Playmate recalls the last time she saw Maria Ridulph
Three half sisters of accused murderer Jack Daniels McCullough testified for the prosecution Tuesday in the 55-year-old disappearance and death of little Maria Ridulph. Two contradicted their parents’ statement that the accused was home that fateful night, and one recalled their mother’s deathbed declaration about the case.
They were preceded on the stand by Kathy Sigman Chapman, Maria’s playmate on Tuesday evening, December 3, 1957. A member of the prosecution team brought her to the witness stand before the session started. Chapman – with close-cropped grey hair and wearing a dark skirted suit – tested the chair, looked around, chatted briefly with the court stenographer, then smiled and stepped away.
Onlookers filed into the 87-seat gallery – filling about half the seats in the morning and dwindling a bit for the afternoon session. Reporters from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, CBS News, the Daily Chronicle, and WNIJ filed into the jury box with notepads, laptops and artist portfolio to capture the proceedings in their own way.
Shortly thereafter, Judge James Hallock entered the courtroom, followed shortly by the defendant, and the bench trial resumed. Chapman was called, sworn in, and took the stand.
Chapman was just over two months past her eighth birthday when she went out after supper to play in the season’s first snow. She recalled how the girls played “duck the cars” – hanging onto the street pole at the corner of Cross Center Street and Archie Place just a few doors from their homes. They’d wait as cars came down the street and then hide behind a big tree before the headlights “caught” them.
In response to questions from Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Trevarthen, Chapman – who has lived and worked in St. Charles the past 23 years – recalled what it was like when she “grew up at 646-1/2 Archie Place in Sycamore” in the 1950s. She called the city a “happy-go-lucky place” where people left their doors unlocked and kids played on street corners or the neighborhood school playground with very little concern for safety.
She lived right down the street
She said she played a lot with Maria, who “lived right down the street – I think five houses.” Chapman’s voice tightened slightly as Trevarthen showed her a picture of the two girls at Maria’s birthday party in 1957.
On the night of Dec. 3 that year, Chapman said, the girls were on their corner when a man came walking from the south on Center Cross Street. “He asked if we liked dolls,” she said, “and ‘would you like a piggy-back ride?’”
Chapman said she’d never seen the man before. She said he was slender with dark hair and big teeth, and he seemed tall to the young girls. He was wearing a sweater with lots of colors in it and introduced himself as Johnny.
Maria took a piggyback ride up the street with Johnny, who brought her back to the corner. Maria went home to get a doll and was back in a couple of minutes.
“I do not remember anything except for watching Maria and waiting for her to come back,” Chapman said of that time alone with Johnny. “She lived three doors away.”
When Maria returned with the doll, Chapman went home to get mittens. She went back to corner looking for Maria, but “she was not there.”
She went to hunt for her friend
“I went to Maria’s house and asked her brother if Maria was home,” Chapman related. Charles Ridulph, who testified on the trial’s first day, asked Chapman to go back and look for Maria. She did, without success, and went home to tell her parents about Johnny and Maria.
Police came to the Sigman home, and Chapman repeated the information for them. She said she spoke with police daily for “seems like three or four months.”
“I had contact with the FBI, police … I was being taken to watch lineups of men, of men in books, to see if I recognized anyone,” Chapman remembered. “They wanted me to see if I could pick him out; they showed me thousands of pictures, but I never saw Johnny.”
Chapman was contacted by Special Agent Brion Hanley of the Illinois State Police on Sept. 1, 2010. She testified that she gave him “the exact information I remembered.” Hanley returned with a photo lineup eight days later – those photos were entered in evidence Tuesday – and Chapman recognized a face among the six pictures. “That’s Johnny,” she said.
Defense Attorney Tom McCulloch – the interim DeKalb County Public defender – questioned Chapman for more details about life in Sycamore, asking about the nearby store and the school playground.
McCulloch pressed Chapman about a neighborhood store, the school playground, the atmosphere of Archie Street, accepted procedures for going out to play, her description of Johnny, whether she had seen any police reports about the case, lineups and photo reviews for police and the FBI, her meeting with Hanley … and whether anyone in the photo array had missing teeth.
Frustration started to show
Chapman’s frustration started to show more than once, but she exchanged a smile and raised her eyebrows to someone in the gallery and settled down.
She confirmed to Trevarthen on redirect that she knew of the Tessier family but didn’t know Johnny … she smiled when the prosecutor noted defense questions about footprints in the snow and asked, “What training did you have as an investigator when you were eight years old?”
Katheran Tessier Caulfield, a retired secretary for architectural firm in Virginia, Minn., included half-brother John in her long list of siblings and identified him in the courtroom. She described him in the late 1950s as “tall and gangly, six feet tall, with a wavy-hair doo-wop hairdo on the top.” She said he frequently wore a multicolor sweater knitted by their mother.
Using a post-1950s photo, Caulfield described the Tessier home as small, with the parents and John having first-floor bedrooms and the others sleeping upstairs in the converted attic. She spoke of seventh grade at St. Mary’s Catholic School on Waterman Street, and taking part in Girl Scouts and 4H.
She said she went to a 4H Federation event about 5 p.m. the evening Maria disappeared. “My dad picked me up and brought me home about seven,” she said, and the neighborhood was filled with “more police cars than I’d ever seen.”
“We were coming in on DeKalb Avenue, and I noticed there were a lot of police cars with lights flashing,” she said. “There were people outside everywhere, walking and looking, behind bushes, everywhere.”
She said her half-brother was not at home and she did not see him at all that evening. Her parents went out to help search for Maria, and Caulfield, her sister Jeanne and brother Bob stayed in the living room after their father secured the lockless side door with a piece of wood and locked the front door.
“I went to bed about 11:30 or quarter to 12 and (her parents) still hadn’t come home,” Caulfield said. “I did not see John at all that evening.”
Caulfield said she and sister were present when FBI agents spoke to their mother the following day. “She said he was home,” Caulfield said through tears, moving on after a brief pause.
Family trips to the Galena area
She told of family day trips to Apple River Valley near Galena, with all the kids – including John, when he was younger – piling into Aunt Mary’s car every year.
She said that John had a car, an older coupe – probably from the 1940s. “It was sort of a grayish beige-ish color,” she said, “and he had put big flames across the side with red and yellow.” The vehicle was not home the day after Maria disappeared, she said.
She also said she never saw the multicolored sweater after that day.
Defense Attorney McCulloch also pursued deeper details with Caulfield. How many police cars? Where were they from? How many sweaters did mom knit for John? What color were they? How often did he wear the multicolored sweater? What make, model and year was the car? Caulfield confirmed that her mother “was a superb knitter” who knitted for the whole family, but said she didn’t know the other details.
What were the dates of the family trips? “We always went on Saturdays, every year. You can line them up,” she said. “Sometimes Aunt Mary drove, sometimes my dad.”
McCulloch asked about details of the home – about storm windows that could be opened from outside giving fairly easy access from the ground. He also asked about an August 2009 interview with police about whether John was home the night of the abduction.
“I don’t know what was written down,” Caulfield said. “He wasn’t there.”
Conference precedes next witness
After the lunch break, and following a sotto voce bench conference with the judge, Assistant State’s Attorney Victor Escarcida took over the questioning.
The next witness was Galena funeral home owner James Furlong, who was Jo Daviess County Coroner when Maria Ridulph’s body was found in April 1958. He told of being called out to Woodbine along U.S. 20 east of Galena on April 26, 1959.
“We went into the timber, found the body, brought it out, and took it to Furlong Funeral Home in Galena,” he said. “She was really serious … I could see her hair, and I could see her body. She had a sock on one foot. Otherwise, she was really deceased.”
He confirmed photos taken at the time as showing the girl he removed from the timber, and he confirmed his signature on the coroner’s report on the case.
On cross-examination, Furlong confirmed to McCulloch that he drove about 200 miles from Galena to Sycamore to testify. He also said the body was found “quite a ways … probably at least a half a mile” off of the highway.
Furlong was followed by Dennis Twadell of McHenry, a retired material handler who moved to Sycamore at age nine and became friends with John Tessier and others in high school.
High-school friend recalls Tessier's car
He recalled that “John had a 48 Plymouth” and had put ’55 Buick hubcaps on the wheels. “It was a two-door coupe … medium gray, like battleship gray.” Twadell said he rode in car many times, adding, “I don’t recall him letting anyone drive his car. I think it was an insurance issue.”
He described John Tessier much as his half-sister had, and noted he “wore flannel shirts and a lot of the time sweaters” in the winter, including a multicolored crew-neck sweater.
He said he called John Tessier when he learned of the search for the missing girl on Dec. 3, 1957, but John was not at home.
McCulloch implied that Twadell had help from police remembering the 1957 events when he was contacted by police in March 2010.Twadell acknowledged that he told them he “couldn’t remember what happened two weeks before” because of failing memory.
“They asked me if I knew a Jack McCullough and I said no,” Twadell recounted. “They asked if I knew John Tessier, and I said yes.”
Trevarthen resumed questioning with the second half sister, Jeanne Tessier, now living in Kentucky. She also recalled the family home and listed siblings, including John – whom she identified for the court and described in the 1950s much as her sister had done.
She also recounted the events of Dec. 3, 1957, as Caulfield had done, emphasizing that John was not at home when the parents went out to help with the search. She recalled playing with other kids in the neighborhood along with Caulfield, but said, “I only remember one time when John played with other kids; that would have been about 1952.”
About the police visits on Dec. 4, Jeanne Tessier said she was in the room with her mother and the officers. “My mother said that John did come home that night,: she testified. “It is my testimony that he did not.”
“I’ll be better when this is done.”
Assistant Public Defender Robert Carlson began his cross-examination by asking “How are you?” Tessier’s response was simple: “I’ll be better when this is done.”
Carlson picked on details about the door bracing when the children were left at home, and asked about when the parents returned. “I waited on the couch and let my mother in, and I went to bed, she said. “Dad was not yet home. I heard my dad come home sometime later, and heard my mom and dad speaking.”
She said her father was gone when she got up the next morning, and she might have seen John later that day, but she wasn’t sure.
When Carlson asked about John’s car being immobilized in the back yard with flat tires, Tessier said her father was angry that John didn’t know how to fix it. “I don’t know how long it was,” she said. “As a child I didn’t count days.”
Unlike the other witnesses, Jeanne Tessier was not released from her subpoena because she also is subject to call as a defense witness.
Mother's deathbed declaration
The third half sister, Janet Tessier, was not yet a year old when Maria Ridulph disappeared. She, too, listed her siblings and identified her half brother at the defense table. Then she spoke about the advent of her mother’s death in January 1994.
Janet Tessier said her mother was transferred from home care to Kishwaukee Hospital because she was pulling out intravenous lines and other medical aids, “at least a couple of weeks before she died.” Janet, who was living in DeKalb at that time, said she spent a lot of time with her mother.
There was some cross-discussion as McCulloch objected to the way Trevarthen was asking questions about the main reason Janet Tessier was on the stand. After some wrangling, the discussion turned to a hospital visit sometime in January 1994.
Janet said she was sitting at the foot of her mother’s bed, and her sister Mary also was beside the bed. Janet said her mother called her name, so she went and knelt at the head of the bed to be seen better.
“She grabbed my wrist with her hand and said, ‘Those two little girls, and the one that disappeared, John did it, John did it, and you have to tell someone,’” Janet recounted.
She said she made a few fruitless attempts to discuss the situation with various police agencies. She said she e-mailed the Illinois State Police in 2008 and got a phone call, followed by a meeting in Elgin which led to reopening the Ridulph investigation.
McCulloch’s cross-examination noted that Janet could not have remembered the disappearance, and he received acknowledgment that the mother never recounted why she thought John had been involved in the incident. Janet also acknowledged she couldn’t recall specific dates or names about the police contacts she attempted.
McCulloch asked whether the mother was under medication when she spoke to Janet about the incident and if it would be fair to say “your mother was disturbed emotionally.” The response was clear: “That would be fair, yes.”
On redirect questioning, Janet Tessier noted that her mother was coherent at the time she made the statement. “I could tell at that time that she was very focused and clear.,” the daughter said.
Special agent confirms details
The final witness was Special Agent Hanley of the Illinois State Police, who described the process used in reviewing photos with Kathy Sigman Chapman. He noted that the photos were of similar-looking people, and the selection had been approved by the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office.
McCulloch’s cross-examination picked at details of the meetings and the source of the pictures, which Hanley confirmed were from a Sycamore high school yearbook in the 1950s.
Court adjourned before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, but prosecutors promised a very full day for Wednesday.