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Prosecutor confident of case against suspect in 1957 kidnapping-murder

Dekalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell speaks mediduring press conference Dekalb County Government Legislative Center Tuesday July 12 2011 Sycamore.

Dekalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell speaks to the media during a press conference at the Dekalb County Government Legislative Center on Tuesday July 12, 2011 in Sycamore. Authorities charged 71 year old Jack Daniel McCullough with the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph in 1957. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:42AM

SYCAMORE — Jack Daniel McCullough possibly could return to Illinois within a few weeks to face charges in the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, authorities said Tuesday.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell acknowledged, however, that it may take as long as several months to bring the now 71-year-old McCullough back from Seattle, Wash., where he has said he intends to fight extradition.

Campbell filed kidnapping and murder charges on July 1 against McCullough in the decades-old disappearance of the Sycamore girl, who vanished from her neighborhood on Dec. 3, 1957, while playing with her best friend in the first snowfall of the winter.

Maria’s skeletal remains were discovered in rural Jo Daviess County in northwestern Illinois nearly five months after she vanished, but no one had ever been charged in her slaying.

While confirming that a “new lead, a fresh lead” surfaced in 2008 to jump-start the investigation, Campbell repeatedly declined to comment on specific evidence that allegedly ties McCullough — who in 1957 lived a few blocks from Maria’s home — to her death.

But Campbell said several times that he believes he can convict McCullough of killing the brown-eyed, brown-haired second-grader.

“We are confident in this case that Mr. McCullough killed Maria Ridulph, and we intend to prove that,” Campbell said.

Court documents filed in Seattle indicate a tip in 2010 from an ex-girlfriend caused investigators to take another look at McCullough as a suspect.

She gave investigators an unused train ticket that casts doubt on McCullough’s long-standing alibi that he was traveling from Rockford to Chicago on the day Maria was slain, the documents indicate.

McCullough initially was questioned by police during the intensive investigation after Maria disappeared, according to the court documents.

McCullough — then 18 — was known as John Tessier at the time of the slaying and was a member of a well-known local family in the town of 5,000.

He later changed his name to McCullough and served for a time as a police officer in Washington state.

The friend who last saw Maria alive said in an interview with Sun-Times Media that she was shown pictures last September by investigators and identified one as a photo of McCullough.

Kathy Chapman, now 61, insisted that she had never previously been shown a photo of McCullough, despite being questioned extensively by police in the weeks after Maria vanished.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, McCullough stuck to his original alibi, that he was in Chicago for medical exams needed to join the Air Force on the day Maria disappeared. He said he did not use the train ticket because he traveled by car.

“I have an iron-clad alibi,” McCullough said in a jailhouse interview. “I did not commit a murder.”

Campbell acknowledged there would be “challenges” in trying McCullough for a murder he allegedly committed more than 53 years ago, but said the new charges illustrate that such crimes should never be forgotten.

“The long arm of the law is awfully long,” Campbell said. “We will not rest until we get justice in cases like this.”

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