Burial marker for Ruth Marie Terry, whose identity was unknown until 2022. [2012, Dunlap]
Update | On Halloween of 2022, the Provincetown Police Department reported: “[T]he Boston Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Office of the Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, the Provincetown Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, are announcing that after nearly a half-century, the oldest, unidentified homicide victim in Massachusetts, dubbed the ‘Lady of the Dunes,’ has been identified as Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee.
“The FBI identified Ruth Marie Terry, previously identified by investigators seeking her identity as the ‘Lady of the Dunes’ using investigative genealogy. This is a unique method that can generate new leads for unsolved homicides, as well as help identify unknown victims.
“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 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.
“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. 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.
“In addition to Tennessee, investigators believe Terry had ties to California, Massachusetts, and Michigan.
“The case is being investigated as a homicide by the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Office of the Cape and Islands District Attorney, the Provincetown Police Department, and the FBI.”
The 2022 FBI poster seeking more information on Terry.
The article as written before the 2022 identification:
Without doubt the most poignant burial at St. Peter’s is that of a young woman whose body was found on the Back Shore in 1974. She remains nameless. Unclaimed. Unknown — after more than four decades. Forensic experts have been able to reconstruct her killing in dreadful detail. Theories come and go: She was an extra in Jaws. She was a girlfriend of the mobster Whitey Bulger. But no one can say for certain why she was attacked or by whom. As the years pass, she seems destined to remain the “Lady in the Dunes” for all time.
Her inscription reads simply: “Unidentified female body / found Race Point dunes / July 26, 1974.”
Here is the official story of the “Lady in the Dunes” (also known as the “Lady of the Dunes”) from the Provincetown Police Department:
“The victim was discovered in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger Station on July 26, 1974. The cause of death was a blow to the head. The estimated date of death was from 10 days up to three weeks. The unidentified woman’s 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 with an instrument similar to a military entrenching tool. The left side of her skull had been crushed. No weapon was found at the crime scene.
“Her nude body was discovered lying on a beach towel with her head resting on folded jeans. There was no sign of a struggle and the woman lay on half the towel, as if she’d been sharing it with a companion. The body was exhumed in 2000, in an attempt to confirm her identity. In May of 2010, a new composite was created using state of the art technology and computer analyses. The new facial reconstruction images [below] were created by forensic experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Smithsonian Institution.”
Provincetown detectives still hope to solve the case. They note in their bulletin that the victim’s dental charts and samples of her DNA are available. Just not her name.
Facial reconstructions created in 2010 by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. [Provincetown Police Department]
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 51635525.
¶ Last updated on 13 December 2021.