50 years later, FBI finally IDs murder victim known as "Lady of the Dunes"

On July 26, 1974, a 12-year-old girl discovered a decomposing corpse rotting in the Race Point Dunes in Provincetown, Massachusetts. After an initial investigation, police theorized that the so-called "Lady of the Dunes" had already been dead for two weeks by the time they found her. Half her head was crushed, and nearly decapitated, with several of her teeth removed; yet, there was no sign of any struggle, leading police to suspect that she had either been sleeping, or that she knew her killer. There were signs of sexual assault as well — possibly postmortem.

But the authorities were never able to identify, beyond knowing that it was a white brunette woman between the ages of 20 and 50 who, at some point, had had some expensive dental surgery. The case was revisited several times over the course of the next 50 years — her body was exhumed on 3 separate occasions, in 1980, 2000, and 2013 — but it was still a dead end. At some point, there was even a rumor going around that she had been an extra in a background shot during the filming of Jaws. Of course, the leading suspect — as with many bizarre, and/or brutal, and/or unsolved crimes in eastern Massachusetts — was Whitey Bulger. (A serial killer called the "Cross Dressing Cannibal" admitted to the murder at one point as well, but this turned out to be a dead end from a killer who was already severely mentally ill.)

Now, nearly 50 years later, the FBI has at least identified the Lady of the Dunes, thanks to DNA analysis and genealogical research. From The Boston Globe:

The victim at the center of one of the state's most baffling mysteries now has a name: Ruth Marie Terry, a Tennessee native, wife, and mother. She was 37 years old when her body was discovered by a young girl walking her dog in July 1974.


Terry was born in 1936 in Tennessee. She was "a daughter, sister, aunt, wife, and mother," Bonavolonta said. She had ties to Massachusetts, California, and Michigan, according to authorities. They declined to provide any additional information about her, citing the ongoing investigation and the privacy of Terry's relatives.

There's still no new information on who killed Ms Terry, though at least having her identity is a good start.

FBI identifies 'Lady of the Dunes' nearly 50 years after woman's mutilated body was found in Provincetown [Travis Andersen and Shelley Murphy / The Boston Globe]

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons