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Ex-policeman gets life in recently solved 1957 Illinois child killing

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A 73-year-old former policeman - convicted this fall of kidnapping and murdering a 7-year-old Illinois girl in a crime that remained unsolved for over half a century - was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, prosecutors said.

Jack McCullough, a Seattle resident and one-time police officer, was found guilty in September of killing Maria Ridulph, a second grader who disappeared while playing near her home in Sycamore, Illinois, just before Christmas 1957.

Ridulph's badly decomposed remains were found four months later about 100 miles away near Galena, Illinois.

Although McCullough, who was a teenager when Ridulph went missing, was a suspect in the case early on, he told investigators he was on a train from Rockford, Illinois, to Chicago when the little girl disappeared.

He subsequently joined the military, moved to Washington state and eventually became a policeman in Lacey, a town just east of Olympia.

McCullough's alibi began to unravel two years ago when an ex-girlfriend found an unused train ticket for the Rockford-to-Chicago trip and alerted investigators, according to prosecutors. He was arrested in 2011 and convicted earlier this year after a bench trial.

In a statement on Monday, the DeKalb County State's Attorney's office called McCullough's sentence "appropriate for a defendant who stands convicted of this brutal crime."

But McCullough continues to insist he is innocent and "has stated clearly his intent to appeal his conviction and sentence," according to the State's Attorney.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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