Home Local News Decades-old MA homicide victim finally identified, FBI says

Decades-old MA homicide victim finally identified, FBI says

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

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

Photo from the FBI

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

In the summer of 1974, Terry’s mangled body was found on the dunes of 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, according to CapeCod.com.

Her head was “nearly severed” from her body and her hands were missing, likely in an attempt to hinder identification efforts, the FBI said. A head injury, which was estimated to have happened weeks earlier, was determined to be the cause of death.

Without any promising leads, the case quickly went cold, and her body was buried, according to CapeCod.com.

Over the years, investigators have employed various techniques in an effort to identify the victim of the grisly murder, including “neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing-person cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings,” but all were unsuccessful, according to the FBI.

The body has also been exhumed from its grave several times over the decades for blood and DNA sampling, according to the Worcester Telegram.

In lieu of closure, various theories cropped up over the years positing the identity of the Lady of the Dunes. Stephen King’s son believed she resembled an extra on the 1975 movie “Jaws,” according to The Washington Post.

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 genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes,” the FBI said.

“This is, without a doubt, a major break in the investigation that will, hopefully, bring all of us closer to identifying her killer,” FBI agent Joseph Bonavolonta said at an Oct. 31 press conference.

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

The case is still being investigated by the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police and the Provincetown Police Department, officials said.



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