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FBI finds ‘Lady of the Dunes’ murder victim 50 years after grisly Cape Cod crime

Dune Lady, 1974 Provincetown Murder Victim, Identified as Ruth Marie Terry

Dune Lady, 1974 Provincetown Murder Victim, Identified as Ruth Marie Terry


Massachusetts identity the oldest unidentified homicide victim was revealed publicly nearly 50 years after the infamous murder took place.

During a news conference Monday, authorities identified the victim as Ruth Marie Terry, a Tennessee-born woman who was 37 years old at the time of her death. Federal and state agents have shared information about the investigation of the woman who received the earlier call “Lady of the Dunes” because the authorities could not identify her for decades.

Terri was found dead on July 26, 1974 in the sand dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger Station on Cape Cod.

A photo of Ruth Marie Terry next to her group picture.

FBI / Provincetown

Although officials determined at the time that Terri’s death was caused by head trauma, the particularly brutal and gruesome circumstances of her murder prevented them from identifying her. Her hands were torn off by the killer, possibly to hide fingerprints, and her head was crushed and almost severed from her body.

Investigators found that in addition to Tennessee, Terry had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan. She was a “daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother,” police said Monday.

FBI officials worked with the Massachusetts State Police and the district attorney’s office, as well as Provincetown police, to uncover Terry’s identity, which was eventually revealed through a genealogy investigation, the FBI said Monday.

Investigative genealogy, also called forensic genealogy, is a technique in which law enforcement agencies pull genetic information from databases for verification in the context of a criminal case. To do this, authorities can use DNA analysis in conjunction with traditional genealogical research and historical records or private databases.

“This is a unique method that can create new trends in unsolved murders and help identify unknown victims,” ​​said Joseph Bonavalonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division. remarks before the announcement. “This is undoubtedly a major breakthrough in the investigation, which will hopefully bring us all closer to identifying her killer.”

Terri’s relatives were contacted before the FBI released her identity on Monday, the agency said, noting that her family had asked for privacy at that time. Investigators also noted that despite this new development, the case remains unsolved as authorities continue to search for Terry’s killer.

Police have asked the public to review Terry’s case file and share any relevant tips as they plan to act on the belief that the killer is still alive, Cape and Islands prosecutor Michael O’Keefe said.

“As investigators, we don’t allow cases like this, and the agencies that are here today are constantly reevaluating and coming up with new investigative strategies to try to move them forward,” Bonavalonta said. “We also realize that while we have identified Ruth as the victim of this horrific murder, it doesn’t ease the pain for her family – nothing can – but hopefully it will answer some questions as we continue to search for her killer.”


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