(Janet and Jeanne Tessier declined to speak with CNN, which does not usually identify victims of sexual assault. But Jeanne Tessier has openly discussed her allegations against her brother in Sycamore's local newspaper and in a network television interview. Her account here is drawn from court transcripts and other public records.)
Hanley knew Jeanne Tessier was an accomplished woman who would make a credible witness. He also found that many of the people he wanted to talk to were alive, healthy and willing. It helped that Maria's murder had been such a transformative event. People remembered it.
Hanley came to think of the case as "Sycamore's 9/11."
Many of John Tessier's old high school friends still lived within a few miles of the town. Some told Hanley that Tessier was supposed to pick them up at a hobby shop the night Maria vanished but stood them up. Tessier's sisters said he wasn't at home that night as their mother reported to police -- or the next morning. His oldest sister, Katheran, said she didn't see his car that day, either.
Years earlier, Tessier had told the FBI that he and a high school classmate helped search for Maria the night she was kidnapped. He added a curious detail: He said they'd found some dirty magazines and turned them over to police.
Hanley poked holes in that story, too. He found the classmate, who told him he never saw Tessier. And, the witness added, had he found any dirty magazines as a teenager, he would have kept them. Sycamore police had no record of anyone turning in magazines, smutty or otherwise.
And then there were the piggyback rides. Maria's kidnapper gave her a piggyback ride to win her trust. Hanley unearthed the story of another piggyback ride three or four years earlier. Only in this case the little girl had lived to tell about it.
Pamela Long said she was about Maria's age when an older boy she knew from the neighborhood gave her the ride. There was no doubt who he was: Long knew John Tessier by name. Neighborhood kids thought he was weird and called him "Commando."
His grandparents lived directly behind her family's home in the nicest part of town.
She recalled how he walked up and down the street wearing camouflage pants and waving a wooden sword. She wasn't supposed to play with him, but she couldn't resist a piggyback ride.
It so upset her father that he pulled her off the teen's back, sternly warned him to stay away and reported the incident to Sycamore police. After Maria was taken, FBI agents showed up at school to question Long about that piggyback ride. Whatever she told them, it wasn't enough to keep "Commando" on the list of suspects.
Long's father announced at the supper table: He'd better have a damn good alibi.
A new timeline
The timeline of events on December 3, 1957 -- and John Tessier's alibi -- were central issues in the investigation. Kot believed misinformation and faulty conclusions had entered the case during its early hours. He began building a detailed timeline to test those old assumptions.
It took months to gather all the documents scattered among the Sycamore police, Illinois State Police and the FBI archives. But Kot's paper chase brought in thousands of pages, which he studied, tabbed and organized in binders. His timeline grew to cover three walls of his office. And as he looked closer, he saw that there were only two sources for Tessier's alibi: Tessier himself and his parents.
Tessier said he was in Chicago the morning of Tuesday, December 3, taking a physical to gain entry into the U.S. Air Force. Kot was able to verify that. But he learned that Tessier left the recruiting station by noon that day. He later was seen in Rockford, nearly 90 miles from Chicago, at about 7:15 p.m. But there was nothing to verify his whereabouts between noon and 7:15 p.m., which means he easily could have returned to Sycamore before showing up in Rockford.
Initial reports set Maria's disappearance at about 7 p.m. But reading the old files, Kot realized that information may have been injected into the case by the kidnapper himself. When Kathy ran home to fetch her mittens, she asked "Johnny" what time it was, and he told her it was 7 p.m.
Kot dug up an Illinois State Police report dated July 27, 1958 -- three months after Maria's body was found. "We feel certain facts may have been overlooked," it began, concluding that Maria had been taken earlier than initially reported, and that her abductor had probably escaped by running up the alley and jumping into a car parked on a back street.
And so, Kot homed in on facts that had been ignored earlier because they didn't fit the original 7 p.m. timeline. Phone records and other details fleshed out after the first chaotic days of the investigation had prompted the girls' mothers to adjust what they believed to be the timing of events. At first, Maria's mother said the girls went outside at 6:30 and that Maria came back in for her doll at 6:40. Later, she said Maria could have gone out as early as 10 minutes to 6.
Kathy's mother set the precise time at 6:02 p.m., although the reason for her precision has been lost to time. Maria's mother pulled out of her driveway at 6:05 p.m., taking daughter Kay to a music lesson. Frances Ridulph recalled waving to the girls, who were playing in the street in front of the house.
Kot examined closely the accounts of the most neutral, credible witnesses at the time: A heating oil deliveryman and a city bus driver.
Tom Braddy knew Kathy Sigman and her family, and he recalled that she waved at him as he stopped to deliver oil at the big white house on the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street, where the girls were playing. He estimated he got there about 6 p.m. and spent 15 to 20 minutes delivering his load. He noticed the time on a clock at a service station as he headed back to his office: 6:20. He did not see the girls on the corner as he left.
A city bus passed by that corner at 6:30 p.m. The driver said he saw no one there.
Kot concluded that Maria was taken no later than 6:20 p.m. If Tessier parked his car in the back alley where Maria's doll was found, he could have headed straight to Rockford with Maria in his car. It was a 40-mile trip, give or take a few miles, but there would have been little traffic on the back roads in 1957, and he easily could have made it to Rockford in less than an hour.
A collect phone call placed in Rockford to the Tessier home -- a key piece of John's alibi -- also fit into the new timeline.