FBI Uses ‘Investigative Genealogy’ to Identify Woman Found Dead in 1974

Ruth Marie Terry in her 20s. Photo via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI identified a woman found dead on Cape Cod, Mass., in 1974 by using “investigative genealogy,” the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Boston Field Office announced Monday.

Known as the “Lady of the Dunes,” the remains of Ruth Marie Terry, 37, were found in the sand dunes in Provincetown. Her hands missing and her head nearly severed, Terry was killed by a blow to the head several weeks before her body was found, investigators said. 

The FBI believes her hands were “presumably removed by the killer so she could not be identified through fingerprints,” the bureau said in a news release

She was the oldest unidentified homicide victim in Massachusetts, Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta said. 

Investigative genealogy combines DEA analysis with “traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes” and holds great promise for other cases, Bonavolonta said. 

“This is a unique method that can generate new leads for unsolved homicides, as well as help identify unknown victims,” Bonavolonta said.

He added, “We are determined and we will be dogged in our search for justice for victims and their families.”

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