On July 26, 1974, the naked body of a woman with auburn hair was found in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger station in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This was in the Cape Cod National Seashore. Death was caused by a blow to the head, which is thought to have happened a few weeks before. Footprints and tire tracks led away from the scene, but the sand was loose and it had been a few days, so they weren’t very useful for finding out what happened. The victim didn’t have any hands, which her k*iller probably cut off so she couldn’t be identified by her fingerprints, and her head was almost cut off from her body.
It was a violent death, and for the past 48 years, investigators from the Massachusetts State Police and the Provincetown Police Department have worked hard to find out who the woman was. They have done things like canvass neighborhoods, look through thousands of missing person cases, make clay models of the woman’s face, and make drawings that show how she aged over time. The case was given the number UP11840 in NamUs. Over the years, people have been very curious about who the unidentified victim was, and she has become known as “The Lady of the Dunes.”
Since this crime happened, many investigative and scientific methods have either gotten better or been made from scratch thanks to new technological advances. In the end, forensic genetic genealogy was used to figure out who the woman was. Bones were sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas, in 2022. Multiple sets of extractions on different parts of the skeletal remains that had been treated with chemical fixatives, like formaldehyde, stopped DNA testing and processing at several labs that tried to build a DNA profile from the remains. Scientists from Othram were eventually able to get a large enough amount of DNA, even though it was very damaged by chemicals and had a lot of microbial DNA mixed in with it.
From the bones, Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to make a complete DNA profile. This profile was sent back to FBI investigators, who used it in a search for the person’s family tree. Together, that search and the follow-up investigation led to a close family member who could be a clue. Then, DNA tests proved that the Lady of the Dunes, who was k*illed in 1974, was 37-year-old Ruth Marie Terry. Ruth was born in Tennessee in 1936, but that’s about all we know about her. Ruth was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, and a mother. Investigators have also found that she had ties to California, Massachusetts, and Michigan, as well as Tennessee.
The FBI said that this was the oldest case of a mu*rder victim who couldn’t be identified in the state of Massachusetts. Her death is still being looked into.