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Jack Daniel McCullough (left) is accused is the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph (right).

Irishman arrested in cold case Chicago murder from 1957

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Jack Daniel McCullough (left) is accused is the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph (right).

An irishman charged with killing a 7-year-old girl in Sycamore, Illinois, in 1957 admits he has a "checkered past" but insists he is innocent of the murder.

On July 1, Jack Daniel McCullough,a Belfast native, was charged with the murder of Maria Ridulph, who was abducted on Dec. 3, 1957 as she played near her home and later found dead.

The 71-year-old McCullough, a night security guard at the Four Freedoms retirement community in Seattle where he lived, is now in a Seattle jail, awaiting extradition to Illinois.

According to the Chicago Tribune, records show his history includes years of military service as well as allegations he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and was forced from a police job for dating a prostitute.

He told the Tribune he was innocent and that he wanted justice for Ridulph, who had lived a few blocks from his home.

Authorities said that Ridulph and a friend were playing under a streetlight and were approached by a boy the friend recalled as "Johnny." At the time of the murder, McCullough's name was John Tessier.

The friend left the scene to get mittens, but Maria accepted a piggyback ride from the boy. When Maria's friend returned, the two were gone.

The child's body was found almost five months later in a wooded area about 120 miles northwest of Sycamore.

McCullough, who was born in Belfast in 1939, said his original surname was Cherry.  His mother was a corporal in the Royal Air Force and met his stepfather at an air base. McCullough changed his name to Tessier, his stepfather's last name. The family moved to Sycamore when he was 7 years old.

McCullough claims that on the day of the murder, he had ridden a train from Rockford to Chicago to undergo tests for his enlistment in the military. Recruiters in Rockford had given him the train ticket, he told investigators, according to a police report.

But investigators stated in the report that McCullough's girlfriend at the time of the killing recently found an unused Rockford-to-Chicago train ticket from that day that McCullough had given her.

In his jail interview with the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, McCullough said he'd gotten a ride with his stepfather to Chicago to undergo the exams on Dec. 3, 1957. He hitchhiked back to Rockford after the test.

McCullough also pointed to a collect phone call he'd made that day to his home from Rockford from 6:57 to 6:59 p.m., a call authorities confirmed, records show. He maintains that phone call strengthens his claim of innocence because Maria was abducted from Sycamore about 6 p.m., according to a police report.

Rockford is about 40 miles north and west of Sycamore, and about halfway between the spot where Maria's body was found and Sycamore.

The same month of the girl's death, McCullough enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he remained until 1961. In 1962, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

He married twice and has two children with his first wife. His second wife had a restraining order against him because she was fearful of "his quick temper."

In 1982, he was charged with statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl. In March 1983, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of communication with a minor for immoral purposes and was fined $350.

He changed his name to McCullough in 1994, records show.

McCullough's stepdaughter, Janey O'Connor, has been steadfast in her support, saying she'd been alone with him many times; that he's helped raise her children and never acted inappropriately.

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