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Jack McCullough Case: A Timeline

The Disappearance

December 3, 1957:  The times below reflect the evidence presented in the 2016 court-ordered investigation of the case by DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack.

6:45-7:00 p.m.: Maria Ridulph is last seen by her friend and playmate Kathy Sigman. They were playing with a young man named Johnny and Maria went inside her home five minutes beforehand to get a doll to play with. 

6:55 p.m.: Kathy Sigman returns to the corner where the three were playing and sees Maria is gone. 

Credit Susan Stephens

6:55 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Kathy Sigman, her brother, and Maria Ridulph’s father start to look for Maria. 

6:57 p.m.: A collect telephone call is placed to the Tessier home from Rockford by John Tessier, later known as Jack McCullough. Phone records say the call lasted about two minutes. 

7:15 – 7:30 p.m.: John Tessier, aka Jack McCullough, encounters military recruitment officers at the Rockford Post Office and leaves paperwork to discuss with another officer the next day. 

8:05 – 8:10 p.m.: Maria Ridulph’s sisters report her missing to the Sycamore Police. 

9:00 p.m.: Maria’s doll is found near a neighborhood garage during a search. 

December 4-26, 1957: FBI establishes temporary headquarters in Sycamore, Ill. John Tessier (Jack McCullough) is cleared by the FBI after passing a polygraph test. He was one of 200 possible suspects interviewed.  

Credit Joiner History Room

December 9, 1957: No additional clues are found during the search for Maria Ridulph. The community starts a reward fund. 

April 26, 1958: Maria Ridulph’s body is found by a couple in a Jo Daviess County wooded area. The FBI ends involvement in the case after it’s discovered that Ridulph apparently never left Illinois

April 28, 1958: The search for Maria Ridulph's killer ends. 

April 30, 1958: Maria Ridulph is buried. 

Credit Joiner History Room

November 19, 1997: The Maria Ridulph murder case is officially closed but not solved. Police suspect William Henry Redmond is the killer. Redmond was a truck driver for a Chicago-based company in 1957; he died in 1992.

Sometime in 2008: Jack McCullough’s half-sister, Janet Tessier, emails a tip to the Illinois State Police that her mother confessed on her deathbed more than a decade before that McCullough killed Maria Ridulph. Police start looking into the case again.

Credit Joiner History Room
High school photo of John Tessier used in a photo lineup presented to Kathy Chapman.

September 2010: Kathy Sigman Chapman is contacted by the Illinois State Police and asked to recount the night of Ridulph's kidnapping. She is shown a photo line-up and identifies a high school photo of Jack McCullough as "Johnny," Maria's abductor.

June 29, 2011: Jack McCullough is arrested in his Seattle, Wash., home.

July 1, 2011: McCullough is charged with the abduction and murder of Maria Ridulph. Bond is set at $3-million.

The Trial

July 27, 2011: McCullough is extradited to Sycamore, Illinois. Maria Ridulph's body is exhumed to test for DNA evidence (Her remains are reinterred nearly a year later). McCullough is arraigned in DeKalb County Court the next day.

April 2012: Jack McCullough is tried for the 1962 rape of his half-sister. DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell chose to prosecute this case before the Ridulph case. McCullough is acquitted by the judge, who said the prosecution failed to prove there was an assault.

August 22, 2012: McCullough submits his alibi to the court. He says he was visiting military recruiters in Rockford at the time of Ridulph's kidnapping in Sycamore.

September 10, 2012: McCullough's trial for the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph begins in DeKalb County court, before Judge James Hallock. Charles Ridulph, Maria's brother, is the first witness to testify.


Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ
Maria Ridulph's friend Kathy Chapman and Jack McCullough's half-sister Mary Hunt

September 11, 2012: The prosecution's star witness, Kathy Sigman Chapman, testifies. She was with Maria the night she was kidnapped and, more than 50 years later, identified Jack McCullough as "Johnny," the man who gave them piggyback rides before Maria disappeared. McCullough's three half-sisters also testify against him. Janet Tessier recounts her mother's death-bed declaration that "John did it."

September 12, 2012: Day 3 of the trial. Two inmates testify they heard McCullough talking about how he killed Ridulph. A forensic anthropologist says the autopsy on the exhumed remains of Ridulph shows she was cut three times in the chest area.

September 13, 2012: The state rests its case against McCullough.

September 14, 2012: Jack McCullough (John Tessier), now in his 70s, is convicted of kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph in 1957.

December 10, 2012: McCullough is sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Ridulph. That’s after McCullough begins the appellate process

The Appeal and Dismissal

February 13, 2015: The Illinois Appellate Court upholds the murder conviction. However, the court vacates the kidnapping convictions since they were outside of the three-year statute of limitations for those crimes in 1957. 

January 14, 2016: McCullough makes his first court appearance since he was originally convicted and sent to prison in 2012. The hearing was on a request to set a deadline for DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack to respond to McCullough’s petition by the end of February. The petition was written by McCullough without the help of a lawyer. 

March 25, 2016: Schmack announces completion of six-month overview of evidence in the case. He 

Credit Danielle Guerra

  determined that McCullough was innocent based on evidence previously not admissible in court. “I truly wish that this crime had really been solved, and [Maria Ridulph’s] killer were incarcerated. […] I had expected to find some reliable evidence that the right man had been convicted. No such evidence could be discovered.” – from Schmack’s official statement. 

March 29, 2016: DeKalb County Judge William Brady announces McCullough will get a new attorney to help him pursue freedom from his murder conviction

March 31, 2016: Two Chicago attorneys, Gabriel Fuentes and Shaun Van Horn, volunteer to represent McCullough “in his attempts to get his conviction overturned.” 

Credit Danielle Guerra


Jack McCullough proclaims his innocence in DeKalb County courtroom

April 15, 2016: DeKalb County Judge William Brady vacates McCullough’s original conviction and sentence, and McCullough is released on bond.

Pat Quinn, sister of Maria Ridulph, reacts to McCullough's release to a reporter on the lawn of the courthouse

April 20, 2016: The victim’s brother, Charles Ridulph, hires an attorney as part of his efforts to have a special prosecutor appointed to handle the case. Schmack also files a motion to dismiss the case against McCullough with prejudice, which means the case can’t be re-filed if the motion is granted, and McCullough would be free. 

Charles Ridulph speaks to reporters about his reaction to a petition drive calling for a special prosecutor

DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack tells a DeKalb County judge that he does not have a conflict of interest in the case

April 22, 2016: Murder charges against Jack McCullough are dismissed, but without prejudice – meaning the case could still be retried. Hearings about a special prosecutor are scheduled for June. 

May 2016: Charles Ridulph claims that Schmack made a 2012 campaign promise to drop charges against Jack McCullough and thus argued Schmack's taking an active part of the case is a conflict of interest

June 20, 2016: Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center files in DeKalb County court an amicus brief opposing a special prosecutor in the case. 

June 22, 2016: Judge William Brady schedules evidentiary hearing, allowing Charles Ridulph’s lawyer Bruce Brandwein to bring in witnesses to show why a special prosecutor should be appointed. Former DeKalb County Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Trevarthen allegedly overheard Schmack make comments about the case, promising to release McCullough because he was innocent. 

Credit Danielle Guerra

June 29, 2016: Schmack files another motion for Judge William Brady to dismiss a request for special prosecutor. 

July 12, 2016: DeKalb County Judge William Brady denies Schmack’s motions that would have prevented a special prosecutor being assigned to the case. Charles Ridulph and Julie Trevarthen will be called as witnesses for the additional hearing on Aug. 5 that will determine whether a special prosecutor will be appointed to the case. Schmack previously said it would be inappropriate for Ridulph to testify, since he wasn’t present for those alleged comments.

August 5, 2016: DeKalb County Judge William Brady dismisses Charles Ridulph's request for a special prosecutor. Ridulph says he will likely not appeal the judge's decision.

  • WNIJ news staffers Katie Finlon, Susan Stephens, Jenna Dooley, Jessie Schlacks, Nicole Shenberger, and Victor Yehling contributed to this report.