Authorities have identified the oldest, unidentified murder victim in Massachusetts, known as the “Lady of the Dunes," the Boston Division of the FBI announced Monday.
Ruth Marie Terry was found dead about a mile east of Race Point Ranger Station on July 26, 1974, in Provincetown, the FBI announced, in the cold case's biggest update in 48 years. The Tennessee native, a mother and sister, was 37 years old when she was killed.
Her hands were missing and her head was nearly severed from her body "with an instrument similar to a military entrenching tool," according to a page on Provincetown's website dedicated to her case. The left side of her skull was crushed, and police believe that her killer removed her hands so she couldn't be identified through fingerprints. The cause of her death was determined at the time to be a blow to the head.
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"It was a brutal death," FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joe Bonavolonta said. "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."
Law enforcement was able to identify Terry using investigative genealogy. She had long, auburn or reddish-blond hair, an athletic build and toenails that were painted pink.
"This is, without a doubt, a major break in the investigation that will, hopefully, bring all of us closer to identifying her killer," Bonavolonta said.
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While authorities didn't have much information to share about the victim's life, with her family only informed earlier Monday, Bonavolonta and other law enforcement agents emphasized that the investigation into Terry's killing will continue in earnest.
"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 said.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe noted 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.
He noted that investigators used a similar technique to what identified two serial killers, the Grim Sleeper and Golden State Killer.
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.