It has been more than 50 years since 7-year-old Maria Ridulph disappeared from her neighborhood near Chicago. At the time, no one knew who had kidnapped the pretty little girl with dark hair and a sweet smile. But now, after a deathbed confession from his mother, Jack McCullough may be convicted of having murdered the child.
Now 72 and a former Washington state police trooper, McCullough just stood trial for Ridulph's murder. He waived his right to a jury trial, so the judge will decide his fate, possibly even today.
The case garnered national attention in 1957 and even President Dwight Eisenhower asked to be kept in the loop as things developed. But they never really did. Ridulph had disappeared from her neighborhood after a playmate said a man named "Johnny" had offered them piggy back rides and play time.
It was only later McCullough's half-sister told the court that their mother, Eileen Tessier, confessed in 1994, as she was dying, that her son had actually killed Ridulph.
For obvious reasons, the case has had an uphill battle. There are hazy memories and very little evidence to go on. Had Ridulph lived, she would now be in her 60s.
It's highly disturbing, if McCullough is in fact guilty, that he got away with it for so long. It's disturbing to think he got to have a regular life, a paying job, and all the benefits that come with having the opportunity to grow up. Maria never had those things.
It's not what anyone wants to believe. If you kill a child, you deserve a horrible punishment as soon as humanly possible. But sometimes closure never happens. And as much as it would feel good to finally give Ridulph some kind of justice, it seems awfully unfair that he got away with it so long.
I know the popular line is: Better late than never. And sure, that may be true. If McCullough is guilty, it's better that he be convicted late than never be convicted. But I can't shake the feeling that it's horribly unfair. I keep thinking: Too little, too late.
Every year McCullough was free and living his life was a year he stole from Ridulph. I hate to think the universe works that way. So, if he is convicted, it's a victory in some way. But it won't bring her back. It won't give her the life someone (possibly McCullough) stole.
Do you think this is too little, too late?
Image via Paul Lowry/Flickr