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After More Than Four Decades, FBI Identifies Murder Victim Long Known as the ‘Lady of the Dunes’

Pictures of Ruth Marie Terry (right picture from her twenties).

Pictures of Ruth Marie Terry. The picture on the right is from her twenties.

Authorities have discovered the name of a long unidentified woman found brutally murdered on a Massachusetts beach. The victim, long known as the “Lady of the Dunes,” is actually Tennessee woman Ruth Marie Terry, 37, the FBI announced on Monday.

“On July 26, 1974, Terry was found deceased in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger station inside the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown, MA,” the feds said. “The cause of death was determined at the time to be a blow to the head and is estimated to have occurred several weeks prior. Her hands were missing, presumably removed by the killer so she could not be identified through fingerprints, and her head was nearly severed from her body.”

FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta called it a “brutal death.”

“The left side of her skull had been crushed,” authorities said. “No weapon was found at the crime scene. Her nude body was discovered lying on a beach blanket with her head resting on folded jeans.”

Bonavolonta said the FBI used “investigative genealogy” to figure out the true identity of the “Lady of the Dunes,” but he said that investigators were not getting access to DNA results from private databases, and they have no interest in doing so.

“For nearly five decades, investigators have worked tirelessly to identify this victim through various means, including neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing-person cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings,” the FBI said. “Since this crime was committed, many investigative and scientific techniques have either improved or been created through new advances in technology. One of these methods is Investigative Genealogy and combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes. Recent FBI investigative efforts through genealogical examination of this infamous cold case have led to the positive confirmation of Terry’s identity.”

Terry, born in 1936, was a daughter, sister, aunt, wife, and mother, Bonavolonta said. Authorities are to trying to learn more about her and figure out who killed her. The Tennessee resident had ties to not only Massachusetts, but also California and Michigan.

“Earlier this morning, FBI special agents and victim specialists, along with Troopers from the Massachusetts State Police delivered the news to the victim’s family, and we would like to ask all of you to respect their privacy at this time,” he said.

The FBI asks the public to review the poster in her case, as well as newly released pictures.

Pictures of Ruth Marie Terry. Picture on the left from her teenage years. Picture on the right from the 1960s.

Pictures of Ruth Marie Terry. Picture on the left from her teenage years. Picture on the right from the 1960s.

The next step is to find out who stole Terry’s life.

“As investigators, cases like this one haunt us, and the agencies represented here today are constantly re-evaluating and coming up with new investigative strategies to try and advance them,” Bonavolonta said. “We also realize that while we have identified Ruth as the victim of this horrific murder, it does not ease the pain for her family—nothing can—but hopefully it answers some questions while we continue to look for her killer.”

From authorities:

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact the FBI’s toll-free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the Massachusetts State Police at 1-800-KAPTURE (1-800-527-8873) or submit a tip online at or [email protected].

[Images via FBI]

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