"He's a weird guy. He's a slammin' narcissist, there's no question about that," Steiger said later. "He's smarter than everybody in the place."
Their motorcade stopped for lunch at a Steak 'n Shake and McCullough gobbled down a hamburger, fries and a glass of milk. He also kept talking. Steiger parked himself at a table behind the prisoner and wrote down everything he said -- on a paper placemat.
The Sycamore that McCullough was coming home to wasn't the Mayberry he remembered. It had grown from 7,000 residents to 17,000 in the years he'd been gone. While the downtown area still boasted brick storefronts and tree-lined streets, the country roads were now cluttered with strip malls and fast-food joints. As they rode through town, McCullough pointed out the lot where he'd bought the car that had been his pride and joy.
The Seattle cops finally felt they had heard enough from their prisoner. They signaled to their driver to head to the jail.
As they approached the back entrance, they spotted a line of television satellite trucks. Reporters and camera operators closed in on the SUV.
His wrists were shackled to a waist chain, but McCullough smiled and tried to wave.
"They're all here for me!" he exclaimed.
A jury of one
Sex has always been an underlying theme in this case, and McCullough would face a rape trial before he'd be tried for the murder of Maria. During the investigation, his half sister, Jeanne, told police that her brother raped her and shared her with two friends when she was 14. The attack occurred, she said, at a house near Elmwood Cemetery in 1961 or 1962, while he was between stints in the military.
The statute of limitations should have expired long ago. But McCullough, who was then known as John Tessier, had spent so little time in Illinois that the clock had stopped ticking.
Prosecutors felt the rape case against McCullough was stronger than the murder case. Their witness was impressive.
Jeanne Tessier held advanced degrees from prestigious universities, taught college classes and counseled the parents of terminally ill children. She was 64, a woman of profound faith who never went anywhere without her dog, Spirit. She wore her snow-white hair in a long braid down her back and dressed in flowing, patterned tops and scarves.
Jeanne took the witness stand when the rape trial began in April 2012, and she was followed by a woman flown in from Tacoma, Washington. Michelle Weinman was just 15 when she told authorities in 1982 that John Tessier had sexually assaulted her. He was a Milton, Washington, police officer then and charged with statutory rape. He was able to plead the case down to a misdemeanor, but it ended his career.
With Weinman as their witness, prosecutors would argue that McCullough had a history of taking advantage of girls.
The defense attorneys had made a strategic decision to try the case before a judge instead of a jury. A judge would focus on the legal issues and problems with evidence in a case this old, they thought, while jurors might be swayed by their emotions.
Indeed, Judge Robbin Stuckert had serious questions. Why did the accuser wait decades to mention the crime?
Prosecutors were frustrated that they couldn't explain that the rape allegations surfaced during a murder investigation. Any mention of murder would be prejudicial. Jeanne had dealt with her trauma her own way, and talked about the abuse to police only because they were looking into the Ridulph case. She didn't want to file charges but agreed to go along if it would help the investigation.
The judge also questioned why there were so many holes in Jeanne's story, so many contradictions. Did the attack occur during the summer or the winter? Why could no one else remember the red convertible she said her brother drove? Why did Jeanne remember being dragged down a hallway when the bungalow where the attack allegedly occurred had none?
The judge acquitted McCullough and excoriated prosecutors.
Campbell in turn blasted the judge on the courthouse steps. He said the verdict was a "miscarriage of justice," and called Stuckert's criticism of his office "a travesty."
Jeanne Tessier, meanwhile, unloaded on Campbell in a signed letter published by the local newspaper.
She said she felt like she'd been victimized a second time.
Hearsay rulings: 'I'm toast'
Jack McCullough was so pleased with the outcome of his rape trial that he wanted Judge Stuckert to decide the murder case as well. Forget about a jury of his peers. He viewed Stuckert as "brilliant" and thought he'd found a friend on the bench.
But the judge's war of words with Campbell after her verdict led Stuckert to step down from the murder trial. Judge James C. Hallock was brought in from neighboring Kane County.