The Lady of the Dunes

If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes on the cape
I'm the love that you've looked for, come with me and escape

This Rupert Holmes one-hit-wonder topped the charts as 1979 closed. The lyrics capture the drastic societal change that took place during the turbulent two decades since Patti Page's 1957 paeon to Old Cape Cod's "church bells chimin' on a Sunday morn."

Both tunes have combined to secure the popular image of Cape Cod as a beautiful paradise.

But in the words of Provincetown Police Detective Meredith Lobur: "Beautiful places are not immune to brutal crime."

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of our most infamous unsolved murder, a cold case known locally as "The Lady of the Dunes." Detective Lobur is still investigating.

Someone kind recently placed flowers on the grave of “The Lady of the Dunes,”   marked on the headstone as “Unidentified Female Body.”
Someone kind recently placed flowers on the grave of “The Lady of the Dunes,”
marked on the headstone as “Unidentified Female Body.”

On the morning of July 26, 1974, a young girl walking her dog on the dunes found a woman’s naked and desecrated corpse lying face down on a towel with her clothes folded near her head.

Her hands had been cut off and her wrists shoved into the sand as if she were doing push-ups.

The left side of her skull was crushed, her head nearly decapitated and several teeth ripped out.

In 2000, DNA was taken with no result.

I’m told by someone who knows that investigators recently took yet another sample – quietly, so as not to rouse notice.

It’s striking how important DNA has become in re-opening cold cases. For example, the “Boston Strangler” case.

Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler”
Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler”

Albert DeSalvo confessed to killing 11 women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. (He was later killed in prison.)

Police had always doubted DeSalvo’s confession to the rape and murder of Mary Sullivan, thought to have been his last victim. But this month, they used new DNA technology to conclusively link him to Mary’s murder.

Mary Sullivan had moved from Cape Cod to Boston days before her slaying. And here on Cape Cod, "The Lady of the Dunes" continues to haunt. As does this police composite of how "The Lady" might have looked:

Police Image

Here’s how I dealt with all this in my forthcoming novel, Cold Stun:

“Things here are a little weird sometimes,” Steve said. 

“Like what?” Jenny asked.

“Like sometimes women are murdered here. And the cops never solve the murders. There’s all these ‘open’ murder cases around here.” 

“Except Chop-Chop,” Billy corrected. “They got Chop-Chop.”

“Who the hell is Chop-Chop?” Jenny asked.

“It was a long time ago,” Billy said. “Nineteen sixty-eight. The ‘Summer of Love.’ That’s how I remember the year. He was a pothead. Had a marijuana patch in his back yard. He killed two girls and cut them up and buried the parts behind his Mary Jane garden. That’s why they called him Chop-Chop.” 

“That’s what I mean about weird,” Steve said. “Tell her about The Lady of the Dunes, Billy.”

“That one’s been open for what, twenty, thirty years?” Billy said. He turned to Jenny. “This one happened next door, in Provincetown. They find a woman out in the dunes on the ocean side. Her hands are missing. Her head’s dangling off. The cops do a search of dental records. Nothing. They call her ‘The Lady of the Dunes.’ Still open.” 

“Seems that all the open cases happen to involve women,” Steve said. “A woman in Bourne stabbed to death in her bathtub. A teacher beaten to death in the woods in Mashpee.  Another woman shot in the head in a parking lot in Provincetown. These were professional people, you know? Not hookers or druggies.”

“Hell,” Danny said, “just last year a woman in her twenties goes for a job interview and disappears. Two months later they dig up her body from a beach in Sandwich.”

“Like I say, weird stuff,” Steve said.

In my next blog: How You Get to be Chairman of the Board

 


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  • published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 08:57:07 -0400