(WJHL) — Investigators identified the body of a 37-year-old Tennessee woman who was found dead with head injuries off the coast of Massachusetts nearly 50 years ago.
A method of genealogy led to a break in the cold case that puzzled investigators since finding the now-named Ruth Marie Terry on July 26, 1974. Investigators described the crime scene as brutal, and it is believed Terry had died from a blow to the left side of her head several weeks before her naked body was discovered in the dunes near Cape Cod National Seashore.
A young Provincetown girl searching for her dog originally found Terry, according to reports from The Boston Globe in the 1970s.
Police arrived at the grisly scene to find that both her hands had been removed — a believed effort by the killer to prevent positive identification using fingerprints. Her crushed head had also been nearly severed from her body.
“It was a brutal death, and for the last 48 years, investigators with the Massachusetts State Police and Provincetown Police Department have worked tirelessly to identify her through various means, including neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing persons cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta during a press conference on Monday.
None of those initial efforts, however, identified Terry, who eventually became known as the “Lady of the Dunes.”
Decades would pass before technology advanced in a way that made it possible to identify the homicide victim’s body. Investigative genealogy combines DNA analysis with genealogical research and historical records to generate leads for unsolved violent crimes, according to the FBI.
These methods provided answers regarding the victim’s identity, but one mystery remains: who is responsible for Terry’s death?
“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,” said Bonavolonta. “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.”
The FBI said Terry has ties to several other states: California, Michigan and Massachusetts. Exact localities — including in Tennessee — were not provided. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister and aunt.
Massachusetts State Police (MSP) continue to investigate the case as a homicide and ask anyone with information to contact them at 1-800-KAPTURE (1-800-527-8873) or the FBI’s toll-free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). Tips can also be submitted by emailing tips.fbi.gov or MSPtips@pol.state.ma.us.