Author Topic: LADY OF THE DUNES: WF, 27-49, found in Provincetown, MA - 26 July 1974  (Read 690 times)


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'Jaws' mystery: Did long unknown 'Lady of the Dunes' Cape Cod murder victim appear in movie scene?
Maria Puente, USA TODAY Published 5:51 p.m. ET Aug. 7, 2018 |

The mangled bodies left behind by the monster white shark in "Jaws" are famous even four decades after the monster-smash movie landed in 1975. But maybe you haven't heard about the real woman's body left behind on the dunes of Cape Cod.

She was murdered by a human, not chomped by a shark. In fact, she's one of New England's oldest, most famous and saddest unsolved murder mysteries: She's "The Lady of the Dunes."

Nowher frozen cold case is getting new attention because, strangely enough, this unknown woman might have appeared briefly, a face in the crowd, in "Jaws" when it was filmed on Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod in the summer of 1974, the same summer she was killed.

That is the theory that ghost-story writer Joe Hill — the son of horror novelist Stephen King, whose pen name is a contraction of his middle name, Hillstrom — has been exploring since 2015. He thinks he's spotted the Lady of the Dunes in a split-second crowd scene about 54 minutes into the film.

"She swims at you out of the crowd, you'd hardly notice her if you watched it on a TV but it's different if all the actors are 10 feet high," Hill says in a phone interview with USA TODAY.

His theory has gone viral in recent weeks due in part to a podcast series, just ended, about the making of "Jaws" and director Steven Spielberg, “Wondery’s Inside 'Jaws,'” created and hosted by film buff Mark Ramsey.

"The idea that this cold-case murder could somehow be solved right (from) the big screen...well it's an intriguing and enticing possibility," Ramsey says in a phone interview with USA TODAY.

"How cool would that be if a movie and a podcast about the movie could lead to the reopening of a cold case and a possibility to solve that ancient case?"

This new interest could be important because the Lady of the Dunes, who was maybe in her 30s, was never identified after her body was found by a teen walking her dog in the dunes near Provincetown, Mass., in July 1974, shortly before the shooting of "Jaws" wound down.

Her death was gruesome: Her head was partly decapitated with a shovel, her hands were missing, and some of her teeth were missing. The killer's effort to disguise her identity suggests he knew her and that her identity could lead to him. It worked: No one has been identified as her killer or even as a person of interest.


Is this woman in scene from "Jaws" the Lady of the Dunes, murdered on Cape Cod the same summer the movie was filmed?(Photo: Joe Hill)

Sadly, no one has ever claimed her. How could a woman be murdered in such a way in such a close-knit community and no one know her name? Even if she was just a tourist on Cape Cod that summer, surely her family somewhere would have looked for her?

Hill would like to see her DNA submitted to a genealogical database to possibly track down her relatives who could identify her.

"That would be the most wonderful thing," Hill says. "She’s someone’s daughter. And it would matter to the people in law enforcement who have committed years to finding closure in the case."

Provincetown detectives and the local district attorney's office did not return messages seeking comment on the case, but they are still plodding away at it 44 years later. The most recent facial reconstruction was in 2010 when a new composite was created using state-of-the-art technology and computer analyses; it's been widely distributed in the region.


Hill, 47, (his latest, "Strange Weather," is a book of four short thriller novels), is a New Englander who grew up in Maine and lives in New Hampshire. He fervently loves "Jaws" and has watched it every summer since he was 9. "Especially in New England, it's to cinema what "Moby Dick" is to American literature," he says.

He also knew the reconstructed face of the murdered Lady. "It's the Holy Grail of unsolved American crimes," he says.

So, in the summer of 2015 when "Jaws" was re-released to celebrate its 40th anniversary, he went to see it with his three teen sons, for the first time in a big-screen theater. That's when he saw the woman in the scene at the Vineyard ferry dock. She's wearing a blue bandana, similar to one found with the body of the Lady.

"You see her on that big screen and she leaps out at you in that one moment," he says. Later, when he told the story, "It was almost like telling a ghost story, and I was seeing the ghost of this murder victim superimposed on this movie."

If she is the Lady, could the movie really help identify her? Strictly speaking, the woman in the movie wasn't really an extra in "Jaws" — she was captured in a crowd scene and probably didn't even know it at the time. Besides, back then records on extras for films were sketchy at best.

Still, "everybody who was an extra (or appeared) in "Jaws" will tell you about it, it's an experience one does not forget," Ramsey says. "One easy way to identify (the woman in the movie scene) if she's alive is for her to (come forward) to say, 'that was me, I’m not dead, hello!' "

But in that case, the Lady of the Dunes would remain unidentified. Hill once told an FBI agent friend about his theory, expecting to be teased. Instead, he was told there might be something to it.

"Odder ideas have **** colder cases,” he says.