How America’s coldest criminal case – the mystery of missing seven-year-old ‘pretty Maria’ – was solved 55 years later thanks to deathbed confession by her murderer’s mother

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When Maria Ridulph (pictured center) went missing in December 1957 aged just seven near her home in smalltown Sycamore, Illinois, the crime shocked the nation. The second grader was last seen by a friend taking a piggy-back from a strange man called Johnny. The crime baffled police. But on her deathbed Eileen Tessier (pictured right in family photo) confessed that she had given a false alibi for her son John (left of family group and pictured left in his police mugshot aged 73) and in 2012, 55 years later, her was convicted of the murder. Now a new documentary pieces together America’s coldest case.

Maria Ridulph vanished into thin air in small town Sycamore, Illinois, in December 1957
She disappeared moments after she had been with a friend and yards from home
FBI boss J Edgar Hoover and President Eisenhower were informed about case which shocked America
Her body was found the following spring, choked and stabbed, but police could not find killer
Suspect Johnny McCullough’s mother confessed on her deathbed that she had lied about an alibi
Victim’s sister persuaded police to open case and in 2012 McCullough – a former airman, soldier and policeman – was convicted
New documentary and book reveal truth about case and comes as McCullough, 74, plans appeal against conviction

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