lady of the dunes

‘Lady of the Dunes' Murder Investigation Shifts to Michigan, Tennessee

Massachusetts State Police are continuing their investigation into the unsolved murder of Ruth Marie Terry on Provincetown in 1974

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The NBC10 Boston Investigators have learned that Massachusetts State Police troopers assigned to the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office are in the Detroit area and in Tennessee on Tuesday as part of their investigation into the unsolved murder of the so-called "Lady of the Dunes."

Officials announced Monday that they had used investigative genealogy to identify a woman whose mutilated body was found on the Cape Cod National Seashore nearly 50 years ago, solving a mystery that had stumped authorities for decades.

The woman has been identified as Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee, who was 37 when she was killed, officials said. The news was delivered to her family Monday morning, according to Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division.

Terry was married in October of 1956 at the age of 20 in Tennessee, according to records obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators.

"The Lady of the Dunes," the Massachusetts killing victim who has gone the longest time without being identified, has been named. Ruth Marie Terry was found dead in Provincetown on July 26, 1974.

Authorities hope the woman’s identity may help unravel one of Massachusetts’ most famous unsolved murders.

Her body was found in the dunes in Provincetown in July 1974. She was naked on a beach blanket with her hands severed — so she could not be identified by her fingerprints, officials believe. Her skull was crushed and she was nearly decapitated. The cause of death was determined to be a blow to the head and authorities believe she was killed several weeks before her body was found.

“This is, without a doubt, a major break in the investigation that will hopefully bring all of us closer to identifying the killer,” Bonavolonta said.

A woman killed on Cape Cod 48 years ago has been identified as Ruth Marie Terry.

Authorities identified her through investigative genealogy, the use of DNA analysis in combination with traditional genealogy research and historical records, Bonavolonta said. Officials released few details about Terry except to say that she was a daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother and had ties to California, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Terry was the oldest, unidentified homicide victim in Massachusetts. Authorities for decades tried to identify her and her killer by exhuming her remains, performing clay model facial reconstruction, and releasing age-regression drawings of her face. Investigators had long said she had long red or auburn hair and that they believed she was somewhere between 20 to 40 years old.

The FBI released a flyer with pictures of Terry and are asking anyone with information about the case to contact authorities.

“Now that we have reached this pivotal point, investigators and analysts will turn their attention to conducting logical investigative steps that include learning more about her as well as working to identify who is responsible for her murder,” Bonavolonta said Monday.

"We must now diligently and methodically learn everything we can about Ms. Terry's life: what she did, where she went who she associated with -- all in hope that those details and that timeline will lead us to her killer," Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason added.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe noted Monday that if Terry's killer was in their 20s or 30s, they would be in their 60s or 70s now, though they could be dead.

"We will assume he is not and we will pursue every lead and every clue to bring this person to justice," O'Keefe said.

Asked if Terry was ever reported missing, O'Keefe noted that a member of her family did try to find her years ago after determining themselves that she went missing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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