In the summer of 1974, the vibrant Cape Cod community of Provincetown, MA, was shocked by the discovery of a woman's body near one of its famous beaches. Since her remains had lain undiscovered for more than a week at the time of her discovery, and the culprit purposefully obscured her identity, police were unable to determine who she was or what happened to her. She was nicknamed "The Lady of the Dunes," and her case has haunted law enforcement, locals, and observers ever since.
Thus far, none of the myriad theories attempting to explain the woman's identity - some people believe she was the target of a notorious serial killer, and others think she was an extra in Jaws - have offered definitive proof for their claims, and the woman's background remains a mystery. Here is the baffling story of the Lady of the Dunes, one of the most notorious cold cases in recent memory.
Although The Woman Had Extensive Dental Work, No One Could Identify Her
One unique feature about the woman was that she had undergone expensive dental work during her life. Her teeth had several gold crowns in "the New York style," which would have cost between $5,000 and $10,000 at the time. Police hoped this dental work could be used to identify her, which is likely why the culprit removed several of her teeth.
The Public Has Offered Multiple Leads, But All Have Been Dead Ends
By 1987, Provincetown Police Chief James Meads had received several intriguing leads about the mysterious woman's identity. A Canadian woman claimed to have witnessed her father strangling a woman in Provincetown around 1974; however, the Lady of the Dunes was not strangled, and the Canadian authorities couldn't locate the tipster after she moved away.
A Maryland woman told Meads that her sister moved to Boston in 1974, and she never heard from her again, but Meads was unable to match the woman's dental records to the Lady of the Dunes.
Altogether, Meads received thousands of tips. Only 50 of them were deemed worthy of a deeper investigation, and none of them led to new information.
In 2000, A Convicted Killer Confessed To The Act, But No Evidence Supported His Claims
In 2000, convicted murderer Hadden Clark confessed that he had slain the Lady of the Dunes. At the time of his confession, Clark was serving two 30-year sentences for the murders of a 6-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman. He claimed to have many more victims, at least 12 women altogether, and he said he buried some of them on his grandparents' property on Cape Cod.
Some reports have also suggested that Clark was on Cape Cod at the time of the unidentified woman's demise in 1974. When police searched his grandparents' property, they found no human remains but did find hundreds of pieces of jewelry belonging to some of Clark's known victims.
Ultimately, police don't give credence to Clark's confession, and they haven't found hard evidence to support it. Clark was also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1985, which gives police even more reason to doubt his claim.
“Clark is a very difficult person to speak to, and it takes someone with a lot of experience in dealing with him to separate out his fantasies from his truthful statements,” said Richard Rosenthal, chief of police in nearby Wellfleet and one of the investigators who interviewed Clark.
Some Suspect Mobster Whitey Bulger May Have Been Involved In Her Demise
Another theory claimed that notorious Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger might have been involved in the woman's death. After the FBI captured Bulger in 2011, witnesses reported seeing Bulger in Provincetown in July of 1974, accompanied by a woman who resembled the Lady of the Dunes. Furthermore, Bulger removed the hands and teeth of one of his known victims, Debbie Davis, and disposed of her remains in a remote area, much like the Lady of the Dunes.
Police Chief Jaran followed up on the lead, although Bulger wasn't formally considered a suspect. Ultimately, the theory didn't produce any new information.