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Jack McCullough sentenced to life for 1957 murder of 7-year-old

Jack Daniel McCullough

Jack Daniel McCullough

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Updated: December 10, 2012 8:01PM

SYCAMORE — Before Jack McCullough was sentenced to life in prison for the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, he adamantly insisted he had nothing to do with her death.

“I did not, I did not kill Maria Ridulph. I did not,” the white-haired, 73-year-old McCullough said Monday, his voice rising as he turned in the courtroom to face the gallery where Ridulph’s two surviving siblings sat.

The crime drew nationwide attention to the small DeKalb County farm town, but no one was charged with the girl’s baffling disappearance and death until McCullough was arrested last year.

The former Sycamore man, who on Dec. 3, 1957, lived just a few blocks from Ridulph, was found guilty in September of kidnapping and killing the brown-eyed second grader. His trial — nearly 55 years after Maria’s death — was one of the oldest murder prosecutions ever in the United States.

Before being sentenced, McCullough flatly told Judge James Hallock he had erred in convicting him of Ridulph’s slaying. McCullough also criticized Hallock for barring evidence from the FBI’s original investigation that he said proved he couldn’t have killed the youngster.

“Since when is life in prison an appropriate sentence for an innocent man?” McCullough asked even before he was sentenced.

Despite his loud denials, Ridulph’s relatives said they remain convinced he killed Maria, whose body was found near Galena about five months after she vanished.

“We know in our minds he did it,” Patricia Quinn, Maria’s older sister, said outside the courtroom.

And they said he deserved the life sentence — the maximum penalty he faced under 1957 sentencing laws.

“I wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything other than life,” said Charles Ridulph, Maria’s older brother.

The sentence, though, will allow McCullough — if he’s still alive — to apply for parole after he serves 20 years behind bars.

Confident verdict

For his part, Judge Hallock didn’t directly reply to McCullough before imposing the life sentence, but indicated he’s comfortable with the guilty verdict.

“This court expects the case to be affirmed on appeal,” Hallock added afterward.

Former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said the life sentence was appropriate.

“We are gratified by the court’s life sentence,” said Campbell, who prosecuted McCullough but then lost his November election bid.

Campbell scoffed at McCullough’s courtroom claims that his prosecution was politically motivated.

“If that was a political ploy on my part, I’m not a very good politician,” Campbell said.

Illinois State Police began investigating the killing in 2008 after receiving a tip from McCullough’s half-sister that their mother on her deathbed had incriminated McCullough in the crime.

Four of McCullough’s half-siblings later testified against him, with two describing how they heard their mother tell police McCullough had been home the night Maria vanished. Both said they had not seen him in the house that night.

Maria’s childhood friend, Kathy Sigman Chapman, also identified a 1950s photo of McCullough as the man she had seen with Maria just before the girl vanished.

A state police investigator dismissed McCullough’s allegations that evidence from the initial investigation proved he was in Rockford at the time Maria disappeared from her neighborhood.

“It’s a bunch of nonsense,” Special Agent Brion Hanley said outside the courtroom.

And Chapman, who also was in court, said she remains convinced McCullough was the person she saw talking with Maria before she left to get her mittens.

“There isn’t doubt. I’m sure,” said Chapman, adding she’s pleased McCullough was slammed with the maximum sentence for her friend’s death.

“This is all we could expect,” Chapman said. “Now, Maria is at peace.”

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