A 12-year-old girl chasing her barking dog discovered the mutilated body of a woman on July 26, 1974 in the Race Point Dunes of Provincetown, Massachuestts. Law enforcement could not identify the victim, who became known as “Lady of the Dunes.” Nearly 50 years later, on October 31, the This was announced by the FBI it finally identified the woman as Ruth Marie Terrya Tennessee native who was 37 years old at the time of her death.
The identification was made via Genetic Genealogy Methods: A combination of DNA testing and profiling with traditional genealogical analysis to trace family trees—the same approach used to identify the Golden State Killers (former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo) in 2018. According to the FBI, Terry was born in 1936; had “connections” to the states of California, Massachusetts and Michigan; and was a “daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother”. Further details were not released out of respect for her family – and also because the murder investigation is still ongoing.
“While we’ve identified Ruth as a victim of this horrific murder, it doesn’t ease the pain for her family — nothing can,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, a special agent with the Boston branch of the FBI. said at a press conference disclosure of identification. “But hopefully they’ll answer some questions while we continue the search for her killer. This is undoubtedly a major break in the investigation which will hopefully bring us all closer to identifying the killer.”
The Lady of the Dunes was found naked and lying face down under tall grass on that fateful summer day. The girl who found them initially thought it was a dead deer. The body was badly decomposed, and insect activity suggested she had been dead for about two weeks. She was nearly decapitated by brutal strangulation, but the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the side of the head.
There was no sign of a struggle, but there was evidence of sexual assault, which likely took place after the death. In fact, based on the angle of the blow to the head, it appears that her attacker was lying next to her. Both hands and a forearm were missing and several teeth had been removed. Her last meal was a burger and fries. Her body was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery near the city center, with an inscription on a small headstone: “Unidentified female body found Race Point Dunes 26th July 1974.”
Aside from two footprints leading to the bodywork and a series of tire tracks, there wasn’t much to do in terms of tracks. Police checked the license plates of everyone who had visited the park at the time of the woman’s murder. There was no record of her arrival in the area, so she may have been killed elsewhere and dumped at the site. Potential suspects over the years have included the Irish mafia boss White bulger (known for removing his victim’s teeth), serial killer Tony Costa (disqualified because he died in May 1974, two months before the murder) and serial killer Hadden Clark. (Clark did in fact confess to the crime, but suffered from severe schizophrenia, so it was assumed that the confession was a false one.)
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