SYCAMORE, Ill. (STMW) — The former cop charged with kidnapping and murdering a Sycamore girl in 1957 first will stand trial for raping another girl in the same town less than five years later, DeKalb County prosecutors said.

Jack Daniel McCullough’s rape trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 9, authorities said during a Wednesday court hearing in which the 71-year-old formally pleaded not guilty to sex charges filed against him only last month.

The decision by prosecutors to first try McCullough on rape charges, rather than for the notorious murder with which he was charged in July, marks the latest twist in the unusual cold case.

But the move — which will delay his murder trial — gives authorities more time to assemble evidence tying McCullough to the long-unsolved disappearance and death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph.

The girl vanished from her Sycamore neighborhood on Dec. 3, 1957, triggering massive searches that focused national attention on the small farm town but failed to find the missing girl. Her body was discovered nearly five months later in rural Jo Daviess County.

Her killing went unsolved for decades until McCullough — a former Sycamore resident who lived near Ridulph at the time she disappeared — was charged earlier this year with kidnapping and killing the girl.

McCullough, who had worked in Washington state as a police officer, was extradited in late July from his Seattle home to DeKalb County to face those charges.

In September, DeKalb County prosecutors unveiled new charges alleging he raped and took indecent liberties with a 14-year-old girl in Sycamore in 1961 and 1962.

McCullough — then known as John Tessier — was 22 years old when the sex crimes occurred, according to court documents.

While DeKalb County authorities would say little about what prompted them to file the new charges against McCullough, Illinois State Police said they had interviewed the victim of the crimes.

While nearly 50 years that have passed since the alleged rape, authorities likely won’t have to worry that the crime occurred too long ago to prosecute. Though the statute of limitations generally requires someone to be charged within three years of a crime occurring, that limit doesn’t apply for the times a suspect lives out of state. In McCullough’s indictment, prosecutors contend he lived in Illinois for only about 1-1/2 years after the sex crimes.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said Leonard Cavise, law professor at DePaul University.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell declined to comment on the case.

But authorities already have said they’re continuing to investigate Ridulph’s death, including examining her remains to search for DNA evidence that could link McCullough to her death.

McCullough remains jailed in DeKalb County.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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