Military records a former police officer insists would help exonerate him in the 1957 slaying of an Illinois girl burned 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 County Jail on a fugitive charge pending efforts to extradite him back to Illinois.
McCullough didn't say during the interview whether he had requested his own records. But his stepdaughter, Janey O'Connor, and her boyfriend, Casey Porter, said the family learned Friday from an AP story that some records had been destroyed and gave McCullough that news Sunday during visiting hours at the jail.
"He put his head down on the counter, and he cried," she said. "He was so banking on those records."
At a news conference Tuesday a short walk from where Ridulph disappeared 54 years ago, DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell repeatedly declined to offer details about the case. He said McCullough could be extradited to Illinois within weeks, though a trial could be months away.
"This is a very, very cold case," Campbell said. "I am well aware of the precarious nature of prosecuting a case you cannot prove, but we are confident that Mr. McCullough killed Maria Ridulph."
He added that assuring a fair trial for McCullough precluded him from discussing evidence, despite what he called "massive" public and media interest.
Officials at the St. Louis archives say a fire 38 years ago destroyed 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 claimed he was in Chicago the day of Maria's disappearance since he was first questioned by investigators when he was 18.
McCullough told the AP last week that 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."
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 after investigators turned up new evidence that they said undermined his alibi.
According to a police affidavit in the case, McCullough's high school girlfriend found his train ticket to Chicago last year behind a framed photograph of the two of them _ and it was unused. Detectives wrote that when questioned in 1957, he claimed he had traveled to Chicago by train.
In the interview with AP, McCullough maintained he never used the ticket because his stepfather ended up giving him a 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 wasn't 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, McCullough 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.
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.