July 26th, 1974
“On July 26th, 1974, a pre-teen girl was walking her dog in the Race Point Dunes in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Provincetown is located in the extreme tippy-top of Massachusetts (Cape Cod).
Race Point Dunes, for reference, is described as ‘sand, sand, and more sand. Pretty views, but a challenging area to walk in. No shade, all sun, and loose sand.’
The dog ran off and when the girl followed, she thought he had found a dead deer on the beach. When she looked closer, though, she realized it was a female body. The remains were just a few yards away from a service road (technically near ‘Dune’s Edge Campground, about a mile away from Race Point Beach itself), and according to the girl, had a ‘significant amount of insect activity.’
The body was in a brush (seagrass) about 15 feet away from the service/access road. The road follows the backside of the campground. I’m assuming, based on the brush and the distance, that the body was not openly visible to passersby.
The ‘Jane Doe’ looked as though she had been sunbathing, face down, on a beach towel. Her blue jeans were folded next to her head. Upon closer inspection, though, her hands had been cut off and she had a large hole in the back of her head. The origin was unknown (blunt-force trauma, most likely.)
For reference, a chunk of the skull about the size of a hand is missing, and there is an eight-inch crack that runs across the top.
The sand near her body was not disturbed and it looked like there hadn’t been any sign of struggle. However, one newspaper said that there were two sets of footprints and tire marks 50 yards away from the crime scene.
The Doe herself appeared to be somewhere between her 20s-30s. She had long auburn/reddish hair that was in a glittery, elastic ponytail. She was estimated to be 5 foot, 6 inches tall, approximately 135 pounds.
Her autopsy showed that she had had very expensive dental work done (seven gold crowns, estimated between 5k-10k worth), and some of her teeth had been removed after her death. Neither of these clues helped identify her. She had also been nearly decapitated (possibly from strangulation). It’s also speculated she had been SA’d with a wooden object postmortem.
According to the Doe Network, it was speculated that she had died between 10 days and three weeks before her body was found. Another article I read, though, says that she may have been deceased for as little as five days, and the July heat and insect activity accelerated her decomposition.
Because of the apparent lack of a struggle, I personally have two theories, either she had been killed somewhere else and placed here, or (and this is what authorities believe) that she knew her killer and was asleep when it happened.
She was buried in a local cemetery with a marker that is inscribed as ‘Unknown Female.’ For years after her body was buried, someone left flowers at the marker every July 26th.
The body has been exhumed three separate times for various reasons. In 1980, it was for facial reconstruction data. In 2000, it was for DNA analysis. And in 2010, they exhumed the body again to do a CT scan of the skull, and money had been raised to purchase her a new casket, as her first one had rusted and deteriorated.
This unresolved mystery has been cycled through many times, but no conclusive answers have been found.”
The Many Theories
“The case leads to many theories:
One: There was a psychic that called about knowing the location of the Lady of the Dune’s missing hands. When police followed up on the lead, a cellar had been dug in that spot the previous year, eliminating any possibility of finding evidence.
Two: In 1987, there was a woman who came forward about possibly remembering her father strangling a girl in Massachusetts in 1972. (This is alarming in its own right.) The body was found in 1974, two years after this. It was also suspected that the Lady of the Dunes hadn’t died from strangulation but from a head injury.
Three: A woman came forward about her missing sister. The sister had gone missing in 1974 around the Boston area. The body was exhumed, but DNA did not match. The sister was also found (alive) sometime later.
Four: It was suspected that the Jane Doe could be Rory Gene Kensinger. Kensinger was a missing criminal. She would have been 25 at the time of the murder, and she had escaped from jail in 1973. However, DNA also ruled Kensinger out.
Five: There were two other missing women, Francis Ewalt from Montana and Vicke Lamberton from Massachusetts who were also ruled out by DNA Evidence. At some point, detectives stopped following up on missing person leads unless family members could provide dental records.
Six: Serial Killer Hadden Clark confessed to her murder, as well. He wrote a letter in 2004 saying that he knew the identity of the victim but refused to tell, because ‘police had mistreated him’. However, Clark suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and police doubt his confession.
Seven: Police suspected that the Lady of the Dunes may be connected to the mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. It was rumored that Bulger had been seen in the Provincetown area in July of 1974, and he was with a woman that meets the description of the Lady of the Dunes. Although, apparently Bulger was known to remove teeth from his victims. There’s never been an official link between the two. Whitey was captured in 2011 after a sixteen-year stint of being on the run. He was killed in prison at the age of 89, in 2018.
Eight: Tony Costa was a suspect for a bit, but was eliminated because he died on May 12th, 1974. The body was discovered on July 26th.
Nine: Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, believes this lady was an extra in Jaws. He [Joe Hill] literally saw some random extra with long brown hair and proclaimed that it was her.
Will We Ever Get Answers?
“I can’t even think of something that hasn’t already been done in an attempt to solve this murder. I saw, somewhere, that detectives assumed that the victim’s hands were removed because she may have been fingerprinted in her past for a criminal record.
In April of 2019, investigators were looking into other ways to examine her DNA and possibly find a link (think, 23 & me). However, difficulties may arise because the Lady of the Dunes’ was embalmed before burial, which can harm DNA evidence.”