. When Chapman came back, both Maria and the man were gone.

Maria's remains were found months later in a forest.

Photos from the case:

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Jack McCullough, wrongfully convicted in 1957 cold case killing of Maria Ridulph, ruled innocent
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Jack McCullough, wrongfully convicted in 1957 cold case killing of Maria Ridulph, ruled innocent

Maria Ridulph was kidnapped on December 3, 1957 while playing in the snow outside of her Sycamore home.

Photo: INSIDE EDITION

Maria and a friend had been approached by a young man who offered them piggyback rides, the friend told CBS.

Photo: INSIDE EDITION

Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, enters a King County Jail courtroom in Seattle on July 4, 2011 for his bail hearing after being arrested on June 29, 2011 for the 1957 abduction and murder of then seven-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore, Illinois. McCullouch, a Seattle resident and former police officer in two Western Washington State cities, is being held on $3 million bail and his next court appearance in Seattle is scheduled for July 6, 2011. Photo shot through bullet-proof glass.REUTERS/Anthony Bolante (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Jenn Howton, a step-niece of Jack Daniel McCullough (also know as John Tessier), listens to McCullough's probable cause hearing in the courtroom at the King County Jail in Seattle, Washington, July 2, 2011. McCullough has been charged in the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Illinois. McCullough did not appear in court because he was admitted to Harborview Medical Center hospital for unknown reasons. REUTERS/Marcus Donner (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, (center) listens to his defense attorney Robert Jordan (L) while standing in front of Judge Veronica Alecea-Galvin (R) in a King County Jail courtroom in Seattle on July 4, 2011 during his bail hearing after being arrested on June 29, 2011 for the 1957 abduction and murder of then seven-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore, Illinois. McCullouch, a Seattle resident and former police officer in two Western Washington State cities, is being held on $3 million bail and his next court appearance in Seattle is scheduled for July 6, 2011. Photo shot through bullet-proof glass. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
A stepdaughter of Jack Daniel McCullough (also known as John Tessier), listens to McCullough's probable cause hearing in the courtroom at the King County Jail in Seattle, Washington, July 2, 2011. McCullough has been charged in the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Illinois. McCullough did not appear in court because he was admitted to Harborview Medical Center hospital for unknown reasons. REUTERS/Marcus Donner (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Janey O'Connor, stepdaughter of accused child-murderer Jack Daniel McCullough, talks to the media in support of her stepfather outside the courtroom in Seattle, Washington July 6, 2011, after McCullough was arraigned on being a fugitive from justice. McCullough waived his right to appear at his arraignment and is being held in connection to the 1957 abduction and murder of then seven-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore, Illinois. The fugitive from justice charge is expected to keep McCullough, a Seattle resident and former police officer in two Western Washington State cities, in the King County Jail pending his extradition to Illinois. REUTERS/Marcus Donner (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW SOCIETY)
Janey O'Connor, stepdaughter of accused child-murderer Jack Daniel McCullough, talks to the media in support of her stepfather outside the courtroom in Seattle, Washington July 6, 2011, after McCullough was arraigned on being a fugitive from justice. McCullough waived his right to appear at his arraignment and is being held in connection to the 1957 abduction and murder of then seven-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore, Illinois. The fugitive from justice charge is expected to keep McCullough, a Seattle resident and former police officer in two Western Washington State cities, in the King County Jail pending his extradition to Illinois. REUTERS/Marcus Donner (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, enters the King County Jail courtroom in Seattle on July 4, 2011 for his bail hearing. An Illinois judge dismissed charges on Friday against McCullough, who was previously convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1957. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/Files
Jack McCullough listens to arguments by his lawyers during his court hearing at the DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday, April 15, 2016, in Sycamore, Ill. Judge Brady later ordered a new trial for McCullough and also ordered that he be freed from custody on his own recognizance. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Judge Eileen Kato presides over the probable cause hearing of Jack Daniel McCullough (also known as John Tessier), in the courtroom at the King County Jail in Seattle, Washington, July 2, 2011. McCullough has been charged in the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Illinois. McCullough did not appear in court because he was admitted to Harborview Medical Center hospital for unknown reasons. REUTERS/Marcus Donner (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Jack McCullough gestures to his family after hearing of his impending release during his court hearing at the DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday, April 15, 2016, in Sycamore, Ill. Judge Brady later ordered a new trial for McCullough and also ordered that he be freed from custody on his own recognizance. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
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McCullough, who lived in the community and was 18 at the time of Maria's disappearance, was cleared as a suspect in the 1950s, but investigators again focused on him after one of his half-sisters told authorities their mother said on her deathbed that she believed he may have killed Maria, CBS wrote.

The former police officer always maintained his innocence, telling cops that he had been 40 miles away when Maria disappeared.

But evidence was kept out of McCullough's trial that supported his alibi, officials said.

A report from DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack said evidence, including phone records, showed McCullough had been in Rockford, about 40 miles northwest of Sycamore, to enlist in the Air Force at the time of the abduction.

It would have been impossible for McCullough to have kidnapped Maria and driven to Rockford in time to make a documented telephone call and meet with recruiters, Schmack said.

"I truly wish that this crime had really been solved, and her true killer were incarcerated for life. When I began this lengthy review I had expected to find some reliable evidence that the right man had been convicted. No such evidence could be discovered," Schmack said in a statement at the time. "Compounding the tragedy by convicting the wrong man, and fighting further in the hopes of keeping him jailed, is not the proper legacy for our community, or for the memory of Maria Ridulph."

Read: Police Determined to Find Killer of Child Whose Murder 20 Years Ago Inspired Amber Alerts

McCullough was ordered to be released in April 2016, and on Wednesday, DeKalb County Associate Judge William Brady granted him a certificate of innocence.

But the judgement did not dissuade Maria's sister, Pat Quinn, from believing the right man had been charged with her sister's murder.

"Do I feel Jack McCullough killed my sister?" Quinn said outside the court, CBS wrote. "Yes, I do."

McCullough is undecided on whether to file a lawsuit or seek compensation, Aisha Davis of the Chicago-based Exoneration Project said.

"We're all very glad that he doesn't have to worry about this being over his head, and he can finally move on," she said.

Watch: Man Convicted In 1979 Cold Case Disappearance of Etan Patz

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