"It speaks for itself."
'You need to do the right thing'
Clay Campbell huddled in his office with his two top assistants on the last night of June 2011. A computer screen flickered in the darkness as they uploaded the interrogation video.
Campbell had been elected state's attorney seven months earlier, after working 20 years on the other side of the courtroom as a criminal defense attorney. He'd been a maverick candidate, and Sycamore's legal establishment was not pleased that he had won. Folks whispered that his pursuit of the Ridulph case was political grandstanding. That a trial might be nicely timed to his campaign for re-election.
As they watched the interrogation tape, the prosecutors went back and forth. Do we have enough to charge him?
Julie Trevarthen was struck by McCullough's reaction every time the topic turned to Maria. His demeanor changed, and he grew quiet, almost reverential as he described Maria's big brown eyes.
"This isn't just a guy where things broke bad one night while he was hammered and otherwise he's a decent guy," Trevarthen said. "He is inherently evil."
Campbell agreed. He thought McCullough displayed a creepy fixation for Maria. But he knew all too well the hurdles they faced. Witnesses were literally dying on them. For every one they tracked down and found alive, three or four were dead.
Their efforts to solve the case had already met resistance. People were telling him, "There's no way you can possibly prosecute a 55-year-old murder."
But Campbell felt driven by the memory of Maria. He'd practically become a member of Chuck Ridulph's family. He'd gone through photo albums, even Maria's old homework assignments. He felt a strong connection to Maria's older brother and his loss. After all, Campbell had daughters, too. How would he react if someone snatched them in the night?
"Cold cases matter because dead children matter," he told his prosecutors.
"There's a family out there who never learned who killed their child." To him, that meant more than winning or losing any trial -- or any election.
McCullough had denied everything. But his demeanor convinced the prosecutors he was guilty. He was lying, hiding something.
"You probably have enough to charge him," Trevarthen told her boss.
At 38, Trevarthen was a natural-born prosecutor who stood up fiercely for crime victims. She has green eyes that have seen too much, and views the world in terms of right and wrong, good guys and bad guys.
"You need to do the right thing for Maria," she told Campbell, "and whatever comes of it, comes of it."
He knew she was right. They would go for it, consequences be damned.
A few days later, just before the July 4 weekend, Kathy Chapman's phone rang, and all those buried childhood memories came rushing back again. It was Campbell, calling from his office in Sycamore.
"Kathy," he said, "are you sitting down? We've made an arrest."
For the first time, Kathy learned the accused killer's name. She realized he'd lived just around the corner from her and Maria.
"Johnny" was real, but he was no longer a threat.
That night, a pink rose appeared on Maria's grave in Sycamore's Elmwood Cemetery, just a few blocks from where she was snatched half a century before. A note was attached.
"We got him."
Chapter 5: The whole truth?
Jack McCullough returned to Sycamore in handcuffs on July 27, 2011 -- the same day authorities brought Maria Ridulph up out of the ground. He was an old man, stooped, with white hair, thick spectacles and a long surgical scar from a quadruple bypass snaking down his chest. She was tiny, caught in time at age 7, all mummified skin and bones.