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updated: 7/1/2011 8:23 PM

Seattle man charged in 1957 slaying of Sycamore girl

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Associated Press

SYCAMORE -- A Seattle man was charged Friday in the long-unsolved slaying of a 7-year-old girl who was abducted in 1957 near her home in the northern Illinois, prosecutors said.

DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell said that Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, was charged with murdering Maria Ridulph, who was abducted while playing with a friend near her home in Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago.

The search for Maria involved more than 1,000 law enforcement officers and numerous other community members, and it caught the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who requested daily updates, Campbell said in a written statement.

Maria disappeared on Dec. 3, and the search lasted five months, until two people foraging for mushrooms in Jo Davies County, in the northwest corner of the state, found her remains on April 26, 1958.

It was unclear whether McCullough had an attorney. Campbell's office said no additional information about the investigation would be released until next week and the Illinois State Police referred all comments to Campbell.

Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in King County, Wash., said McCullough is scheduled for a first appearance Saturday at the King County Jail on investigation of being a fugitive from justice. Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas said McCullough was picked up for questioning on Wednesday night.

"This crime has haunted Sycamore for half a century. We hope that the family of Maria Ridulph and this community can find some solace and closure with this arrest," Campbell said.

He said McCullough is in the King County jail awaiting extradition.

Officials said McCullough, who was 18 and named John Tessier at the time of Maria's disappearance, was an initial suspect but had an alibi. The case went cold after he joined the military and changed his name to McCullough.

"He matched the description of the suspect, he wore the same clothing, he had the same first name "Johnny" and he lived about a block away," said Thomas.

Thomas said the Illinois State Police received new information a couple of years ago that led them to McCullough, and that they have been working with local detectives.

"We were able recently to totally disallow (McCullough's) alibi with fresh information and new interviews," Thomas said.

Thomas said he spoke to Maria's family on Thursday to prepare them for the news. "We're hoping that his arrest and eventual conviction will bring some measure of closure for the family," Thomas said.

A message left for Maria's brother, Charles Ridulph, was not immediately returned Friday. But in a 2007 interview with The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle, he said that even in the first days after his sister's abduction, he didn't think his family held out hope she would be found alive.

He said Maria's disappearance left a lot of anger in the town, and that his family tried to go on with life.

"Things were going on as usual, but there was an empty there, a missing of her," he told the newspaper. "She was a beautiful girl, athletic, gifted, smart. She would have been something."