BOSTON, Mass. (WKRN) — 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 announced Monday.
Terry, a daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother, was 37 when she was killed. She was born in Tennessee, but investigators believe she may have also had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan.
FBI special agents and victim specialists, along with troopers from the Massachusetts State Police delivered the news to Terry’s family Monday morning.
“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,” Joe Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said at a press conference announcing the identification.
Her remains were found in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger station in Provincetown on July 26, 1974. Officials believe she was killed several weeks before her body was found. Bonavolonta described it as a “brutal death.”
The left side of her skull was crushed, likely from a fatal blow to the head, officials said. Her head was also nearly decapitated, and her hands were missing. Investigators believe the killer may have removed her hands so she could not be identified through fingerprints.
The case stumped investigators for nearly five decades, despite tireless efforts to identify the “Lady of the Dunes.”
Massachusetts State Police and Provincetown Police used methods such as neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing persons cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings, but were still no closer to an identification.
“Since this crime was committed, many investigative and scientific techniques have either improved or been created through new advances in technology,” Bonavolonta said. “One of these methods is investigative genealogy.”
Investigative genealogy combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes.
The FBI received positive confirmation of Terry’s identity through the genealogical examination of the infamous cold case last week. Now, investigators are hoping the major break in the case can help track down Terry’s killer.
“We are asking the public to review Ruth’s Seeking Information Poster, and if anyone has any information concerning this case that could help the investigative team, we’re asking you to contact either the Massachusetts State Police or the FBI,” Bonavolonta said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 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). Tips can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov or MSPtips@pol.state.ma.us.