Massachusetts oldest cold-case victim identified

A crime scene with a chalk outline.

FBI Boston has identified the state’s oldest homicide victim, also known as “Lady of the Dunes,” in a press conference on Halloween. In the investigation process, the Boston division of the FBI had partnered with the Massachusetts State Police, the Provincetown Police Department and Dist. Att. Michael O’Keefe of the Cape and Islands. (4)

Found by a 13-year-old girl walking her dog, the victim was roughly one mile east of Race Point Ranger station on the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown. Investigators identified Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee as the “Lady of the Dunes.” From 1974 until now, her case was cold for nearly half a century, due to authorities not being able to identify Ruth. The nature of the crime was very intense because of Ruth’s missing hands. Hence, the police couldn’t identify the fingerprints when they arrived at the scene. Ruth’s head was also nearly decapitated from her body, only adding to the severity of the murder. Authorities also identified signs of strangulation and sexual assault. (2)

The FBI has reported that they were able to identify Ruth by using investigative genealogy. This process involves combining DNA analysis with traditional genealogical research and historical records. Investigative genealogy has also been used to help identify the 1980s California cold case victims Shannon Lloyd and Renee Cuevas. (4,6)

The special agent in charge of FBI Boston’s division, Joseph R. Bonavolonta, had stated in the press conference that the cause of Ruth’s death was a blow to the head, and that the murder had occurred several weeks before her discovery. “It was a brutal death, and for the last 48 years, investigators with the Massachusetts State Police and Provincetown Police Department have worked tirelessly to identify her through various means,” said Bonavolonta. According to Cape and Islands Dist. Att. Michael O’Keefe, the techniques used to identify Ruth were very similar to those used by investigators in California to identify the infamous Golden State Killer. (2,1)

Now that Ruth has been officially identified, investigators are more motivated than ever to find Ruth’s killer. Michael O’Keefe noted that Terry would have been 86 years old if she hadn’t come in contact with her killer. “If the person responsible for the crime was in his or her 20s or 30s, he would be in his late 60s or 70s…If he was a little older, he may well be dead. But we will assume he is not. And we will pursue every lead and every clue to bring this person to justice,” stated O’Keefe. (1)

The “Lady of the Dunes” case has become a famous part of local Cape Cod lore. Ruth’s case has been the topic of several podcasts and even a documentary produced by Frank Durant. The case has even sparked an interest in Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, who speculates that the “Lady of the Dunes” inspired the hit movie “Jaws,” since it was filmed in the same area and year as the murder. Other wilder theories about the case include that Boston’s James “Whitey” Bulger had a connection to the murder, but nothing has been confirmed. (1,7)

With the newly released information, FBI Boston has released a “seeking information” poster for Ruth. The poster includes new photos of Ruth, details of her murder, where she was found and the FBI’s Toll-Free tipline, 1-800-CALL-FBI. Contacting the Massachusetts State Police at 1-800-KAPTURE with any information is highly encouraged. (4,5)

 Sources:

  1. https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2022/10/31/lady-of-the-dunes-id-ruth-marie-terry/
  2. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/10/31/metro/fbi-identifies-lady-dunes-nearly-50-years-after-mutilated-remains-were-found-near-provincetown/?p1=BGSearch_Overlay_Results
  3. https://www.wcvb.com/article/fbi-significant-development-in-oldest-unsolved-homicide-in-massachusetts-lady-of-the-dunes-provincetown/41818740
  4. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/boston/news/press-releases/lady-of-the-dunes-identified
  5. https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/ruth-marie-terry/@@download.pdf
  6. https://abcnews.go.com/US/cold-case-murders-1980s-solved-genetic-genealogy-police/story?id=87416810
  7. https://www.capecod.com/newscenter/documentary-investigates-the-lady-of-the-dunes/

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