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Suspect In 1957 Child Murder Says He Has ‘Ironclad’ Alibi

Jack Daniel McCullough, accused in the 1957 murder of Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph. (Sycamore Police Dept.)

Jack Daniel McCullough, accused in the 1957 murder of Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph. (Sycamore Police Dept.)

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UPDATED 07/08/11 12:41 p.m.

SEATTLE (CBS) — The Seattle man charged with the murder of a 7-year-old girl more than half a century ago says he didn’t do it, and he has an ironclad alibi.

Jack Daniel McCullough, a 71-year-old former police officer, told the Associated Press in a jailhouse interview Thursday night that he had nothing to do with the disappearance or death of Maria Ridulph in 1957.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of being a fugitive, as authorities attempt to have him returned to Illinois to face murder charges.

He stuck to the same alibi he gave when first questioned by investigators after the murder, when he was 18 and going by the name John Tessier. He said he had traveled to Chicago on the day of the murder to undergo military medical exams before enlisting in the Air Force.

“I have an iron-clad alibi,” he said. “I did not commit a murder.”

But a former girlfriend of McCullough recently came across an unused train ticket hidden behind a framed photograph he gave her. That was when police zeroed in on him again as Maria’s possible killer.

Maria disappeared on Dec. 3, 1957.

The girl’s playmate, Kathy Chapman, now 61 and living in St. Charles, Ill., has said she and Maria were at a street corner when a teenage boy she knew as “Johnny” offered them a piggyback ride. Chapman said she ran home to get mittens and returned to find Maria and the boy gone.

Maria’s remains were found in April 1958. They were discovered in April 1958 in Jo Daviess County, about 120 miles away in the northwest corner of Illinois.

Chapman has said police never showed her a photo of McCullough after Maria went missing until last September. She said she identified a photo of a teenage McCullough as the “Johnny” who approached her and Maria the night her friend vanished.

Meanwhile, a police affidavit in the case raises other allegations against McCullough, saying he had a history of molesting girls.

One young witness told agents in 1957 that he had sexually abused her on numerous occasions, and in the early 1980s he lost his job with the Milton police department in Washington state after he was accused of having sexual abuse with a runaway in her early teens. He pleaded guilty in 1983 to unlawfully communicating with a minor.

McCullough declined to discuss those topics with the AP.

“Don’t go there. What I did or didn’t do in my private life that would make me look bad, so what?” he said. “I didn’t commit a murder, and that’s all I’m charged with.”

The white-haired, white-mustachioed McCullough spoke with the AP by telephone receiver through a glass partition, wearing a bright red jail uniform, and began the interview by pressing against the glass a crinkled piece of white paper on which he had scrawled letters and words in various alphabets — by which he meant to demonstrate that he wasn’t an idiot, he said. He developed a love of studying other languages and alphabets while in the military, and maintains the hobby as a vehicle for learning about history, he said: He’s currently studying the ancient script of cuneiform and said he has recently started praying to the ancient god of the Persians, Ahuramazda.

He suggested that he himself might have prompted agents to reopen the investigation. He called the FBI a few years ago, he claimed, after a dream prompted his recollection of a slightly older boy who had lived in the neighborhood at the time. The boy, named Brooks, had been taken in by a family named Davies, McCullough said, and Brooks would have also matched the suspect’s description.

“I called the FBI,” McCullough said. “They said thank you. And here I am.”

Those details could not immediately be verified.

McCullough is now being held on $3 million bond. The DeKalb County state’s attorney plans to extradite McCullough to Illinois.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell, Sycamore police and the FBI will discuss the case at a news conference at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Center in Sycamore.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)