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Decades-lost Massachusetts murder victim finally identified, FBI says

Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee, pictured above, has been identified as the

Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee, pictured above, has been identified as the “Dune Lady,” Massachusetts’ oldest unidentified homicide victim, the FBI said in an Oct. 31, 2022, news release.

Photo from the FBI

Massachusetts’ oldest unsolved homicide victim, known as the “Lady of the Dunes,” has been identified by the FBI as Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee, bringing some closure to the nearly half-century-old case.

In the summer of 1974, Terry’s mutilated body was found on the dunes Provincetown, a seaside town on the tip of Cape Cod, the FBI said in an Oct. 31 release.

She was found lying face down on a blanket and appeared to have been sexually assaulted, officials previously said, CapeCod.com reported.

Her head was “almost severed” from her body and her hands were missing, likely in an attempt to hinder identification, the FBI said. The cause of death was determined to be head trauma, which is believed to have occurred several weeks ago.

According to CapeCod.com, without any promising leads, the case was quickly dropped and her body was buried.

Over the years, investigators have used a variety of methods to identify the victim of the gruesome murder, including “neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing persons cases; facial reconstruction on a clay model and age drawings,” but all were unsuccessful, according to the FBI.

There was also a body exhumed from his grave several times over the decades for blood and DNA samples, the Worcester Telegram reported.

In lieu of closure, various theories have surfaced over the years claiming the identity of the Lady of the Dunes. Stephen King’s son thought she resembled an extra from the 1975 film “JawsThe Washington Post reports.

But a new interdisciplinary practice called investigative genealogy finally allowed investigators to confirm Terry’s identity, the FBI said.

The method “combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogical research and historical records to build a trail of unsolved violent crimes,” the FBI said.

“It is undoubtedly a serious break in an investigation that will hopefully bring us all closer to identifying her killer,” FBI Agent Joseph Bonavalonto said at a news conference on October 31.

Officials released little information about Terry, but said she was born in Tennessee in 1936 and “had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan.”

The case remains under investigation by the FBI, Massachusetts State Police and the Provincetown Police Department, officials said.


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