Creepy Theory Links Woman Found With Partially Severed Head To Scene In Jaws
Warning: Distressing Content
The New England coastal town of Provincetown is well known for being a favourite among artists and creative types, a haven for the eccentric and the passionate.
A popular tourist destination for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Provincetown’s idyllic beaches and thriving galleries are synonymous with inclusivity and a breezy, welcoming gust of fresh air.
However, a trip to Saint Peters Cemetery, a short walk away from the bustling stretch of restaurants on Commercial Street, reveals a dark mystery enclosed within this place of peace and sunshine. Here lies a woman known only as the Lady of the Dunes.
True crime author Sandra Lee had been just nine years old in the summer of 1974, and she and her family had been enjoying a camping trip in the dunes of Provincetown.
On the morning of July 26, Sandra claims she headed out to walk her dog when she came across what she would later describe to Fox 25 as ‘at that point in my life, the single most gruesome sight I’d ever seen’.
Being understandably terrified by what she’d seen, Sandra didn’t tell anyone about her discovery, and the police were later informed about the body by another group of dog walkers.
This second group also included a young girl, 13-year-old Leslie Metcalfe, who had been out dog walking with her family. Suddenly, one of the dogs caught a scent and ran off, prompting Leslie to give chase. It was then that she came across a scene of bloodcurdling horror.
The sight that met Leslie, and Sandra before her, was one of the most terrible crime scenes imaginable. There, face-down on a beach towel, was the body of a naked, badly decomposed woman, her head completely crushed on one side and partially severed.
Sadly, Leslie passed away in 1996, but her sister Alyssa Metcalfe was able to paint a picture of the horrific scene the family encountered all those years ago during an interview with Cape Cod Times reporter Mary Ann Bragg.
Speaking with Bragg in 2019 for her true-crime podcast Lady of the Dunes, Alyssa, who had been out horse riding at the time of the discovery, recalled:
I remember, she said, when she first saw it, she thought it was a deer just because of the colouring. But then quickly realised, it wasn’t the shape of a deer or maybe some limbs came into her line of vision before she had a clear view.
As my mother used to tell the story, she remembers my sister going, ‘mom, dad’ and there was something in her voice and my mother just grabbed my father’s arm and said, ‘Lenny, I’m not going over there. Go find out what she’s talking about’.
The body had been out there in the baking heat for at least ten days, and possibly for up to three weeks. It belonged to an athletically built young woman, aged between 25 and 40, with ‘long auburn or reddish-blond hair’ pulled up into a ponytail, fixed with a band flecked with gold sparkles.
Her hands had been hacked off, believed to have been an attempt by the killer to keep her identity hidden, and several teeth had also been pulled out. However, there were still some indicators as to what the woman would have looked like in life.
Although her teeth had been partially destroyed, it was clear that she had undergone expensive ‘New York style’ dental treatment worth thousands of dollars. Her toenails were painted pink, and her crushed skull rested upon a pair of wrangler jeans and a blue bandana.
Further examination of the body found that the injuries to her skull – determined to be the cause of death – had been inflicted by some sort of military entrenchment tool. She had also been sexually assaulted after her death with a wooden block.
The way in which the woman was lying, sprawled out on one half of the green towel, suggested that she might have been sleeping at the time of the murder and that she could well have had company.
This positioning has led many of those interested in the case to believe she was killed by someone known to her. However, to this day, the murderer has never been found and brought to justice, despite numerous theories.
There are many who believe the woman died at the hands of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a notorious mobster known for removing the hands and teeth of his victims. Although no solid evidence links him to the woman, Bulger was seen with someone matching her description at around the time of the murder.
Unfortunately, this could well have been a secret that Bulger took to his grave. In 2018, at the age of 89, fellow inmates at West Virginia’s USP Hazelton moved his wheelchair away from CCTV cameras before beating him to death and attempting to gouge out his eyes.
Bulger is not the only notable suspect in this case, with convicted serial killer Hadden Clark having confessed to the murder in 2004.
In a letter to a friend, Clark wrote that he had murdered a woman in Massachusetts, and even included a drawing of a nude woman whose hands had been removed as well as a map of the murder site.
At the time, Clark – who is currently still serving out two 30-year prison sentences for unrelated murders – claimed:
I could’ve told the police her name, but after they beat the s**t out of me… I wasn’t going to tell them s**t… What you are looking for is in my grandfather’s garden.
However, Clark is known to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, and police remain doubtful about the accuracy of his ‘confession’.
With the appointment of each new Provincetown police chief comes renewed efforts to solve this case, but to no avail. The body found in the dunes that fateful summer’s day has never been attached to a name, known only as the Lady of the Dunes.
No family member or friend has come forward to claim her, and her grave is marked with the coldly anonymous words, ‘Unidentified Female Body Found Race Point Dunes July 26, 1974’.
Her body has been exhumed several times in attempts to get an identification and create new facial reconstructions in accordance with advancing technology. However despite this, and despite officers reviewing thousands of missing persons reports over the years, she remains mysterious.
However, there are some who believe millions of people have seen the Lady of the Dunes as she was in life, without even realising who they were looking at.
In 2015, author Joe Hill, the son of iconic horror writer Stephen King, penned a blog post which would change how movie fans would watch a beloved summer classic forever.
During a re-watch of Jaws, one of Hill’s all-time favourite films, Hill suddenly noticed an athletically built female extra of about 30 years of age, a blue bandana tied over her reddish-blonde hair.
What if the young murder victim no one has ever been able to identify has been seen by hundreds of millions of people in a beloved summer classic and they didn’t even know they were looking at her? What if the ghost of the Lady of the Dunes haunts Jaws?
The extra can be seen during a short crowd scene, exactly 54 minutes and two seconds in for those planning a re-watch this summer.
She does indeed bear a striking physical resemblance to the photo composites shared again and again over the years by the police, from her build to her facial features to her clothing style.
To make matters even eerier, it makes complete sense that the lady found on the dunes may have headed out to the shoot, with Jaws having been filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, a relatively short 100 miles away from Provincetown.
What’s more, filming for this particular scene took place just a couple of months before the discovery of the corpse, placing the two women together in time as well as location.
Filming had understandably attracted quite a lot of excitement in the area, with many locals heading up to get involved, participating as extras in some of the crowd scenes.
It’s easy to imagine a young woman travelling through, or indeed living in, the area would have been tempted to head up and get a closer look at the film set, hoping perhaps to see their own face on the silver screen.
It was a different time for Hollywood, and extras weren’t as fastidiously tracked as they would be nowadays.
The looseness of this system was illustrated in a 2018 report by NBC 10 reporter, R.J. Heim, who found that no records of extras were kept on the set of Jaws. Furthermore, the casting director passed away in 2009, taking with him any potential lingering memories of an auburn-haired woman in blue jeans.
As reported by Heim, many ‘extras’ were simply just tourists who, when getting off the ferry, would have passed by a sign alerting them that a movie was being shot and that their image may be caught on camera.
During an interview with The Washington Post, Hill recalled how, after presenting his theory to the Provincetown Police Department, the detective presiding over the case said ‘That’s an interesting theory’, a response Hill interpreted as ‘as a polite way of saying, ‘That’s pretty crazy and useless’.’
However, another officer who had recently worked on the cold case was more optimistic, telling him, ‘You don’t know, odds are long’.
Hill told the Post:
I’ve heard it said that everyone who was out on Cape Cod in the summer of 1974 appears in the movie Jaws. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but there’s a nugget of truth.
People knew there were movie stars on Martha’s Vineyard. The possibility that a person would make a stop on the island and appear in the movie is not unreasonable.
Six years on after Hill’s spine-chilling blog post and people are still hooked by his theory, which gained greater traction in 2018 after being featured on the popular Wondery podcast, Inside Jaws.
Sadly, the Lady of the Dunes still lies unnamed in her grave, unable to reveal how she spent her final summer so very long ago. The case remains open.
Those with any information on this case should contact the Provincetown Police Department at 508–487–1212.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am–2pm Saturdays.
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The Washington Post
The Lady of the Dunes
NBC 10 News