Sometimes, you just have to say, "Thank you, officers, for your persistence."
Daily Herald staff writer Lee Filas told this week about the efforts of police agencies to continue to investigate murder cases decades after the fact, following trails that have long grown cold. Poring again over old evidence. Talking again to witnesses and family members. Keeping long-suspected individuals in their sights.
His report came as investigators in Sycamore reported an arrest in the apparent kidnap murder of a 7-year-old girl 54 years ago. Maria Ridulph disappeared while playing with a friend near her Sycamore home in early December 1957. Despite a massive search, her body wasn't found until April 1958, when it was discovered by two people hunting mushrooms.
Cold-case investigators described two key characteristics of most such investigations: Police usually have a particular individual in mind, and solutions rarely involve new evidence -- most of the time new witnesses come forward or the killer confesses. Only one of those circumstances applies clearly to the Sycamore case. Authorities were suspicious all along of a local teenager named John Tessier, who eventually changed his name to Jack Daniel McCullough and moved to Seattle. The evidence that finally led to his arrest turned up recently, when investigators re-interviewing an ex-girlfriend of McCullough's came across an unused train ticket that destroyed his alibi.
The enduring pain of such cases are reflected in the thoughts of Maria Ridulph's brother, Charles, now a 65-year-old minister.
"It's in my every thought," he told The Associated Press, "even in my dreams."
Maria's friend, Kathy Chapman, now 61 and a grandmother living in St. Charles, said the case robbed her of her childhood.
"She was my best friend," Chapman said, adding that, after the tragedy, "Things never went back to normal."
And, of course, they won't go back to normal now, either. A family friend even worries about a "whole river flow of memories" that McCullough's arrest unleashed. But at least there will be answers. For Charles Ridulph and Kathy Chapman, they won't bring back a sister and a childhood, but they show that the community still cares, that it never lost the commitment to justice they longed for all these years. That has to bring them some satisfaction; Chapman said it made her "ecstatic."
And it offers hope for families of Earl, Elizabeth and Gary Teets of Hoffman Estates, killed in 1979; Brent Westerman of Fox Lake, killed in 1983; Kristy Wesselman, killed at her Glen Ellyn home in 1985; and other victims of unsolved tragedies.
The cases may inevitably fade from the public's memory, but thankfully, for police and prosecutors, they remain always in focus.