'Lady of the Dunes' Now Has a Name

Woman brutally murdered on Cape Cod in 1974 identified as Ruth Marie Terry
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2022 6:34 AM CDT
Massachusetts' Oldest Unknown Murder Victim ID'd
In this 1974 image provided by the FBI is a poster seeking information for homicide victim Ruth Marie Terry.   (FBI via AP)

Massachusetts' oldest unknown murder victim is unknown no longer. The "Lady of the Dunes," found brutally murdered in Provincetown, Cape Cod, on July 26, 1974, has been identified as Ruth Marie Terry, a 37-year-old mother and sister from Tennessee, authorities announced Monday. They said it was the biggest break in the case since the discovery of the body 48 years ago. It "will, hopefully, bring all of us closer to identifying her killer," FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joe Bonavolanta said at a press conference, per NBC Boston. "We must now diligently and methodically learn everything we can about Ms. Terry's life: what she did, where she went, who she associated with," in the hope of finding her killer, added Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason.

Bonavolanta described Terry's death as "brutal." Found naked on a beach blanket in sand dunes a mile east of the Race Point Ranger Station weeks after her death, she had suffered a horrific crime. "Her head was nearly severed from her body," said Bonavolanta, and the left side of her skull had been crushed by a fatal blow. "The victim's hands were missing, presumably removed by her killer so she could not be identified through fingerprints," Bonavolanta continued. He said investigators had tried for decades to identify her "through various means, including neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing persons cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings." Her body was also exhumed several times, per the Washington Post.

It wasn't until detectives turned to investigative genealogy that they were finally able to put a name to the victim. Bonavolanta said the identification was made "just last week," per People. Terry's family was only notified earlier Monday, per NBC. Asked if Terry had ever been reported missing, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said only that a family member had searched for her years ago after presuming she'd disappeared. Detectives are now asking anyone who knew Terry—who was white, with auburn or strawberry blonde hair, an athletic build, and ties to California, Massachusetts, and Michigan—to reach out. While O'Keefe acknowledges her killer might be dead, "we will assume he is not and we will pursue every lead ... to bring this person to justice," he said. (Read more cold cases stories.)

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