Illinois State Police Special Agent Brion Hanley always was skeptical of law enforcement officials who talked on TV programs like "48 Hours" about being consumed by a case.
Then came the Maria Ridulph case, the 1957 unsolved murder of a 7-year-old girl in Sycamore that Hanley worked for four years. Jack McCullough, 73, of Seattle was arrested in 2011 and convicted of the crime in September 2012.
"Before this case, I was like, 'Ah, come on.' Yeah, you may think about it every once in a while but really, being consumed?" Hanley said. "Now that I've done this high-profile case, they're right on the money. It does consume you."
In part because of his work on the Ridulph case, Hanley, 41, of Lake in the Hills, was named ISP's Officer of the Year at an awards ceremony July 31. There were 33 nominees out of more than 1,800 sworn officers in the agency.
Hanley grew up in Elgin and graduated from St. Edward Central Catholic High School before attending Eastern Illinois University. He wanted to become a teacher, but education jobs were scarce, so he joined the state police in 1998, he said.
Hanley started his career in District 2, based in Elgin, where he was a member of the special enforcement team and served as district juvenile coordinator. In 2005, he was assigned to the general criminal unit of investigations for Zone 1, first out of Des Plaines, then Elgin. He also served as a member of the McHenry County Major Case Investigative Team.
The Ridulph case is believed to be the oldest homicide in the country to be brought to trial resulting in a conviction, state police officials say. Hanley worked on the case with Larry Kot, criminal intelligence analyst supervisor for Zone 1.
"Almost every day we would be calling each other on our way home or what have you, thinking of the next step that we needed to take to complete this," he said. "We had a lot of road bumps on this case, but then another thing would come in, and be like, 'OK, this clears that up.'"
Some bumps in the road included something as simple as getting approval for travel expenses, he said.
"You have to spend money to solve a case, period. Especially with this old of a case, people have moved away from Sycamore. Some of Jack's family was in Minnesota and Kentucky, and he had moved to Seattle."
McCullough, who was 18 and known as John Tessier at the time of the girl's disappearance, was an initial suspect. According to coverage of the trial by the Associated Press, a deathbed accusation by McCullough's mother in 1994 -- passed on to police by his half-sister in 2008 -- led to a chain of events that brought about his conviction.
"There wasn't just one piece (that lead to the arrest), it was a combination of things," Hanley said.
Today Hanley serves as deputy director of the state police's Greater Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force. That means investigating financial fraud, VIN number thefts and the like.
"It's still investigations. It's a different animal," he said.
He enjoys his current position, Hanley added, because working murder investigations does take an emotional toll.
"You keep in the back of your mind that someone lost their lives, some family lost their daughter, their niece, their cousin. That's what keeps you going," he said. "When the judge gave his verdict, the elephant jumped off my shoulder. It was a relief."
The Ridulph case has brought national media attention. Hanley was interviewed on "48 Hours" last fall, and he and Kot were interviewed by CNN's Don Lemon last weekend.
But that's not what his job is about, he said.
"I just want to work and solve crimes."