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updated: 7/6/2011 9:10 PM

Man charged in 1957 Sycamore murder faces fugitive charge

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  • Janey O'Connor, the step daughter of Jack Daniel McCullough, speaks to reporters following a hearing for McCullough, which he declined to attend, Wednesday, July 6, 2011, in Seattle. The former police officer arrested in the 1957 killing of an Illinois girl is being charged with being a fugitive from justice, a charge expected to keep him in custody pending his return to Illinois.

      Janey O'Connor, the step daughter of Jack Daniel McCullough, speaks to reporters following a hearing for McCullough, which he declined to attend, Wednesday, July 6, 2011, in Seattle. The former police officer arrested in the 1957 killing of an Illinois girl is being charged with being a fugitive from justice, a charge expected to keep him in custody pending his return to Illinois.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- A former police officer arrested in the 1957 killing of an Illinois girl was charged Wednesday with being a fugitive, a charge designed to keep him in custody pending his return to the Midwest.

Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, declined to appear in court for his arraignment, but a lawyer entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf, and the judge kept his bail at $3 million. Another hearing was set for July 20.

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McCullough is accused in the 1957 abduction-slaying of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in the small town of Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago. The case drew sensational attention across the country at the time, with then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover taking a personal interest and receiving daily updates from investigators.

The girl's playmate, Kathy Chapman, now 61 and living in St. Charles, Ill., has said she and Maria were at a street corner when a young man she knew as "Johnny" offered them a piggyback ride. Chapman said she ran home to get mittens and returned to find Maria and the man gone.

Maria's remains were found in April 1958 in Jo Daviess County, about 120 miles away.

Chapman has said police never showed her a photo of McCullough after Maria went missing until last September. She said she identified a photo of a teenage McCullough as the "Johnny" who approached her and Maria the night her friend vanished.

McCullough, then 18 and known as John Tessier, lived near the girl and matched the description of the kidnapper, but he had an alibi, claiming he had taken a train from Rockford to Chicago the day of the abduction so he could take a physical to enlist in the military. The case went cold, and Tessier eventually resettled in Washington state, where he worked as a police officer until he was accused of sexually molesting a runaway in her early teens.

Last year, as cold case detectives took another look at Maria's death, they interviewed the woman who was McCullough's girlfriend at the time, according to a police affidavit. She took a photo of him out of a frame to give to the investigators and discovered an unused train ticket from behind it -- the ticket that would have taken him from Rockford to Chicago, the affidavit said.

Several other aspects of McCullough's alibi also seemed inconsistent, and he gave other inconsistent statements after they arrested him at his North Seattle home last week, the investigators wrote.

McCullough's stepdaughter, Janey O'Connor, attended Wednesday's court hearing and said afterward that McCullough is honest and honorable and denies the charges completely.

"I believe in him and I know he didn't do this," she said.

She and her boyfriend, Casey Porter, told the AP that some of the statements and evidence cited by investigators seemed bizarre. Considering that McCullough long ago had been a suspect and had even been questioned by agents, how is it that his girlfriend from back then suddenly discovered a key piece of evidence behind a framed photo she'd been keeping for nearly 60 years, they asked. They also suggested it's common for train tickets to go unpunched.

O'Connor, 33, took issue with statements by McCullough's ex-wife cited in the affidavit, in which she said McCullough sometimes had "prostitutes" come to their house so he could take nude photos of them.

"I've gone through those albums -- it's not pornography," O'Connor said. "It's tasteful. It's not even all women."

She also criticized the affidavit, and some news coverage, for giving the impression he changed his name to hide from authorities. He changed his name in 1994, after his mother had died and the same year he married O'Connor's mother, Susan, she said. "McCullough" was his mother's maiden name.

"He said to my mom, 'Do you want to be the third Mrs. Tessier or the first Mrs. McCullough?'" O'Connor said.

The couple met after McCullough started working for Susan O'Connor's father, who ran a business ferrying airline crews back and forth between hotels and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, she said.

Beginning in the 1970s, McCullough worked as a police officer in the towns of Lacey and Milton, Wash., but was fired from Milton in the 1980s amid the sexual abuse allegations. He pleaded guilty to unlawfully communicating with a minor and went on to private security jobs before going to work for his future wife's father.

According to the police affidavit, which was obtained and posted online by The Seattle Times after an inadvertently unsealed copy became available in a court computer system, McCullough had a history of sexually abusing neighborhood girls as a teenager. But O'Connor said she trusted him completely with her own young children. He and his wife frequently watch them while O'Connor is at work, and he takes them out every Friday, she said.

O'Connor said she has spoken with McCullough since his arrest, and he emphasized his faith in the justice system.

"He said, 'Honey, they don't convict innocent men. I'm coming home,'" she said.

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