Maria Ridulph was 7 years old when she was murdered in 1957. An old train ticket held the key to the identity of her killer for more than 54 years.
According to the Associated Press, it was long assumed that someone passing through their hometown of Sycamore, Illinois had killed the child. Instead it wound up being a police officer who lived just blocks away from the Ridulph home.
Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, is being held in a Seattle, Washington jail on $3 million bail. His former girlfriend discovered the evidence that obliterated the former police officer's alibi.
She was asked by police to dig through items belonging to McCullough that she was in possession of. It was among these things that the train ticket was found. It hadn't been used. McCullough had claimed he was on the train the day Maria Ridulph disappeared. A collect phone call McCullough made to his girlfriend that same day had been made from within his Sycamore home instead of Chicago, where he said he was calling from.
Kathy Chapman was Maria's best friend, and was with her right before her disappearance. Chapman and Ridulph were out playing, when a young man she knew as "Johnny" offered them a piggyback ride. Chapman says she ran home to get mittens and when she returned, Maria and the man were gone.
Chapman said she wasn't shown a picture of McCullough in the weeks following Maria murder. When investigators showed her a photo of McCullough as a teen last year, she identified him as the "Johnny" who offered the piggyback ride on that fateful date.
Can you imagine the satisfaction the investigators must be feeling since solving this case? Many investigators have long since retired.
Chuck Ridulph is a 65-year-old minister who once shared a bedroom with his sister Maria. He bought a headstone so he'll be buried next to where she is, when his time comes.
"I just can't believe that after all these years they'd be able to find this guy," he says.
"It's in my every thought, even in my dreams," he says. "It was just like it was yesterday. It comes up all the time in conversation."
How sad that this little girl lost her life so young. How fitting that her killer was caught and will ultimately be brought to justice. Life was never right for those who loved Maria Ridulph.
"Things never went back to normal," Kathy Chapman said. "It was always a struggle. I didn't have a normal childhood after that."
Chuck Ridulph doesn't believe in the 'closure' part of the investigation, however.
"That's a standard way of thinking, that there's justice and closure," he said. "The people who go through it, they deal with it forever."
And Chuck Ridulph will continue living with the fact that his sister was abducted and murdered in a town deemed safe, where children played outside long after darkness had settled in.
May this pastor eventually find his peace. May Maria Ridulph finally rest in peace.