Massachusetts police have finally determined the identity of a previously unknown murder victim some 50 years after the fact. The “Lady of the Dunes,” who was really named Ruth Marie Terry, was found dead in Cape Cod on July 26, 1974. She was found among sand dunes roughly a mile east of the Race Point Ranger station, and authorities believe she was killed weeks before she was discovered.
At the time of her discovery, the precise nature of the killing made it difficult to identify her. However, decades later, authorities have made a breakthrough in the case using modern technology and advanced forensics techniques. Finally, Terry’s family can have some closure regarding her disappearance, and Cape Cod can close the file on its oldest unidentified murder victim.
Police found Terry’s body in 1974, dumped among the sand dunes of Cape Cod. Given the state of her body’s decomposition, medical experts determined that she had been dead for weeks before anyone discovered her remains. She died from trauma to her head, and the damage was extensive enough that police were unable to identify her.
The case went cold for decades, as technology had not yet advanced enough to determine her identity through other means. In recent years, however, the authorities made a breakthrough using a technique known as investigative genealogy.
The FBI worked closely with the police in Cape Cod to conduct research on the “Lady of the Dunes” murder. Using genetic sequencing, they were able to determine her identity by cross-referencing her DNA against other samples the police had on file. The FBI reached out to her relatives and informed them of the discovery before making the announcement public.
“This is a unique method that can generate new leads for unsolved homicides, as well as help identify unknown victims,” explains FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta, who heads the Boston unit. “This is, without a doubt, a major break in the investigation that will, hopefully, bring all of us closer to identifying her killer.”
Tragically, despite this breakthrough, the case remains unsolved. The police have not identified Terry’s killer, but experts hope that learning the identity of the victim will make it easier to find the criminal who perpetrated this senseless violence.
“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 told reporters. “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.”