Janet had seen her brother's scary side.
She was 21 and trying to figure out what to do with her life when John, the big brother she'd grown up believing was a war hero, invited her to come stay with him in Tacoma, Washington, and help with his photography business. He was in his late 30s and just divorced for a second time.
They were fetching coffee on the way to a photo shoot when she made what she believed was an innocuous remark. He turned and looked at her with an expression of "utter hatred," she recalled during her March 30 interview on the Money Matters Radio Network. He suddenly seemed like a different person, and she couldn't understand what had triggered it. Seconds later, John acted like nothing had happened.
Another time when they argued, she said, he pulled out a gun and laid it on the table. He said he would kill her and tell everyone she ran away. That he would dump her body where nobody could find it.
She packed and headed home.
Now, all these years later, her mother's words tugged at her conscience and wouldn't let go.
She called the Sycamore police several times, she said, and got the bureaucratic shuffle. Other family members urged her to just let it be.
It's an old case, they told her.
Just forget about it.
She pushed it to the back of her mind for a while, but it never really went away.
One day, she called the Chicago office of the FBI on a whim. Agents referred her to the original jurisdiction, Sycamore. Again, she didn't get anywhere. In October 1997, as the 40th anniversary of the crime neared, it became clear why. A detective, Patrick Solar, had identified a suspect and declared the case closed.
Using an FBI offender database, Solar had linked the crime to a transient truck driver with a history of enticing and sexually assaulting girls in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The suspect, who also worked as a Ferris wheel operator, was dead. He'd been investigated in Pennsylvania for the 1951 murder of an 8-year-old girl but never convicted. The child had been sexually assaulted, and her body left in the bed of a pickup truck. Solar noted that the crimes were similar and concluded that the suspect physically resembled "Johnny."
The people of Sycamore had never wanted to believe that one of their own could be capable of such a terrible crime. Solar's sleuthing gave them all the proof they needed: A stranger was to blame.
Solar told CNN that he never would have suspected John Tessier. He knew the family; for years, John's stepfather painted the insignias on the sides of Sycamore police cars. Solar said Janet never spoke to him about her suspicions. Had she, he would have checked his files and seen that John Tessier was investigated and cleared by the FBI in 1957. He would have told her he needed more to go on.
The Ridulph case had occupied Solar for years. A decade earlier, when he had identified yet another suspect, Solar had gone in search of Kathy Sigman, the girl who was with Maria and saw the kidnapper. He wanted to show her a photo of the man he believed to be Maria's killer.
By then, Kathy was in her mid-30s, married and a mother. The disappearance and death of her friend had haunted her all her life. When the detective asked where he could find Kathy, her father told him enough was enough -- to just "let sleeping dogs lie," Solar recalled.
Someone did give Kathy an article about Solar's 1997 investigation and his claims to have solved the Ridulph case. She never read it. She sighed, folded up the paper and put it away in a drawer. She was relieved to think that "Johnny" was dead. He could no longer hurt her.
'I'm putting my bulldogs on this'
A decade later, Janet Tessier met the author of a book about an unsolved murder. Mark Lemberger's "Crime of Magnitude" details the 1911 abduction and slaying of a 7-year-old girl.
How does a person look into an old murder case? she asked him.
Janet seemed nervous, stressed, Lemberger recalls, and her body and voice trembled as she spoke. She told him what her mother had said on her deathbed and seemed desperate to lift the weight of the secret she had held for so long.
Her mother insisted she tell someone, she said. But no one she had approached would listen. What more could she possibly do?
You have to find the right investigator, Lemberger told her. Someone who would pursue the case with "the tenacity of a bulldog."
Janet's father, Ralph, had long discouraged her from dredging up the past. But after he died, she decided to try the police one last time.
She found a tip line on the Illinois State Police website and typed this e-mail: