Wrongful Conviction in Oldest Cold Case in American History Overturned

On December 3, 1957, on the streets of Sycamore, Illinois, Maria Ridulph disappeared with a man who only referred to himself as Johnny. Her body was found in the nearby woods four and a half months later. The leads into Maria’s abduction and murder didn’t go anywhere until the 2012 conviction of Jack Daniel McCullough, who was a neighbor to the Ridulphs with the former name John Tessier. During the trial, McCollough claimed he was innocent.

The entire case was flipped on its head in March 2016 when Richard Schmack, the DeKalb County State’s Attorney, reexamined the case files. During the initial trial, there was a box of files containing old police reports and FBI reports on McCullough. The judge presiding over the trial did not allow the files to be used as evidence, claiming they were all hearsay.

When Schmack went over the files in 2016, four years after the conviction, he found that the timeline prevented McCollough, then known as Tessier, from being in Sycamore. He was instead in Rockford, Illinois, at the time of the abduction, almost 40 miles away. Schmack also subpoenaed phone records from AT&T that corroborated the new timeline developed with the older records.

As expected, the reactions from the Ridulph and McCollough families have been opposed and emotionally charged. Schmack notified the families of his decision to overturn the ruling through letter. The Ridulph family, particularly Maria’s older brother Charles, disagreed with the newly established timeline, echoing the judge’s decision to keep those records out of evidence. Sue McCollough, Jack McCollough’s wife, is excited to see her husband again. She had been living in a nursing home and has been unable to visit her husband in prison. McCollough was released from prison on April 15, 2016, and the charges against him were dropped a week later.

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