Richard Hanchett heard tales about his real mother when he was growing up, including how beautiful she was with her red hair and blue eyes, and how much she enjoyed singing.
He never met Ruth Marie Terry, though. She decided to get him adopted as soon as he was born in 1958, giving him to a couple she worked with at a Livonia, Michigan facility that manufactured automobile door panels and seat coverings. She was 21 years old.
Mr. Hanchett, who resides in Waterford, Michigan, performed a DNA test via Ancestry.com in 2018 and met her family in Tennessee. That’s when he discovered that she had been missing since the early 1970s and that her family had been seeking for her for decades.
On Monday, the F.B.I. revealed that a severely mangled corpse discovered almost 50 years ago in the dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, was that of 37-year-old Tennessee native Ms. Terry.
Authorities reported a fresh breakthrough in the inquiry on Wednesday, stating that they were seeking information on a dead man called Guy Rockwell Muldavin, whom they think Ms. Terry married shortly before her death.
United Press International stated in 1960 that Mr. Muldavin, born in 1923, was arrested in connection with the disappearance of his former wife and her kid after mangled remains thought to be theirs were discovered in their Seattle house. Mr. Muldavin was granted a suspended sentence and released in 1962, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Muldavin married Ms. Terry in Reno, Nevada, in February 1974, only months before she was murdered, according to court documents.
The last time Ms. Terry’s nephew Jim Terry saw her was in July or August of 1973, at a motel room in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with Mr. Muldavin. His mother believed she was travelling to California, but his father believed she was “heading north,” according to Mr. Terry.
Later, Ms. Terry’s family discovered Mr. Muldavin’s link to the disappearance of his wife and daughter in Seattle.
Last Monday, at the investigators’ request, he provided a DNA sample to confirm that the corpse recovered in Provincetown was his biological mother.
The naked corpse of Ms. Terry was discovered on a beach blanket on Race Point Beach on July 26, 1974, by a family-hiking girl. The F.B.I. said that Ms. Terry’s hands were gone, apparently taken by her murderer so that she could not be recognised by fingerprints, and that her virtually severed head lay on a pair of folded trousers.
Investigators determined that she had been murdered by a strike to the head a few weeks before.
Detectives combed hotels and rooming houses, investigated hundreds of reports of missing women, inspected every vehicle registered to operate on the dunes, and used clay models to re-create her appearance.
But they were unable to identify the Lady of the Dunes, and her mystery tormented a generation of Cape Cod detectives and townspeople. The F.B.I. said that she was the oldest unidentified murder victim in Massachusetts.
Some thought that she had been murdered by the renowned South Boston criminal James (Whitey) Bulger after the trail went cold. The son of Stephen King, Joe Hill, felt she may have been an extra in “Jaws,” which was shot nearby on Martha’s Vineyard that year.
In 2000, officials excavated her bones from a Provincetown cemetery in order to get a DNA sample. Recently, though, they were able to identify her using genetic genealogy, the same method used to identify the Golden State Killer and several others.
At a press conference on Monday, law enforcement authorities said that they would now focus on locating Ms. Terry’s murderer by tracking her background and soliciting leads from the public. They made no reference to Mr. Muldavin. The Monterey County Herald reported that he passed away in 2002 at the age of 78 in Salinas, California.
Mr. Terry said that Ms. Terry grew raised in Whitwell, Tennessee, some 24 miles northwest of Chattanooga, and left home when she was a teenager. Ruth Smith was her name when she arrived in Livonia, Michigan, where she had been previously married and divorced, according to Mr. Hanchett. According to Mr. Terry, she resided in California in the 1960s before returning to Tennessee.
Mr. O’Keefe said that there was no evidence that Ms. Terry had ever been reported missing to the police. Mr. Terry said that his deceased sister, Marilyn Renee Hill, conducted her own inquiry using genealogy websites and DNA testing.
Mr. Hanchett, a retired software engineer from General Motors, said that he had assisted Ms. Hill by doing web searches for the names and locations she provided.
Mr. Hanchett said that Ms. Terry attempted to contact him when he was around 13 years old, but he turned her down, something he profoundly regrets. He expressed hope that she will be reinterred near to her parents in Tennessee.