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updated: 4/22/2014 6:15 PM

Man convicted of 1957 murder appeals

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  • Jack McCullough, a 73-year-old former police officer, speaks during an interview last August with the Chicago Sun-Times at the Pontiac Correctional Center. He's serving a life sentence for the 1957 death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph.

      Jack McCullough, a 73-year-old former police officer, speaks during an interview last August with the Chicago Sun-Times at the Pontiac Correctional Center. He's serving a life sentence for the 1957 death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph.
    Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times Media

 
Associated Press

One of the oldest unsolved crimes in U.S. history to go to trial ended in 2012, when a man was convicted of abducting a 7-year-old schoolgirl from a Sycamore street, then choking and stabbing her to death nearly 60 years earlier.

But last week, an appeal was filed in a state appellate court on behalf of 74-year-old Jack McCullough, who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1957 slaying of Maria Ridulph. Prosecutors have about 30 days to file a response, after which oral arguments will be scheduled.

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The 72-page appeal says prosecutors relied on fallible recollections of their star witness, a friend playing with Ridulph the night she disappeared. It criticizes the notion Kathy Chapman's childhood memories were so indelibly seared into her mind that she could plausibly identify McCullough five decades later.

At trial, Chapman, now in her 60s, picked out McCullough from an old photograph, saying he was the then-teenager who gave her friend a piggyback ride in Sycamore before she vanished.

"Responsibility for (Ridulph's) kidnapping, abduction, and murder needed to be proven by competent evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, and not by appeals to sympathy or the romance of the 1950s," the appeal says.

McCullough approached the girls as they played on Dec. 3, 1957. After Chapman ran home to grab mittens, McCullough dragged Ridulph into an alley, choked her and stabbed her in her throat and chest, prosecutors say.

McCullough was briefly a suspect in the 1950s but had an alibi. He said he'd been traveling to and from Chicago to get a medical exam.

Police received word from McCullough's half-sister in 2008 that his mother said on her deathbed in 1994 that she knew her son killed Ridulph. That led to charges, and McCullough eventually was arrested in 2011 in Washington state where he worked as a security guard.

The appeal says the mother was likely not coherent enough to make any such claim. If she did, the appeal said, it questions the basis on which she could have possibly known her son killed Ridulph.

In statements to police in 2011, McCullough recalled seeing Ridulph, describing her as being as pretty as a "Barbie doll." The judge was wrong, the appeal says, to have allowed what were "innocuous" remarks as evidence.

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