ST. LOUIS (AP) — Military records that a former police officer insists would help exonerate him in the 1957 slaying of an Illinois girl were burned up in a 1973 archives fire that destroyed millions of military personnel records, The Associated Press learned Tuesday.
An archivist with the St. Louis-based National Personnel Records Center — a repository of military records — told the AP in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that Jack Daniel McCullough's Air Force file no longer exists.
McCullough told the AP in a jailhouse interview in Seattle last week that the records would prove he had travelled to Chicago for a military medical examination on Dec. 3, 1957, the day 7-year-old Maria Ridulph disappeared in Sycamore, Ill.
But military archivist Kevin Cowan told the AP on Tuesday that there's no longer any documentation of the pre-enlistment exam. He said records from McCullough's subsequent time in the Army show only that McCullough, then using his birth name John Tessier, entered active duty in the Air Force on Dec. 11, 1957. That was eight days after Ridulph vanished from her Sycamore home west of Chicago. Her body was found months later.
McCullough was arrested last month in Seattle in relation to the killing. He's being held in the King's County Jail on a fugitive charge pending his return to Illinois.
A fire at the St. Louis archives 38 years ago destroyed millions of military personnel records — including about 75 percent of records of Air Force personnel discharged between 1947 and 1964 whose last names came alphabetically after the letter H.
McCullough left active duty in the Air Force on Nov. 28, 1961, Cowan said McCullough's Army records show.
McCullough has stuck to the alibi that he was in Chicago the day of Maria's disappearance since he was first questioned by investigators more than half a century ago, when he was 18.
McCullough told the AP he didn't believe investigators had ever tried to verify his alibi that he was undergoing pre-enlistment military medical tests on the day in question — and records of those tests should still exist in his file at the St. Louis repository.
"St. Louis will have records of everything," he said in the interview. "If somebody would go there, it would exonerate me."
"I have an iron-clad alibi," McCullough added. "I did not commit a murder."
A supervisor at the repository told the AP it is confidential whether McCullough ever tried to access his military records.
McCullough, then known as Tessier, lived near the girl and matched the description of the suspect given by Maria's 8-year-old friend, Cathy Sigman, who last saw her about 6 p.m. the day she disappeared. Sigman said she left Maria with a young man and ran home to get some mittens; when she returned 15 minutes later, the two were gone.
Thousands of people joined in the search for the missing girl, whose case ultimately caught the eye of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who requested daily updates. Maria's remains were found the following April, about 120 miles away.
McCullough was arrested in Seattle last month after investigators said new evidence undermined his alibi.
According to a police affidavit in the case, McCullough's high school girlfriend last year discovered his train ticket to Chicago behind a framed photograph of the two of them — and it was unused. Detectives wrote that when he was questioned in 1957, he claimed he had traveled to Chicago by train.
In the interview last week, McCullough maintained he never used the ticket because his stepfather ended up giving him the ride to Chicago. He said he doesn't know how his high school sweetheart wound up with the train ticket.
Sigman picked McCullough's photo out of a montage detectives showed her last September, the affidavit said. She said she was never asked to identify McCullough as the suspect immediately after the slaying.
The affidavit also alleged McCullough has a history of sexually abusing neighborhood girls as a teenager. One young witness told agents in 1957 that he had sexually abused her on numerous occasions.
In the early 1980s, he lost his job with the Milton police department in Washington state after he was accused of sexually abusing a runaway in her early teens. He pleaded guilty in 1983 to unlawfully communicating with a minor.
McCullough declined to discuss those topics with the AP.