By BILL HOFFMANN NOVEMBER 11, 2014
One of the most shocking and puzzling child murder cases in U.S. history — solved about 55 years later after a chilling deathbed confession — is the subject of a new book.
Charles Lachman, executive producer of the TV show “Inside Edition,” is author of “Footsteps in the Snow,” published by Berkley and the subject of a Lifetime Movie Channel documentary.
“It really is an extraordinary story. It’s 1957, three weeks before Christmas in Sycamore, Ill., a small town a lot of people describe as Mayberry. Beautiful place to raise a family, to grow up in,” Lachman said Tuesday on “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV.
“And suddenly one night, the boogie man comes out of the snowfall. Maria Ridulph is playing with her best friend, Kathy. Maria is 7, Kathy is 8.
“The kidnapper calls himself Johnny, and he says to Maria, would you like a piggy-back ride? She’s a little girl, she says yes, and she gets on his back — gone.”
Four months later, in early 1958, Maria’s body was found in a grove of trees 120 miles from her home. The nightmarish crime attracted national attention, including that of the FBI and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But despite the grilling of 74 men and three women as possible suspects, no one was ever charged. The murder became a so-called “cold case.”
Amazingly, 55 years later, the case was reopened when a former neighbor of the Ridulphs made a stunning deathbed confession to her family about a dark secret.
“In 1994, an elderly woman named Eileen Tessier is dying of cancer in a hospital room, and her two daughters are with her, and she calls out the name of one . . . ‘Janet, Janet, come here,’ and Janet comes to her bed, and she makes a deathbed confession,” Lachman said.
“She says words to the effect of Johnny, he did it, those two little girls. He did it and it was only then that the daughters realized that their own brother, Johnny Tessier, was possibly responsible for the worst crime in Sycamore’s history.
“It was something out of the movies, you don’t see it in real life, but it really happened.”
It led to Maria’s killer’s finally being brought to justice. Jack McCullough, a former police officer, was convicted in 2012.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Maria’s friend, Kathy, identified a 1957 photo of McCullough, who was then known as John Tessier, 17, as the person who approached them that night.
Earlier this year, McCullough, 74, began an attempt to get his conviction overturned, filing an appellate brief that says the evidence used against him was flimsy and did not prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.