SEATTLE – A former police officer arrested in the 1957 murder of an Illinois girl told The Associated Press in a jailhouse interview Thursday night that he has an "iron-clad alibi" and had nothing to do with her disappearance or death.
Jack Daniel McCullough, 71, insisted that he wants justice to be done for 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, whose disappearance terrified the small farming town of Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago. But in an interview conducted through glass at a King County Jail visiting room, he stuck to the same alibi he gave when first questioned by investigators more than half a century ago, when he was 18: that he could not have committed the murder because he had traveled to Chicago that day for military medical exams before enlisting in the Air Force.
"I have an iron-clad alibi," he said. "I did not commit a murder."
McCullough lived near the girl and matched the description of the suspect given by Ridulph's 8-year-old friend, Cathy Sigman, who last saw her on Dec. 3, 1957, at about 6 p.m. Sigman said she left Maria with a young man and ran home to get some mittens; when she returned 15 minutes later, the two were gone.
Maria's remains were found the following April, about 120 miles away.
McCullough was arrested in Seattle last week after investigators said new evidence undermined that story. He's being held on a fugitive charge pending his return to Illinois.
According to a police affidavit in the case, last year, McCullough's high school girlfriend discovered his train ticket to Chicago behind a framed photograph of them -- and it was unused. In the affidavit, detectives wrote that when he was questioned in 1957, he claimed he had traveled to Chicago by train.
Though Sigman was never asked to identify McCullough as the suspect at the time, she picked his photo out of a montage detectives showed her last September, the affidavit said.
The affidavit also alleged that McCullough has a history of molesting girls. McCullough declined to discuss the topic with the AP.
McCullough said he didn't remember every detail of what he told the FBI at the time, but he said there's a good reason his train ticket was unused -- he never used it. He says his stepfather gave him a ride to Chicago, and after a long day of physical and psychological tests, he hitched a ride with someone he'd just met to Rockford. From Rockford, a drive of more than 40 miles from Sycamore, he called home to ask his step father to come pick him up.
Investigators wrote in the affidavit that they have verified that a collect call was made from a Rockford pay phone to McCullough's childhood home that night, lasting from 6:57 to 6:59 p.m. If he made that call, he said, "How am I involved in a kidnapping at 6 p.m. in Sycamore? A fifth-grader can figure this out."
He said he didn't believe investigators had ever tried to verify that he was in Chicago that day for medical tests -- and records of that day should still exist at the National Archives repository of military personnel records in St. Louis, he said.
"St. Louis will have records of everything," he said. "If somebody would go there, it would exonerate me."
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