Mystery, horror, and the dark side of humanity runs in Joe Hill's family. Hill has published several short story collections, novels, and even a comic book series; his father has published quite a few more disturbing works: he's Stephen King.
Nevertheless, Joe Hill has carved out his own place in genre fiction, too, and in his free time he may have just cracked a 40 year old cold case involving the movie Jaws.
On July 26, 1974, on the extreme edge of Cape Cod in Provincetown, the remains of an unidentified woman were found by two sisters. The body was naked, semi-hidden from view a few meters off the road. Police would later determine that the body had been there for a couple of days before being discovered. Her killer had made a concerted effort to disguise his victim's identity, by removing her hands and several teeth and by nearly decapitating her. There were two sets of footprints leading to the body and tire tracks about 50 yards away. Her identity unknown, she became known primarily as The Lady of the Dunes.
Over the years, several attempts at figuring out what the victim looked like and theories of her identity and killer have emerged. The mystery of the Lady of the Dunes, and the murder victim's identity, have become one of crime's most investigated and most frustrating cold cases.
Sandra Lee, one of the teens who found the body, has since grown up and become a crime writer. She's pretty sure that mobster Whitey Bulger is involved since the modus operandi closely matches the way he dispatched several victims. Early in the investigation, a serial killer in the region named Tony Costa was suspected, but the timeline didn't sync up—he had been dead for two months. The investigation eventually went cold. Occasionally a false confession would be made and police would get a new lead that didn't go anywhere, or advances in technology allow for a new facial reconstruction to be made and circulated.
But the facts remain: a woman was murdered, her killer was never caught, and no one knows who she is.
Joe Hill thinks he might.
In a blog post on his personal Tumblr, with the warning of "Put on your tin-foil hats and buckle up for a ride to Crazy Town, folks," Hill makes a strange claim: the victim was an extra in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws.
And in all the time since her death not one person has stepped forward to say, “I saw her. I met her a few weeks before she was found. I can tell you her name.”
But what if we’ve all seen her? What if she’s been in front of us for decades and we just never noticed?
Principal photography of the film started on May 2, 1974 and did not conclude until October. The film was primarily shot in Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard, about 100 miles south of Provincetown.
Hill, a self-professed Jaws fanatic, recently viewed the film on the big screen for the first time and noticed this woman at the beginning of the 4th of July scene.
Here is one of the most-recent reconstructions of the Lady of the Dunes.
Hill thinks the extra in the bandana and blue jeans is the Lady in the Dunes.
Now understand, I had only just finished reading The Skeleton Crew a few weeks before. The Lady of the Dunes is in many ways the centerpiece of the book, and unlike the other crimes Mrs. Halber explores, it remains infuriatingly unsolved. After finishing the book, I had spent a few minutes online, acquainting myself with the latest details… and studying the recreation of the Lady’s face.
And now, suddenly, impossibly, there she was… life-size and looking over her shoulder at me. There for a moment in a busy crowd scene, and then gone.
Hill became obsessed and has since re-watched the film several times. He approached an FBI agent he knows and, expecting to be ridiculed, was instead encouraged, being told "You know, it might be worth going forward with your theory. There might be something in it. Odder ideas have cracked colder cases.”
Hill admits though that this info is circumstantial, but that there are definitely threads that need to be pulled.
It is impossible to say with complete precision when they filmed the “July 4th - Crowd Arrives” sequence, which is where this shot appears. But we know it was almost certainly shot in June, because they filmed all the “on island” scenes they could early. The water was too cold for swimming, and the malfunctioning shark wasn’t ready for the “at sea” material until late July.
Here’s all we really have: an extra who bears a startling resemblance to a girl who turned up dead, some coincidences of time and geography, and a writer of horror stories who has a “feeling.”
Not exactly case closed, huh?
He admits that it is a long-shot, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility—the filming of Jaws was a big deal that summer and a lot of locals were used as extras and hung around the set. Maybe, just maybe, Hill has cracked at least a part of this 40 year old mystery.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org