‘Lady of the Dunes’ killer identified after nearly 50 years

Guy Rockwell Muldavin, who died in 2002, married Ruth Marie Terry just a few a months before her mutilated body was found on a Cape Cod beach in 1974

Andrea Cavallier,Sheila Flynn
Wednesday 30 August 2023 12:05 EDT
<p>Guy Rockwell Muldavin, who went by several aliases, married Ruth Marie Terry several months before her murder, cops say</p>

Guy Rockwell Muldavin, who went by several aliases, married Ruth Marie Terry several months before her murder, cops say

After nearly 50 years, the mystery of the “Lady of the Dunes” case has finally been solved with police concluding that the woman whose mutilated body was discovered on Cape Cod was killed by her husband.

For decades, the victim had been known only as the  “Lady of the Dunes” before she was finally identified in October as 37-year-old Ruth Marie Terry, following the use of genetic genealogy.

On Monday, Cape and Islands District Attorney Robert Galibois announced that Terry’s husband Guy Rockwell Muldavin – who married her just a few months before she disappeared – has now been identified as her killer.

Muldavin was also a prime suspect in the death of another one of his wives and a stepdaughter in the 1960s. He died in 2002.

Further details about what led to the break in the investigation now were not revealed, with DA Galibois only confirming that one of the state’s most infamous cold cases had now been closed.

“Based on the investigation into the death of Ms Terry, it has been determined that Mr. Muldavin was responsible for Ms Terry’s death in 1974. Mr Muldavin passed away in 2002,” he said in a statement.

Terry’s nearly decapitated body was found in the sand dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts – a popular summer vacation spot – in July 1974.

She was naked on a beach blanket with her hands severed so she could not be identified by her fingerprints.

Her skull had been crushed and she was nearly decapitated. The cause of death was later determined to be a blow to the head, with authorities believing she had been dead for several weeks before her body was found.

Terry was the oldest unidentified homicide victim in Massachusetts, despite authorities working for years to identify her and her killer by exhuming her remains, performing clay model facial reconstruction, and releasing age-regression drawings of her face.

She was finally identified in October 2022 after her jaw was tested using genetic genealogy at the Othram forensics lab, the Cape Cod Times previously reported.

Ruth Marie Terry, 37, was identified as the Lady of the Dunes, in October 2022

Since then, investigators had zeroed in on Muldavin. State police said they learned he had been driving his wife’s car after they returned from a trip to Tennessee to visit her family.

“When Mr Muldavin returned from that trip, he was driving what was believed to be Ms Terry’s vehicle and indicated to witnesses that Ms Terry had passed away,” Mr Galibois said in a statement.

“Ms Terry was never seen by her family again.”

Who was Guy Rockwell Muldavin?

Muldavin is thought to have wed Terry in 1974 just months before her body was found on the beach.

He previously made national headlines when his ex-wife and 18-year-old stepdaughter disappeared.

Following their disappearances, he fled and was later questioned about what happened to them. But, he was seemingly never charged in their presumed deaths, according to media reports at the time.

Ruth Marie Terry’s body was found at the Cape Cod seashore in 1974

He went on to have at least two more long-term relationships with women, both of whom were mentioned in Muldavin’s 2002 obituary: his widow, Phyllis, who died in 2021; and a “sister,” Joan Towers. She was not a blood relation but the two referred to each other affectionately as siblings after a romantic relationship turned platonic, a family friend previously told The Independent in November.

The family friend said back then that he was “speechless” over the revelations that were emerging about Muldavin.

At the time he knew him, both he and Muldavin had been living in California – the state where the latter died – and “nowhere near Provincetown, Massachusetts or Reno, Nevada or any other locations that are referred to” now in connection with Muldavin, the friend tells The Independent.

“He was great,” the friend said of the Muldavin he knew. “I really loved him. I mean, he was terrific. And I was very close to him ... I’m speechless, because none of it makes any sense.”

US Cold Case Lady of the Dunes

He said, however, that he knew little of Muldavin’s history, other than the fact he believed he’d been born in New Mexico.

Muldavin was born in 1923, police say, though details are scant regarding the early life of a man whose aliases include Raoul Guy Rockwell and Guy Muldavin Rockwell.

According to a 1960 UPI report following his later brushes with the law, Muldavin “was schooled in Switzerland, New York, and Connecticut as well as tutored privately on his family cattle ranch at Tibera, N. M.”

By the time he was a young adult, Muldavin had made his way to New York, where he was working as a professor at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, according to the obituary for his first wife, Joellen Mae Loop. A former beauty pageant contestant and model, she died in January 2002 - just two months before Muldavin passed away.

The starry-eyed beauty and Muldavin – known to her as Guy Raoul Rockwell – “fell in love” in New York, the obituary continued.

“She left her career and the big-city nightmare and moved into a tree stump along a river in California,” read the obituary, published in a Washington state paper. “Her husband sang at KIEM radio stationn Monday through Friday at 5 o’clock.

“The couple later moved to the northwest, where Rockwell took a job in the Seattle Bon Marche furniture department. The couple then owned a large antique shop. They were married ten years.”

Ruth Marie Terry was found on 26 July 1974 in the dunes of Provincetown at the edge of Cape Cod; her head had been nearly severed and she was missing both hands

Though the obituary does not state when the pair’s marriage dissolved, Muldavin was living in Seattle and running an antique shop in 1960 when another of his wives, Manzanita Aileen “Manzy” Ryan, disappeared.

She and her 18-year-old daughter vanished on April Fool’s Day of that year, UPI reported; in July, Muldavin divorced Manzanita, claming desertion, and married Evelyn Emerson.

When police went to the home he’d shared with Manzanita - his second wife, according to UPI - “bits of human tissue and pieces of human body were located in a newly sealed septic tank.”

The report also pointed out that, five days after he married Ms Emerson, her stepmother had given him a cashier’s check for $10,000 “to buy antiquities for quick resale in Canada.”

He and the money vanished, around the same time serious questions began swirling about the fate of Manzanita and Dolores. Muldavin was eventually picked up in an apartment in Greenwich Village, on the other side of the country in New York.

He was described by media at the time as “a sometimes actor and DJ in California, an antiques dealer in Seattle and a ‘bunco artist and great lover’ everywhere he went,” according to SFGate.com.

“The New York Daily News reported he had ‘three wives and many sweethearts’ by 1960 and was known around Greenwich Village for his nightly soirees with ‘beatniks, art lovers, celebrities and celebrity hunters, all bound by Muldavin’s magnetism and offbeat philosophy.’”

Whatever happened within the justice system, Muldavin appears to have been free and up to his old tricks by the early 1970s, when police believe he married Terry months before she was murdered.

While his former wife was lying buried in a Massachusetts cemetery plot, however, Muldavin continued to forge relationships and build a life on the West Coast. He also married Phyllis Roper, who was listed as his widow in his 2002 obituary. She died last year.

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