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The Lady of the Dunes, 1974 Provincetown murder victim, identified as Ruth Marie Terry

Lady of the Dunes identified
Lady of the Dunes identified 02:40

BOSTON - The "Lady of the Dunes" of Provincetown, the oldest, unidentified murder victim in Massachusetts, has been identified as Ruth Marie Terry of Tennessee, the FBI announced Monday.

The woman, whose identity had been unknown for 48 years, was found dead in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger Station on July 26, 1974. It was a brutal crime. Her hands had been cut off, likely to hide her identity. The left side of her skull was crushed and her head was nearly severed from her body.

She was found naked, laid out on a beach towel with her head resting on folded jeans. Investigators believe she had been killed 10 days to three weeks before the body was found.

Ruth Marie Terry was 37 years old. She would have been 86 years old today.

A photo of Ruth Marie Terry next to a composite image of her.  FBI / Provincetown

There have been no arrests in the case. 

"It's very likely that the person who did this is dead. But they may not be, so the message to them if they're still out there is 'We're coming,'" Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe told reporters.

The FBI identified Terry using investigative forensic genealogy, which they say combines DNA analysis with genealogy research and historical records.

"This is a unique method that can generate new leads for unsolved homicides, as well as help identify unknown victims," Joe Bonavolonta, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston Division, said at a news conference Monday.

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

Ruth Marie Terry. FBI Boston

The FBI believes Terry had ties to Massachusetts, California and Michigan, as well as Tennessee.

Bonavolonta said it's not clear yet what brought her to Cape Cod in July 1974.

"Ruth was a daughter, sister, aunt, wife, and mother," he told reporters late Monday morning, adding that her family was notified "just a couple of hours ago."

Investigators exhumed Terry's body back in 2000 hoping to confirm her identity then. Forensic experts created a new composite in May 2010 hoping to generate leads.

Ruth Marie Terry. FBI Boston

Wendy Martin was good friends with the sister of the person who found her body. "It really was mythical, urban legend like," Martin told WBZ Monday. "All these years I almost get emotional."

As soon as she heard the person had been identified, she came to Terry's gravesite in St. Peter's Cemetery to say "Ruth", the name she has been waiting to say for years.

She leaves stones by her gravesite every holiday. "I'm going to go make a plaque with her name on it right now," Martin said. 

The FBI is now asking everyone to take a look at their new information poster on Terry and contact them or Massachusetts State Police if you have something to report.

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