In the summer of 1974, a young woman’s body was unearthed in Provincetown, MA. She was unidentifiable then, and remains unidentified as of 2018. The only image of her we have to refer to is a 2010 forensic recreation of her face.
That is, until more than four decades after the murder case went cold, a sharp eye spotted a eerily similar face in the background of the 1975 classic thriller Jaws. Could this woman — an extra in the movie, which was filmed in nearby Martha’s Vineyard, about 100 miles from Provincetown — actually be her?
That’s the question that Joe Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King and author under the pen name Joe Hill, has been asking since first connecting the dots back in 2015. The case of the Lady in the Dunes is an infamous cold case that’s compelled true crime fans for years, namely because of the anonymity of it all. This woman, who was given the nickname after being found at Cape Cod, was estimated by Provincetown police to be between 20 and 40 years old with long auburn hair. She was killed by a blow to the head and, in an attempt to conceal her identity from authorities, the murderer cut off her hands, removed some of her teeth (she’d had extensive dental work done), and unsuccessfully tried to decapitate her.
Jaws was filming on location earlier that summer and sparked massive local interest. Hill’s theory suggests that this woman had been one of the many residents of Cape Cod who was interested in the shoot and went down there to check out the major Hollywood production for herself, becoming an extra in the process. After all, they needed plenty of people to fill up those beaches.
When he caught sight of the woman in Jaws — noting her strikingly similar face, hair, age, and build — Hill had the Lady in the Dunes on his mind after reading about the case in Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases. Hill told Esquire up-front that he’s grown up with and made a career out of fantastic storytelling.
"I have the kind of imagination that churns out ghost stories almost automatically. I’ve just done it so much that I told myself, 'You’re telling yourself a ghost story!'" he told the magazine when recapping his theory.
Yet according to Esquire, the internet still latched on to the possibility, rekindling interest in the original investigation, with people even offering to do their own detective work. Most recently, Hill’s theory resurfaced on an episode of Inside Jaws, a podcast that explores the making and history of the film.
Police exhumed the victim’s body to create the 2010 composite image, and in 2014 told the Boston Globe they’ve tried everything from extracting DNA samples, consulting dentists and psychics, using ground-penetrating radar, and creating a three-dimensional plaster reconstruction of her face. Still, the case remains cold. Refinery29 has reached out to the Provincetown Police Department for comment.
Hill told Esquire he hopes that renewed interest might lead to breaks in the case, maybe even leading to its closure. He also notes that the very least, three years since first posting about it, his story has yet to be debunked: “I keep wondering how come that woman [in Jaws], if she's [not the Lady in the Dunes]... Why hasn’t she — or someone that knows her — come forward to say, 'This is me?’"