FBI identifies ‘Lady of the Dunes’ nearly 50 years after woman’s mutilated body was found near Provincetown

FBI identifies ‘Lady of the Dunes’ nearly 50 years after woman’s mutilated body was found near Provincetown

The authorities announced on Monday the identity of the so-called Lady of the Dunesa woman whose mutilated remains were found in Provincetown in July 1974, a stunning breakthrough in the infamous cold case that has puzzled investigators for almost 50 years.

The victim, found naked in the sand dunes near the tip of Cape Cod with her hands cut off, was named Ruth Marie Terry, 37, who was born in Tennessee and had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan, law enforcement officials said.

“This is without a doubt a major breakthrough in the investigation that will hopefully bring us all closer to identifying the killer,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the division of the Boston FBI, during a press conference.. “At the time, the cause of death was determined to be a blow to the head and is estimated to have occurred several weeks earlier.”

The woman’s hands were cut off, presumably so she could not be identified by fingerprints, and “her head was almost severed from her body,” Bonavolonta said.

“It was a brutal death, and for the past 48 years, investigators with the Massachusetts State Police and the Provincetown Police Department have worked tirelessly to identify her through various means,” he said. “We also realized that while we have identified Ruth as the victim of this horrible killer, it does not ease the pain for her family. Nothing can. But I hope it answers some questions as we continue to search for her killer.

Authorities have not identified any suspects.

Investigators determined his identity through investigative genealogy, which combines DNA analysis with traditional genealogical research and historical records, he said. The FBI received confirmation of his identity last week.

“This is a unique method that can generate new leads for unsolved murders, as well as help identify unknown victims,” ​​Bonavolonta said.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said the techniques mirrored those used by California investigators to identify a serial killer known as the Golden State Killer.

“We will pursue every lead and every clue to bring this person to justice,” O’Keefe said.

Terry was born in 1936 in Tennessee. She was “a daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother,” said Bonavolonta, who urged anyone with information about her to contact Massachusetts State Police or the FBI.

“Today, more than 48 years after her murder and discovery, we can finally say her name,” said State Police Col. Christopher Mason. “We know that Ruth had family and friends who loved her. And we know that this development has not been easy for them.”

Mason said the unsolved case had haunted “generations of Provincetown police officers and Massachusetts state troopers.”

“Today’s identification of the Lady of the Dunes is not the end of the case, or even the beginning of the end,” he said. “But this success marks an important step towards identifying Ruth’s killer. It represents a critical discovery that makes possible the rest of the work that lies ahead.

At the time her body was found on sand dunes at Race Point Beach, officials estimated the woman was between 25 and 30 years old, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall with a large build and athletic build. She was found unclothed, lying on her side on a light green terrycloth beach blanket, the Globe reported in 1987. Her dungarees and blue-print bandana were folded neatly under her head as if he was used as a pillow, authorities said.

Her long, reddish-brown hair was held back with a barrette. On his teeth were seven gold crowns, worth about $5,000 to $8,000 at the time. She was sexually molested with a wooden object, apparently after her death.

Police believed at the time that the killer had wanted to deny any possibility that the fingerprints could be traced to a name that by association could help solve the crime. But this was a decade before forensic DNA became a legal tool in criminal courts.

The body was found on a hot July day by a 13-year-old girl walking her dog. Pathologists thought the victim had been dead for a few days, blaming the heat and dune flies for the corpse’s poor condition. Investigators had few clues. There were no signs of a struggle, leading police to believe she knew her attacker, and that she may have been killed elsewhere.

The body was exhumed several times over the years as authorities tried to determine its identity. After such an exhumation in 2000, she was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Provincetown with a headstone that read: “Unidentified female body found Race Point Dunes July 26, 1974.”

“Now, nearly half a century since her own voice was silenced in the most horrible of ways, we focus our work entirely on determining what Ruth Marie Terry did in life, on what brought her at the easternmost point of our state at the dunes. of Provincetown, and to whom he did this,” Mason said on Monday.

Material from previous Globe stories was used. John R. Ellement and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Shelley Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.

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