Cape Cod 'Lady of the Dunes' Identified As Tennessee Woman After 48 Years

Police have finally identified the victim in the oldest cold case murder in Massachusetts.

The FBI announced on Monday that a woman who had been known as the Provincetown "Lady of the Dunes" since her brutalized body was discovered on the sand dunes on July 26, 1974 was Ruth Marie Terry, 37, according to CBS News. Terry would've been 86 years old in September.

Terry was born in Tennessee, but had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan, the FBI said in a statement.

According to the Cape Cod Times, the body now known to be Terry's was discovered by a 12-year-old girl who was hiking with her parents from the C-Scape dune shack, a historic property on the Cape Cod National Seashore, to the Province Lands Visitor Center, about a third of a mile away. Dogs belonging to a family friend caught the scent, and the pre-teen girl ran after them, stumbling upon the handless, nearly-decapitated body in a stand of scrub pines.

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Her body was found lying on a light green beach towel, with her nearly-severed head resting on a pair of folded jeans, according to Boston.com. They believe her head was severed with a military entrenching tool — a kind of small, pick-shovel device. The left side of Terry's skull had been crushed, and her hands were never recovered, according to the FBI. She was buried in a grave, marked "Unidentified Female Body," in St. Peter's Cemetery in Provincetown, the Times reported.

Ruth Marie Terry “Lady of the Dunes” Identified
Ruth Marie Terry “Lady of the Dunes” Identified

Ruth Marie Terry Photo: FBI

 

Investigators exhumed her body in 1980 to try and obtain blood samples, and then again in 2000 to try and obtain DNA.

According to the Times, samples from the second exhumation were held by Massachusetts Bay Community College biotechnology and forensic DNA science professor Bruce Jackson until his death in 2016. A 2015 sampling taken with Jackson and his students was deemed unhelpful by prosecutors as they began to look into genealogical DNA analysis, the Times reported, but investigators didn't say if they'd exhumed her body a third time.

Genealogical analysis was able to determine that the body was Terry's, and her family was notified. They told investigators that an aunt determined Terry was missing in 1974 and tried searching for her, to no avail. The aunt has since died, but police are asking if she left records or talked to anyone about what she might have found.

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Given the age of the case, police are unsure if they will find the killer, let alone if they will find him alive.

“If the person responsible for the crime was in his or her 20s or 30s, he would be in his late 60s or 70s,” Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe told Boston.com. “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.”

Investigators ask that anyone with information about Terry or her murder call the FBI's Toll-Free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). the Massachusetts State Police at 1-800-KAPTURE (1-800-527-8873) or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov or by emailing MSPtips@pol.state.ma.us.