"Sycamore, Illinois. December 1957. A seven-year-old child named Maria Ridulph vanished. Her remains were found in another county several miles away in early spring of 1958. I still believe that John Samuel Tessier from Sycamore, IL --- AKA Jack Daniel McCullough --- was and is responsible for her death. He is living in the Seattle/Tacoma Washington area under the name Jack Daniel McCullough.
"I've given information to the person responsible for the cold case in Sycamore. I've done this a few times. Nothing is ever done.
"This is the last time I mention this to anyone. What information I do have makes Tessier /McCullough a viable suspect, and worth looking into. I'm not going to keep doing this over and over. It's exhausting and it dredges up painful, horrible memories."
At 1:04 p.m. on September 11, 2008, she hit "send."
The frustration in those last lines caught the eye of Tony Rapacz, a state police commander based in Elgin. He wasn't sure how seriously to take the tip. But he'd been a cop for 25 years, long enough to know that even a scrap of information can lead to something big.
His first phone conversation with Janet lasted 45 minutes. She began by telling him she was just a year old when the events occurred.
OK, here we go, Rapacz thought. Not a good sign.
But then Janet described how her mother was dying when she told her it was her brother who kidnapped and murdered Maria.
He sensed there just might be something to what she was saying.
"I can't promise you anything," he told her, "but we're going to try."
"You've got to try," Janet pleaded.
"I know," he responded. "I was afraid you were another crackpot when you called."
"Do you think I am?" she asked.
And then he said something that sent a shiver down her spine:
"I'm putting my bulldogs on this."
Larry Kot and Brion Hanley were the commander's bulldogs.
Kot is a mild, scholarly man of 57; he doesn't carry a badge or a gun and is not the type to shrug on SWAT gear and kick down doors. He could easily be mistaken for an accountant or a high school principal. In his off hours, he's a town alderman.
He's also a detail guy well known in Illinois State Police circles for his photographic memory and ability to find anyone or anything on the Internet. In his role as a civilian analyst for the police, he assembles the bits and pieces of a case into a seamless timeline. He connects the dots.
Kot had never heard of the Ridulph case. But a quick Google search clued him in. This unsolved case had been a big deal.
Hanley joined the case a couple of weeks after Kot. A special agent with the investigations division, the 41-year-old Hanley favors college football jerseys and turned-around ball caps when he works undercover, which is most of the time. He usually has a wad of chewing tobacco parked in his cheek. His open, friendly face seems to get people talking.
The early stages of an investigation are the most tedious: tracking people down and getting them to open up. Hanley's legwork began with Janet Tessier and her siblings, who were scattered from Illinois to Wisconsin to Kentucky. None had good things to say about John, especially Jeanne.
Hanley was surprised by how open she was, how articulate. Maybe it had something to do with her work: She taught college classes in communications, counseled parents of dying children and was active in the community of sexual abuse survivors. Whatever the reason, Jeanne spilled the details of what she said was another family secret.
John sexually molested her while they were growing up, she told Hanley, and forced her to stand watch while he molested other neighborhood girls in the bushes and in a stairwell at West Elementary near their home. She said he raped her and offered her to his friends while he was home on a military leave. At the time, she was 14.