The Coldest Case


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It was an amazing year, who knows what will hold! Click here to download free your copy of this eBook. You do not have permission to post comments. Please contact customersupport torstar. As the days passed, Maria's mother pleaded with the kidnapper for her daughter's safe return. We would, too," Frances Ridulph, 44, said, using the media to send a message to whoever might have her daughter.

Maria was "nervous," she said, a nail biter who could quickly become hysterical if things didn't go her way. Maria would make a noise if something seemed wrong, her mother said. And no kidnapper "would put up with that for long. He played with her," the frantic mother added. On television, she delivered a message to her baby: "Don't cry, Maria.

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Above all, don't cry. Don't make a fuss. We'll be with you soon. I know she is still alive. Nobody would have any reason to kill her. Later, he pulled one reporter aside and explained, "I want fathers to help look for my little girl. Chuck Ridulph accompanied his dad to the fire station on the morning of December 4 and was assigned to a search team. Hundreds of people fanned out over the fields surrounding Sycamore. Others opened car trunks and cellar doors. In a neighborhood called Johnson's Greenhouse, where new streets were going in, Chuck was asked to climb down a manhole because he was the only one in the search party small enough to fit.

Later, searchers joined hands as they walked in a line through the frozen cornfields where Sycamore High School now stands. They found a gunnysack of abandoned kittens, and that unnerved Chuck. Other searchers discovered a torn, bloody petticoat in a farm field, but it was not Maria's.


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Two FBI agents took up residence in the Ridulphs' parlor. A half dozen crop-dusters and military planes circled the sky, searching.

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The J Roping Club sent riders out on horseback. Local police with bullhorns urged residents to keep their porch lights on and report anything suspicious. The Illinois State Police set up half a dozen roadblocks; railroad cars, motel rooms and the bus station were searched — as was every house in Sycamore. Maria's doll and blue hairbrush were shipped off to the FBI lab near Washington for analysis. So were her schoolbooks, a toy oven, a tin saxophone and records of songs such as "Three Little Kittens" and "The Farmer in the Dell.

Her little friend, Kathy Sigman, found herself under hour police guard. The family doctor checked her for signs of sexual molestation. The newspapers ran a picture of Kathy showing off her mittens and pointing to the corner where Maria was snatched. Kathy spent hours poring over mug shots of ex-cons and what police called "known perverts," but she didn't see Johnny. She remembers the shouting reporters and flashing camera bulbs that appeared every time she was escorted to a police lineup.

At first, she enjoyed the attention, but as the case dragged on she felt exposed, like she was being put on display. She recalls her mother bending down, placing her hands on her shoulders and looking her square in the eye. Remember his face, Kathy, she said. You have to remember his face because you are the only one who can catch him. You are the only one who knows what he looks like.

T here was no ransom note. No phone call from the kidnapper. Authorities believed Maria's abductor had a twisted motive: He was a sexual predator. The police chief was certain nobody from Sycamore would do such a thing. It had to be the work of a trucker or someone else passing through. The FBI wasn't so sure. As its investigation revealed, there was no shortage of potential suspects in town. Hindenburg, the police chief, told reporters his men had rounded up and questioned "all known sexual deviates. Investigators dug up a collapsed grave at Elmwood Cemetery.

They traced freight cars that passed through Sycamore the night Maria went missing. They scoured lovers' lanes, drained a lake, set off dynamite in a quarry. And still they came up empty. Swanson, the state's attorney. FBI agents came and went, according to a writer for one of the Chicago papers, "checking into everything with the quiet persistence of bulldogs.

Three days after Maria vanished, an anonymous female caller alerted the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office to a boy named "Treschner" who lived in the neighborhood and fit the suspect's description. Ralph and Eileen Tessier acknowledged that they had talked about how their son, John, fit the general description, but they insisted he was not in Sycamore when Maria was taken: He was 40 miles away, in Rockford, enlisting in the U.

Air Force. Phone records seemed to verify their story. Someone had made a collect call from Rockford to the Tessier home at about 7 p.

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John Tessier and his parents said he called for a ride home. This was the second alibi Eileen Tessier had given for her son. Earlier, as her daughters listened, she'd told Sycamore police that John was home all night. A fter a week of fruitless searching, authorities alerted residents to look out for scavengers: "It is entirely possible that her body has been discarded in a field or a nearby farm. Be alert to large gatherings of buzzards and crows, and if a body is located make sure nothing is touched. They'd tracked down leads and processed suspects — "all with negative results.

The Chicago G-man found it "most peculiar" that such a rigorous investigation had not turned up a suspect. The locals were passing on tips about "all of their homosexuals, queers and fairies, etc. Agents were hampered by the "sheer volume" of leads, he stated, adding this observation: "I have never seen as small a city as Sycamore with such a large volume of these unusual individuals. Hoover urged them to keep going: "This case must receive continuous, aggressive, imaginative, investigative attention.

The best evidence they had was Kathy's story. Some of the details varied — did Johnny have a missing tooth or a gap in his teeth?

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But she never wavered on the core facts. An agent described her as "the most completely mature little girl I have ever seen," seemingly fearless during questioning and police lineups. It was a somber holiday season in Sycamore. The local papers carried front-page stories about the Ridulphs, including a large photo of Maria's family sitting by their Christmas tree. Her mother had bought a typewriter for Maria and wrapped her other gifts. Their leads exhausted, the FBI agents packed up and went home for the holidays.

With no new developments, the case dropped from the headlines, but folks in town remained jittery. One Chicago newspaper noted at the end of January that Sycamore was afflicted with "a wound that won't heal. Boyle, an assistant prosecutor who went on to become state's attorney, and then a judge. They just looked at me wide-eyed. Sycamore settled into a fugue state. M aria was found in the spring, miles from home. A man scrounging for morel mushrooms found her skeleton tucked under a fallen tree on Roy Cahill's farm off U.

Birds and animals had fed on her corpse, clad only in a black-and-white checked shirt, an undershirt and brown socks.


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  6. At a coroner's inquest, Frank A. Sitar, a retiree from Minnesota, described the scene he encountered on the afternoon of April 26, I came up to it then and I could see some bones and I thought somebody had shot a dog. Then I looked closer, and it looked like human bones.

    I noticed the jacket, but I didn't pay any attention to it until I noticed the skull. Then I started to look further, and I noticed the hair. And I saw then that it was a little girl. He walked back to the car, told his wife, and they drove to a farmhouse and summoned authorities. Son of the local funeral home director, he'd never handled a murder case before. No crime scene photos were taken, he said, because he didn't want them "slobbered all over the front pages.

    Frances Ridulph always said if a child's body was found wearing brown socks, it would be Maria. Sure enough, the size and manufacturer's information stamped on the instep of Maria's socks could still be read.

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    Her mother touched the patch she'd sewn on the black-and-white flannel shirt, recognizing the material. Dental records confirmed what the family already knew. Maria was laid to rest in a small white casket on a warm spring day. An overflow crowd, at least , filled the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Her friend Kathy was there under police guard. Maria was remembered as a bright little girl who had a perfect attendance record at Sunday school. Louis I.


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    T he disappearance and death of her best friend never left Kathy. Nothing could fill the space where Maria once was — the games, the laughter, the shared secrets. Find showtimes, watch trailers, browse photos, track your Watchlist and rate your favorite movies and TV shows on your phone or tablet!

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