The Unsolved Murder of The Lady Dunes
When 12-year-old Leslie Metcalfe, her family, and a group of their friend’s dogs were walking back to the Lands Provincial Visitor Center after a day of hiking, one of the dogs suddenly became agitated. Then the dog ran somewhere and Metcalfe followed. Then they saw a body and it was found in the sand, face down on a beach towel, about 15 feet from the nearest access road. His head, whose left side is completely blown out, rests in a pair of folded Wranglers and a blue bandanna. It was very clear that he had been murdered. Investigators estimated that the woman, aged between 25 and 35, had been dead for at least 10 days and possibly as long as three weeks. This is the beginning of the unsolved murder of the lady dunes
Upon further examination, investigators determined that the head injury, caused by an object such as a military tool, was likely the tool used to kill the young woman. Authorities also discovered that the victim had been sexually assaulted, after death, by some sort of wooden block. She had an athletic build and although several of her teeth were missing, investigators determined she had expensive “New York style” dental work, which included several gold crowns. Despite these details, the identity of the Lady of the Dunes is unknown to them, especially since without her hands she has no fingerprints to identify. Because of this, investigators began referring to the victim as the “Lady of the Dunes”.
“It was a brutal, horrific murder,” said former Provincetown Police Chief Jeff Jaran, who became the city’s fourth police chief to investigate the killings. “This would be terrible for any time, anywhere. But for the Cape, for Provincetown?” Provincetown, however, is known more for its popularity among artists and its thriving LGBTQ+ community — and less for the killings.
Nearly 50 years later, the victim known as the Lady of the Dunes remains unidentified. But a number of theories have emerged over the decades. A woman from Maryland contacted local police because she suspected the victim was her sister, who had just moved to Boston and disappeared. But the clues weren’t convincing. At one point, investigators suspected that the Lady of the Dunes was Rory Gene Kesinger, a notorious drug dealer and bank robber. Physically, Kesinger resembled the victim, and she had escaped from the Plymouth County Penitentiary in Massachusetts a year before the woman’s body was found. But the DNA test from Kesinger’s mother did not match the unidentified woman.
But one of the strangest hints about Lady of the Dunes emerged in 2015. Stephen King’s son, writer Joe Hill, speculated that “Lady of the Dunes” was an extra in the 1975 hit film Jaws. Hill noticed that a woman captured in the background of one of the film’s scenes matched the description of the victim. He also appeared to be wearing jeans and a blue bandana, two items found at the crime scene.
It’s a wild theory, but not an entirely unreasonable one. Jaws was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, just hours from Provincetown. But Jaws producers haven’t recorded the names of any extras. Retired staff sergeant Warren Tobias, who has been investigating the identity of the Lady of the Dunes for 20 years, is skeptical of this lead. “There were probably thousands of women who dressed like that in the 1970s,” he says. The identity of the Lady of the Dunes killer also remains a mystery.
In 1987, more than a decade after the Lady of the Dunes was found, a Canadian woman came forward with a strange confession: she believed the unknown woman was the one who strangled her father and that the Canadian woman witnessed it while visiting Provincetown in the 1970s. Canadian authorities passed the information on to Massachusetts police, but by the time they tried to contact the woman to corroborate her story, she had moved on.
From several suspects, one of the suspects is Irish mafia boss James “Whitey” Bulger, who might be the killer. Eyewitnesses claim they saw him with a woman who matched the description of the Lady of the Dunes. Bulger had even pulled the teeth of one of his female victims in the past, but he was never an official suspect. In 2000, imprisoned killer Hadden Clark confessed to killing the woman known as the Lady of the Dunes. But Clark’s confession came under suspicion because he was living with paranoid schizophrenia, and investigators decided he could not be trusted. They also found no evidence linking him to the crime.
Ultimately, the Lady of the Dunes was buried at Saint Peter’s Cemetery in October 1974. Her epitaph reads: “Body of Unknown Woman Found in Race Point Dunes.”