Anissa had even brought along keepsakes in the form of some old family photos. Written just days before the stabbing, one was like a will, bequeathing all her possessions to her parents. The other was an overwrought adieu, as though the murder in her mind were a suicide, too. You wanted to do this. Right after the attack, Morgan had made a terrible confession to Anissa. Anissa fell apart again. I want to call my mom. I want to go home. At the police station, the girls were put in separate, identical blank white rooms, furnished with nothing but one table and two chairs, for questioning.
Mounted high on the wall of each room is a video camera, which the detectives, by and large, ignore. In the recordings, the girls are disheveled, articulate, Morgan gets little disposable booties, too, like you get in the hospital, and she starts fiddling with them, until, on her left foot, most of her toes have pushed through. Anissa is barefoot. When the detective brings her two big gray blankets, she wraps one around her shoulders and coils the other around her ankles, making a fat covering for her feet. Anissa spills. The detective questioning her, Michelle Trussoni, is gentle and motherly.
Anissa is helpful, detail-oriented, and literal. She wants the detective to understand; she wants to do a good job. She needs tissues. She is shaking. She weeps more or less continuously. But she has a grasp on things — on who Slender Man is, on what Creepypasta is, on the exact route she and Morgan took out of town, on the last names of her relevant friends. You can sense her relief. One of the things she wants to make very clear is that Morgan did the stabbing, not her. Morgan seems like she is from another planet.
When the recording begins, she is sitting on a chair. The posture of her arms forces her body forward, but she cranes her face up, toward the camera, like a pale and curious turtle.
Once the cuffs are off and the questioning begins, Morgan blames the whole thing on Anissa. Anissa told her to do it. Anissa made it seem necessary. Of the two, Morgan was much more in the grip of the mythical power of Slender Man, but she barely mentions him until Detective Tom Casey, apparently receiving reports from the next room, begins to press the point.
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Morgan pulls her bare arms inside her giant shirt; sometimes, she tucks her whole head in there, too. Near the end of their interview, Morgan is left alone with a container of takeout food. She approaches the Styrofoam box daintily, like a cat, and removes a single French fry, eating it in tiny nibbles. Slowly, she takes out another three, placing them in a small pile on the table. She eats the fries one by one, crouched in her chair.
Then she sits back down and removes a few more, holding one fry upright in one hand and her asthma inhaler in the other, like little dolls, and makes them dance. Since May 31, , the day of the attack, the girls have been living in a juvenile-detention facility.
Their month tenure makes Morgan and Anissa eminences here; for most kids, Washington County is a layover, a place where they spend a few days or weeks, awaiting trial after jacking cars or selling drugs or doing something stupid with a gang. In hearings, the same prison guard has testified on behalf of both girls. Anissa and Morgan are kept apart — separate living quarters, separate classrooms — but depending on the day, they will glimpse each other as they pass in the hall. The judge in the case has ruled the girls mentally competent, their crime serious enough to be tried in an adult court.
Should she have run away and summoned an adult? But given what she was dealing with … she did what she could. In jail, Anissa has been a model inmate. Anissa is also a mess. She seems unable to retrace her steps and fully understand how she got to this place. In the Ridulph case, three inmates locked up with the suspect told different stories about how he described killing Maria: by dropping her on her head, or by suffocating or strangling her while trying to silence her cries.
The eyewitness whose testimony was crucial in winning a conviction was a child when she saw the kidnapper for just a few moments. More than half a century passed before she picked him out in a photo lineup.
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She is certain she chose the right man, but others question whether she picked up cues from the investigators and tried to please them with her choice. They wonder whether the photo itself — slightly different from the others she was shown — could have prejudiced her. Illinois is second only to Texas in mistaken eyewitness identifications, according to the Innocence Project , which began its work in Faulty identifications played a role in 24 cases — more than half of the state's 43 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. It was the job of Judge James Hallock to sort everything out.
The defense requested a bench trial, and so prosecutors had to prove guilt to just one person, not That one person, Hallock, had little experience with murder trials. Hallock's verdict in this case came after four days of testimony. It was based, the judge said, on the credibility of the eyewitness and the jailhouse informants. The goal in every trial is a fair hearing of both sides. And in most trials, witnesses take the stand to recount what they saw with their own eyes, what they heard with their own ears. But in cold cases, those witnesses often are dead.
When that's true, prosecutors and defendants are sometimes forced to rely on second-hand evidence known as hearsay. And in some states, including Illinois, the law is evolving to allow hearsay evidence under exceptional circumstances. In this cold case, a hearsay statement that favored the prosecution was allowed into evidence; other hearsay evidence that favored the defense was kept out. And so, a mother was able to accuse her son from the grave, but his alibi, buried in thousands of pages of old FBI reports, was never presented in court.
A man was convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life. A victim's family embraced long-awaited justice, and Sycamore breathed a sigh of relief. But was the courtroom reconstruction of history unfairly one-sided? Kathy ran up and down Archie Place, calling her best friend's name as a gentle snow fell on the evening of December 3, There was no sign of Maria.
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Kathy rushed up to a side door at the Ridulphs' house, where Maria's big brother, Chuck, was spinning records on the hi-fi with his friend Randy. Maria's lost , she told them. I can't find Maria! Chuck and Randy set out down Archie Place, all the way to the corner of Fair Street, by the elementary school.
The boys saw a police car go by and realized — too late — that they should have stopped it. They headed back home. By then, Kathy had told her mother about the nice man who called himself Johnny. More details emerged as Maria's mother, Frances, and Kathy's mother, Flora, exchanged several frantic phone calls.
Maria's father was reluctant to summon police because he didn't want to be embarrassed if she had just wandered off. About a year earlier, Maria had strayed several blocks away to Elmwood Cemetery while playing. She turned up just as a search party organized. But Frances Ridulph let worry overrule her husband. She drove to the Sycamore police station to report her daughter missing.
Chuck continued looking for Maria, but the year-old wasn't yet sure how concerned he should be about the little sister he walked to school every morning. He traipsed down a long driveway and through a garden that opened onto a field. Then he circled back to the alley that ran behind their home, where a sense of foreboding overcame him. There, next to Ida Johnson's garage, a searcher spotted Maria's doll. Ralph ran the hardware store, and the men wanted him to open up so they could gather up flashlights and lanterns to use in the search.
The Tessiers were a large family crammed into small quarters about two blocks from the Ridulphs. Eileen was Ralph's Irish-born war bride who'd sailed to the United States on the Queen Mary with her son John from an earlier marriage. The girls resented the way their mother seemed to favor John. At 18, he was artistic, a bit of a dreamer. He seemed to get a pass with her even when he screwed up. He was expelled for pushing a teacher and calling her an unsavory name.
But in their mother's eyes, he could do no wrong. Ralph Tessier, who had just arrived home from picking up year-old Katheran at a 4-H social, joined the men in the search that night. Eileen headed to the armory, where the women were making sandwiches and coffee for the searchers.
Before they left, the couple locked the front door, even though the key had been lost for years. The back door didn't lock at all, so Ralph jammed it shut with a board. In the days to come, police would knock on the door and question Eileen Tessier about the events of December 3.
The older girls stood back and listened as their mother told the officers something they knew wasn't true: John was home all night. T he headline on the front page of Sycamore's afternoon paper screamed the bad news that everybody in town already knew: "Missing Girl, 7, Feared Kidnapped.
Foul play was suspected, but there were no clues. When she vanished, the newspaper said, Maria was wearing a brown, three-quarter-length coat, black corduroy slacks, brown socks and freshly polished saddle shoes. She was 43 inches tall, weighed about 55 pounds, and wore her hair in a wavy brown bob with bangs. The man who called himself Johnny, police said, wore a striped sweater of blue, yellow and green. He had long, blond hair that curled in the front and flopped onto his forehead. Already, there were conflicting reports about the exact time of Maria's disappearance. Was she snatched closer to 6 p.
Or did it happen later, at about 7? Police and FBI reports, as well as news accounts from the time, contain details that support both scenarios. Maria's mother later altered her original estimate, saying the girls could have been outside as early as 10 minutes to 6. As the days passed, Maria's mother pleaded with the kidnapper for her daughter's safe return. We would, too," Frances Ridulph, 44, said, using the media to send a message to whoever might have her daughter. Maria was "nervous," she said, a nail biter who could quickly become hysterical if things didn't go her way.
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Maria would make a noise if something seemed wrong, her mother said. And no kidnapper "would put up with that for long. He played with her," the frantic mother added. On television, she delivered a message to her baby: "Don't cry, Maria. Above all, don't cry. Don't make a fuss. We'll be with you soon. I know she is still alive. Nobody would have any reason to kill her. Later, he pulled one reporter aside and explained, "I want fathers to help look for my little girl. Chuck Ridulph accompanied his dad to the fire station on the morning of December 4 and was assigned to a search team.
Hundreds of people fanned out over the fields surrounding Sycamore. Others opened car trunks and cellar doors. In a neighborhood called Johnson's Greenhouse, where new streets were going in, Chuck was asked to climb down a manhole because he was the only one in the search party small enough to fit.
Later, searchers joined hands as they walked in a line through the frozen cornfields where Sycamore High School now stands. They found a gunnysack of abandoned kittens, and that unnerved Chuck. Other searchers discovered a torn, bloody petticoat in a farm field, but it was not Maria's. Two FBI agents took up residence in the Ridulphs' parlor. A half dozen crop-dusters and military planes circled the sky, searching. The J Roping Club sent riders out on horseback. Local police with bullhorns urged residents to keep their porch lights on and report anything suspicious. The Illinois State Police set up half a dozen roadblocks; railroad cars, motel rooms and the bus station were searched — as was every house in Sycamore.
Maria's doll and blue hairbrush were shipped off to the FBI lab near Washington for analysis. So were her schoolbooks, a toy oven, a tin saxophone and records of songs such as "Three Little Kittens" and "The Farmer in the Dell. Her little friend, Kathy Sigman, found herself under hour police guard. The family doctor checked her for signs of sexual molestation. The newspapers ran a picture of Kathy showing off her mittens and pointing to the corner where Maria was snatched. Kathy spent hours poring over mug shots of ex-cons and what police called "known perverts," but she didn't see Johnny.
She remembers the shouting reporters and flashing camera bulbs that appeared every time she was escorted to a police lineup. At first, she enjoyed the attention, but as the case dragged on she felt exposed, like she was being put on display. She recalls her mother bending down, placing her hands on her shoulders and looking her square in the eye.
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Remember his face, Kathy, she said. You have to remember his face because you are the only one who can catch him. You are the only one who knows what he looks like. The day after her death a room in the hotel - cabin three - was found covered in blood and faeces, and a package of clothes - similar to what she was wearing - were found.
Dillon had stayed in the hotel on several occasions and witnesses saw him and Hansen there in the week Elizabeth disappeared. They also reported seeing a black haired girl there and suspiciously a receipt for an extraordinarily large laundry bill was found at the motel after the killing. At least four people saw Mark Harvey and two people saw Dillon. You have so much testimony and so many witnesses. For all these people to be mistaken is pretty unlikely and for all these people to be lying is even more so.
LA City Grand Jury took up the case in They investigated specifically whether there had been mishandling of the investigation and why Dillon had been let go. The Grand Jury filed a report at the end of , when they reached the end of their term and would be replaced by a new team, stating that they wanted the case to be investigated.
However, just like with the police, the case quietly disappeared as the LAPD was overwhelmed by allegations of widespread corrupton. Piu, who has worked as both a lawyer and a researcher for TV documentaries, reached her theory by examining papers in the case - including the findings of the Grand Jury in Her research took a painstaking three years, which included trying to get hold of official documents, such as the Grand Jury's report which took four months.
She originally set out to write a non-fiction work on the case but soon found herself piecing together the evidence and finding, what she believes, is proof of Dillon's guilt. As she explained: "I didn't expect I would be writing a book saying this is the killer. Piu said her legal background helped in the gathering of evidence - from asking for parts of reports to be redacted and doing freedom of information requests to collect all the relevant documentation.
She also closely examined the work of Paul De River - the once lauded psychologist who ended up with his reputation publicly criticised, his career in tatters and dying without an obituary after he consistently stressed that Dillon was responsible. He was harassed, he lost his job, he was tailed by police cars. One of his daughters said she saw a police car following her to school. They have a visit from a member of the police department telling him to shut up about this. He was later totally discredited. Other people connected with the case also appeared to go suddenly silent including journalist Agness Underwood, who had focused on the case and had been one of the first on the scene later dismissed all questions about it.
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Piu believes that there was also a motive for the extreme violence meted out by Dillon, as he is believed to have a problem with his penis. She thinks Elizabeth may have made a comment about this which triggered the horrific violence.
Her killer has never been brought to justice. Piu added: "The case is probably second to that of Jack the Ripper in terms of its mythical status. There have been numerous investigations into the killing, as well as people claiming to know the identity of the Black Dahlia murderer. These have included most recently Steve Hodel, who believes his late father Dr George Hodel, was responsible after finding pictures of Elizabeth at the back of one of his photo albums. He also later found that is dad was on the list of suspects in and police had bugged his home.