Proof Jack Daniel kills: Oldest prosecution of a cold case in US resolved with a current CFIs help and an IAI Member.
Almost 55 years ago on December 3, 1957 around 6 PM Maria Ridulph and her best friend, Kathy Sigman, were playing on a corner near their homes in Sycamore Illinois. A young man who introduced himself as “Johnny” offered to give them a piggyback ride. Maria accepted and then ran home to get a doll leaving Kathy alone with Johnny. When Maria returned Kathy ran to her house to get some mittens, but when she returned Johnny and Maria were gone. After a short search Kathy ran to Maria’s house and alerted her parents who begin a search with neighbors.
The police arrived and an intensive search of the neighborhood and surrounding area was conducted with no sign of Maria or Johnny. In short order the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also involved in the investigation for the missing girl. The case received such notoriety that the FBI agents provided updates directly to J. Edgar Hoover and President Dwight Eisenhower on a daily basis. Searches were also mounted in the surrounding countryside, but yielded nothing.
In April 1958, Maria’s partially clothed body was discovered by mushroom hunters in a wooded area near Galena Illinois located in northwestern Illinois. The investigation floundered and was relegated to call case status after an extensive investigation by local and federal authorities.
The case was reopened about three years ago after a tip from Jack Daniel "Johnny" McCullough’s sister. Jack Daniel’s sister related a deathbed conversation she had had with her mother who implicated Jack Daniel in Maria’s murder. The Illinois State police reexamined the 50-year-old case and the remaining evidence before deciding to reinvestigate the murder. Joining the investigation was David E. Zulawski, CFI, Senior Partner Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates, who assisted in the interview of the prime suspect Jack “Johnny” McCullough.
Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates was contacted by the Illinois State Police to potentially assist with the planning or actual interview of the suspect in a 1957 abduction murder of a seven-year-old girl Maria Ridulph. The investigators had been reviewing files and interviewing old witnesses for about two years prior to WZ involvement.
The primary suspect in the investigation was Jack Daniel McCullough, formally known as Johnny Tessier a neighbor of the missing girl in Sycamore Illinois. Shortly after the abduction of Maria, Johnny Tessier changed his name to Jack Daniel McCullough and left the state of Illinois. Interestingly, because the suspect left the state the statute of limitations was frozen and he was ultimately also charged with the rape of his sister.
A meeting between WZ investigators and the lead investigator and his intelligence analyst was held to review the case facts in the spring of 2012. The timeline for the abduction was reviewed along with the existing reports from the over 50-year-old case. A conference call was arranged with DeKalb County States Attorney Clay Campbell to discuss the plan to interview McCullough. After receiving the state’s attorney’s agreement for David Zulawski, CFI, of Wicklander Zulawski and Associates to participate in the upcoming interview of the primary suspect Jack Daniel McCullough; a discussion was held regarding the prosecution’s theory and potential problems filing charges in the case. In preparation for this type of interview it’s important for the investigators and interviewers to understand the prosecutor’s theory of the case and what will help or hinder the ultimate presentation to the judge or jury.
Clearly, there would be many difficulties in bringing this case to trial since there were missing documents, deceased witnesses, and a lack of forensic evidence to link McCullough to the murder and abduction. The case would be a largely circumstantial presentation attempting to link McCullough to the crime. The States Attorney was hopeful that an interview with McCullough would link him to the crime through his confession or admissions.
After leaving Sycamore McCullough had gone on to be an officer in the Army and later a police officer in the state of Washington. While a police officer he was charged with sexual abuse of a minor and ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge and left the police department. He went on to do some photography work in Seattle and acted as a security guard in the building where he lived. McCullough had been divorced twice before marrying his third wife who he lived with in Seattle. He had given different stories to his second and third wives about his reason for leaving the police department, neither of which were the real story.
Our preparation for the interview began with reviewing all the existing reports from the 1957 investigation and the current follow-up inquiry conducted by the Illinois State Police. The FBI agents assigned to the case in 1957 were now deceased and all that existed were the reports they filed in the investigation. The State Police intelligence analyst provided a timeline for the abduction and related events surrounding the 1957 investigation which helped visually link the various events. We also reviewed interviews with friends and siblings who knew McCullough’s personality, demeanor, and way of handling conflict.
The decision to charge McCullough with the murder and abduction would not be made until prosecutors had an opportunity to view the interview with him and evaluate its content. As a result of their decision we decided to try to have a voluntary conversation with the suspect and initially explored the idea of doing the interview in an office at his building. Unfortunately, his schedule and the facility would make this difficult. A Seattle homicide detective contacted McCullough and asked him to come in to their offices which he agreed to do.
On the day the interview was scheduled McCullough called and left a message declining the invitation to come into Seattle homicide. A discussion was held with DeKalb County prosecutors who authorized the issuance of a warrant for McCullough’s arrest. Seattle homicide detectives prepared search and arrest warrants for Jack Daniel McCullough. The search and arrest warrants were executed at Jack Daniel’s apartment in the late afternoon and he was taken into custody and transported to the Seattle homicide office. A search of his apartment was conducted, including a locked safe, but no incriminating evidence was recovered. McCullough was placed in an interview room in Seattle homicide which was under audio/ video surveillance.
In preparing to speak with the suspect we considered a variety of approaches many of which were discarded because of the suspect’ s experience and personality. Because of his police background using a direct accusation would likely result in the suspect asking for a lawyer. Using a behavioral interview would do little to enhance the prosecutor’s decision to charge McCullough. Instead, we chose to begin the interrogation using a participatory approach to lock him into lies which could be disproved.
Another concept that became important in the decision of how to conduct the interview was its appearance to a jury or judge. In initially thinking about the structure and content of the interview we felt it would be important to position it similar to the prosecutor’s closing arguments at trial. The interview was likely to be the only time the judge or jury would see the suspect react to potentially damning circumstantial evidence. His reaction, explanations, or lack thereof could become a powerful component in helping the trier of fact determine McCullough’s guilt.
The first order of business was attempting to predict what McCullough might do during the interview. In speaking with family members they felt he would talk as long as he did not feel threatened. In their opinion he would feel superior and in control of the interview. Their opinion contributed to our decision to engage in a non-confrontational discussion leading McCullough do the majority of the talking and leading him in the conversation through the use of our questions. We also had in place a plan to react to his alibi or his failure to remember what he told police and the FBI over 50 years ago.
Next, we organized the circumstantial evidence in a building block approach from least incriminating to most incriminating. In this fashion we would direct his comments to each of the circumstantial pieces locking him into a story. We elected to use the lead investigator from the case as the witness in case we needed clarification or items from the case while during the interview. It would be the lead investigators job to advise McCullough of his Miranda rights and open the conversation eliciting biographical details from the suspect.
McCullough’s demeanor when he arrived at Seattle homicide was quiet, but he appeared resistant and angry as he was placed in the interview room. Our strategy was to let him sit alone for about an hour before we attempted to start the interview. In order not to just come in cold David Zulawski entered the room several times asking if McCullough wanted coffee. The entrances into the room were preplanned in order to establish a relationship between the interviewer and suspect allowing him to meet the interviewer several times before any questions were actually asked. When we were ready to begin the interview Dave entered the room and introduce himself and the lead investigator.
It was then I told him we were there about the Maria Ridulph abduction in 1957. McCullough responded he was glad to help and had called the FBI with the tip on a possible suspect. I then asked the lead investigator to obtain the biographical information necessary for the booking forms. This gave me an opportunity to observe the suspect and his reaction to the questions before I begin the actual interview. The lead investigator also read McCullough his Miranda warnings during this time.
We began the interview with a discussion of what Sycamore Illinois was like in 1957. McCullough responded it was like Mayberry. This led into a discussion of how he was able to get around town and he introduced the topic of owning a car. As we talked about the vehicle I was able to get him to knowledge that he never loaned his car out and he was the only driver. This was important because his vehicle was seen driving in Sycamore in the late afternoon on the day Maria was abducted. Since his sisters were going to testify against him it was also important for him to make comments about their trustworthiness and his relationship with him. He acknowledged that they were trustworthy and that there was no problems in the relationship he had with his siblings.
McCullough was questioned so he never knew what was important to conceal or where it was safe to lie. We felt that he would do one of two things when asked about his whereabouts the day of the abduction: 1) he would repeat the alibi he gave the FBI when he was questioned over 50 years ago, or 2) he would say he had no memory of those days because of the time passing. He chose the second saying it was a long time since the event and he could not remember.
In anticipation of this possibility I brought the old FBI reports with me into the interview room. My plan was to review them with him if he claimed he had no memory of the events. However, before I brought out the FBI reports we spoke about his cooperation with the FBI and McCullough insisted he had told them the truth throughout the interviews even though he couldn’t remember specifically what he had said.
Our interview plan was to walk McCullough through the alibi he gave the FBI and have him acknowledge its accuracy or at least acknowledge that the FBI agents had no reason to lie in the written reports. Once we had gone through the reports and his alibi I now begin to introduce contradictions developed during the investigation and asking for possible explanations he might have for these contradictions.
The structure of the interview and the contradictions were designed to highlight the testimony of witnesses that were prepared to testify at trial. The judge or jury would have an opportunity to see McCullough handle each of these contradictions and offer any explanations if he chose to. In addition, this would also be useful if McCullough chose to take the stand in his own defense at trial.
McCullough’s alibi revolved around being in Chicago taking a military physical on December 3, 1957. He allegedly took the train using tickets supplied by the military recruiters to travel from Rockford Illinois, which is located about 30 miles north of Sycamore, to downtown Chicago. According to McCullough’s alibi he was in Rockford making a collect call at approximately 7 PM to his home in Sycamore. In an unusual quirk of fate he had given an unused train ticket from the recruiter to his girlfriend at the time. She had kept the ticket for over 50 years. His story to the FBI that he had taken the train to and from the city of Chicago using the tickets given to them by the recruiter could not be true.
He had also told the FBI his father had picked him up from Rockford and driven him home. He said he then went out on a date with his girlfriend and was home the rest of the evening. His girlfriend denied going on a date with him that night and his sisters would both testify he was not at home all night the evening of the abduction. McCullough made admissions of having sexual relations with his sister during the latter portion of the first hour we spent with him.
Part of the interview plan was also to have a polygraph examiner available to conduct an examination on McCullough if it might be useful. McCullough offered to take a polygraph test and he was immediately moved to the Seattle polygraph suite. During the interview with the Seattle polygraph examiner McCullough described Maria as “stunningly beautiful. Just, “ lovely lovely lovely.” The examiner said he had a dreamy faraway expression as he described Maria. Ultimately McCullough declined to complete the examination and was returned to his original interview room.
When we reentered the room he said he didn’t want to talk to me any further and we left the room to determine who would continue the interview. Since one of the Seattle homicide detectives had spoken with him a few times he was selected to continue the conversation. He introduced the photo lineup shown to the other little girl present with Maria when Johnny approached them. She immediately picked Johnny Tessier, a.k.a. Jack Daniel McCullough, out of the photo lineup as the person who had given Maria the piggyback ride on December 3, 1957.
Finally, McCullough specifically asked for a lawyer and the interview was concluded. McCullough was booked into jail to be held for extradition to DeKalb County, Illinois. Prosecutors reviewed the interview with McCullough and said that it was this interview that convinced them to extradite and file charges of murder and abduction.
Since the statute of limitations had been frozen because McCullough left the state shortly after the abduction he was charged with rape of his sister when she was a small child. In a surprise move the public defender chose a bench trial rather than a jury. Even though McCullough made admissions of having sex with his sister during the interview the judge suppressed the interview ruling that it was not specific enough to be used at trial. The judge found McCullough not guilty of the rape of his sister, but he was still being held on the murder and abduction charges.
McCullough demanded a speedy trial and it was set to be heard in September 2012. Once again he waved his right to a trial by jury and a new judge from another county was assigned to hear the case. Another motion was made to suppress the videotaped interview with McCullough arguing that he had repeatedly asked for a lawyer and been refused. The prosecution responded that he had asked for a lawyer at only one point at the conclusion of the interview and it had been scrupulously honored by the police. After reviewing the tape the judge ruled the video was admissible in its entirety up to the point where McCullough said, “I want a lawyer.” Prior to that point he had said, “we’re done”, but had not explicitly asked for counsel. The judge had now seen the entire interview with McCullough after his arrest.
The prosecutors now had a decision to make on how to use the interview during trial. They could introduce it during their case in chief or hold it back in case McCullough took the stand. Since the judge had already seen the entire video they chose to hold it back in case McCullough chose to testify.
After opening arguments Maria’s brother Charles told of the night Maria disappeared and all the commotion in the neighborhood. McCullough’s girlfriend testified he was supposed to pick her up the night of the abduction from work but never showed up. She said her father came to pick them up and took them home. The Seattle polygraph examiner Irene Lau testified to McCullough’s description of Maria that she was “stunningly beautiful and lovely, lovely, lovely.”
Maria’s friend Kathy who was present at the time of the abduction identified the 1950s picture of Jack McCullough as the “Johnny” who approached them on December 3, 1957. McCullough’s sisters also testified that their parents gave a false alibi to police saying that Johnny was home all night. The sisters disputed this fact. Another sister testified that McCullough had a sweater similar to the one described by Kathy, but after the abduction she never saw McCullough wear it again. A third sister, Janet Tessier testified her mother told her, “Those two little girls and the one that disappeared-John did it John did it. And you have to tell someone.” It was this statement that caused her to go to the police who then reopened the investigation.
Three inmates of the DeKalb County jail testified McCullough had told them he killed Maria. They said he told them he had choked her when she started screaming during the piggyback ride he gave her. McCullough had originally told a first inmate of committing the murder and later approached two others in hopes of taking care of the first inmate. The first inmate and the other two were never in the jail at the same time yet told similar stories and had the information that McCullough’s safe was searched at his apartment after he was arrested. Maria’s body had been exhumed and the doctor determined there were knife cuts to her bones and that the likely cause of death was stabbing.
After a four-day bench trial where McCullough declined to take the stand closing arguments were heard on Friday, September 14, 2012. After the closing arguments the judge recessed for 45 minutes and returned to find the defendant Jack Daniel McCullough guilty of murder and two counts of abduction. Sentencing is scheduled for November 2012.