Phone records showed the collect call was placed at 6:57 p.m. but they didn't pinpoint where in Rockford the call was made. Tessier could have called home from a pay phone on the outskirts of town.
Maybe, Kot thought, Tessier's alibi wasn't so ironclad after all. Maybe the phone call from Rockford wasn't Tessier asking his stepfather to pick him up at the recruiting station there, as he'd maintained. Maybe the call was made by a nervous Tessier wanting to see if anyone was looking for Maria yet.
As they drilled down deeper into the case, Kot and Hanley also found a reason why Sycamore police might not have taken a closer look at Tessier as a suspect. It was a small town and everybody knew everybody else. His stepfather, Ralph, was friendly with the police chief, William Hindenburg. John himself had volunteered to the Air Force recruiter that he'd never be a suspect in the girl's disappearance because his girlfriend's father worked for the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office.
The girlfriend, then known as Jan Edwards, was part of his story, too. He said they met for a date at about 9:20 that night, after his stepfather picked him up in Rockford and brought him home. Kot and Hanley tracked her to Florida, where she and her husband had retired. She agreed to talk about her old high school boyfriend, but only if she could have her lawyer with her. She was a reluctant witness, perhaps, but she gave Hanley and Kot one of their biggest breaks.
She told the cops she never saw Tessier on the night of December 3. Her parents were so upset about the abduction of Maria, so afraid a crazed kidnapper was on the loose, they wouldn't let her out of the house.
Hanley asked whether Edwards had a good picture of John from 1957. He hoped to show a photo lineup to Maria's friend, Kathy, who had seen and talked to "Johnny," the kidnapper.
Because Tessier was expelled from school, there was no 1957 yearbook photo of him that accurately showed what he looked like then.
What are the chances someone would save a photo from a high school dance half a century ago? Jan Edwards told the cops she'd take a look. She called a few days later. Yes, she had found a picture of John. It was taken at a formal in June 1957. She'd be happy to mail it.
When the photo arrived at the state police offices in Elgin, outside Chicago, Hanley was pleased he had something he could work with. On the back was a bonus: It was signed, "Love, Johnny."
Another break came when he pulled the photo from its cardboard frame. A small, yellowed square of paper fluttered out. It appeared to be a government-issued train ticket. Tessier was supposed to use it to travel to Chicago for his induction physical on December 2. The train would leave from Rockford; there was no passenger train from Sycamore.
It was a one-way ticket, and it didn't appear to have been punched. Kot reasoned that Tessier never took the train to Chicago on December 2. He must have found another way to get into the city, most likely his own car. And if he had his own car in Chicago, he could have driven back to Sycamore on December 3, during the noon to 7:15 p.m. window in which his whereabouts could not be verified.
A high school friend later told Hanley that he remembered seeing Tessier's car cruising through Sycamore at about 2:30 p.m. on December 3. He didn't see who was behind the wheel, but he knew Tessier never let anyone else drive his baby.
Cops are cautious by nature. But even if Hanley and Kot weren't dancing around the room exchanging high fives, this was huge. They'd poked a big hole in Tessier's alibi. If he'd lied about how he got around, what else was he lying about?
Kot sent the ticket to the Illinois Central Railroad Historical Society, and the cops got the word on June 2, 2010: The ticket was authentic, and it had not been punched.
They now felt certain they could solve this cold case.
Chapter 4: 'That's him'
How wonderful it is to be 8 years old at Christmastime. But what if one moment your best friend is there, laughing and cutting out paper snowflakes, and then in an instant she is gone forever?
Imagine what it is like to have grown-ups constantly asking you questions and showing you pictures of strange men. To have flashbulbs going off in your face, leaving spots dancing in your eyes.
Why isn't Maria coming home?
Think for a minute what it is like to be sad for months on end, and to wear your new Easter coat to your best friend's funeral. And then imagine spending your childhood looking over your shoulder for a bogeyman you know is real.
Is he coming back for you, the girl who got away, the one he didn't choose?
You put it all to rest. Life goes on. Half a century passes and then, suddenly, a knock on the door brings it all back again. Fifty-three years later, you're replaying that terrible night all over again.
Imagine all of that, and you get a sense of what it was like to be Kathy Sigman after a man who called himself "Johnny" kidnapped and murdered Maria Ridulph in 1957. Kathy saw "Johnny" give 7-year-old Maria a piggyback ride minutes before she vanished from the street where they lived.
Kathy grew up hearing the whispers: "She's the one who was with Maria."
Some mothers wouldn't let their daughters play with her. Some mothers didn't want their sons to date her. She was different, marked.