This article was updated with new information on Dec. 1, 2022.
PROVINCETOWN — Richard Hanchett hoped to come here this week to see the town where his mother’s remains lay unidentified for 48 years until advances in DNA technology and genealogy reunited the “Lady in the Dunes” with her name, Ruth Marie Terry, and the people who loved her.
“We want to thank the people of Provincetown for taking care of Ruth for all these years,” said Wendy Couture of Waterford, Mich., Hanchett’s fiancée.
At the last minute, their trip to Provincetown had to be postponed because of illness, Couture reported on Thursday. They hope to reschedule the visit in 2023.
Hanchett and Couture were going to meet with Alyssa Metcalf, whose late sister, Leslie, was 12 when she made the discovery of Terry’s body on July 26, 1974 in the dunes about one mile from the Race Point Ranger Station. And they were to talk with Michael and James Meads, sons of the late Provincetown Police Chief James Meads, who spent two decades trying to discover Terry’s identity.
Hanchett, 64, also spent much of his life searching for his mother, who gave him up at his birth in 1958 for adoption by her coworkers Dick and Thelma Hanchett. Ruth Terry would be 85 today.
The FBI’s Oct. 31 announcement of Terry’s identity brought the long-unsolved murder case to a sharp focus on Terry’s husband, Guy Rockwell Muldavin, now dead, whose history of evading a double murder charge in 1960 makes him a prime suspect.
The Cape & Islands district attorney’s office has asked the public’s help with information about Terry and Muldavin, including “their whereabouts in 1973 and 1974 in the New England area, particularly Massachusetts and Cape Cod.” (Contact the Mass. State Police at 1-800-KAPTURE, by email at [email protected], or by text message at 226787.)
For most of his life, Hanchett said, he knew little about his mother.
“Ruth moved up to Michigan in 1957 and she went to work at Fisher Body in Livonia,” he said by phone. “It’s a plant that made interior parts for General Motors. My [adopted] dad and mom worked there, and so did my older sister, Pat.”
Ruth married Billy Ray Smith in Tennessee when she was just 13 years old. They split up, remarried, and had divorced again by the time Ruth left Whitwell, her hometown, said her half-brother, Ken Terry, in a phone interview.
She was 21 when she became pregnant, Hanchett said. He does not know the identity of his biological father.
“Ruth was friends with my sister Pat at the time,” Hanchett said. “My mom and dad were trying to adopt. So, they made an agreement.”
His adoptive mother had natural red hair and blue eyes like Ruth’s, Hanchett said. Shortly after the birth, Ruth moved to California. He now sees this as an unselfish act, he said, though for years Hanchett was angry at her for leaving him.
He said Ruth reached out to him when he was about 14 — in 1972. But he was in the hospital because of a drug overdose that left him in a coma for 18 days. Afterwards, he said, he began to change his life for the better.
“My mom and dad both told me that Ruth was smart enough to understand she couldn’t raise me,” Hanchett said. “There was no way, back in the 1950s. She came from a dirt-poor background.”
Whitwell is a coal-mining town 24 miles from Chattanooga. Ruth’s father, Johnny “Red” Terry, worked in the mines, Couture said. He had three children with his first wife and three more with his second, who also had three children from a previous marriage. Ruth’s mother, Eva Keener, died at age 27.
Ken said Ruth was mostly raised by her grandparents until her marriage as a young teenager. Her brother Jim, who died in 2015, had been Ruth’s protector. After her disappearance, he hired a private investigator and went to California in a fruitless search, Couture said.
Ken said the last time he saw Ruth was a few months before she disappeared. She had come to Whitwell to visit the family with her new husband, Guy Muldavin. Records show they were married on Feb. 16, 1974 in Nevada.
“She was just newly married, and she was happy to be going across country,” Ken said. He could not recall Muldavin at all.
The years of Ruth’s life between 1958 and 1974 are lost to history because of some key deaths. Pat Hanchett, Richard’s older sister, had kept in touch with Terry while she was in California. Richard recalled Pat saying that Ruth had stopped corresponding in the mid-1970s. Pat was murdered by her husband in 1980.
“I’ve had a lot of tragic crap happen around me,” Richard said.
Marilyn Renee Hill, Ruth’s niece, who died last year at 65, had visited her aunt in California and had submitted DNA to ancestry.com in hopes of finding Hanchett, he said. His DNA matched with hers in 2018, and “seven days later I found out who I am,” he said.
Guy Muldavin, ‘Bunco Artist’
While Ruth Terry’s life story comes from her own relatives, newspaper headlines tell the story of Guy Rockwell Muldavin, her husband of five months. In 1960, he vanished from his Seattle home after the disappearance of his second wife, Manzanita, “a vivacious redhead,” according to Ann Rule’s 2008 book Smoke, Mirrors and Murder. Rule, a true crime writer who was briefly a Seattle cop, described Muldavin as six feet, three inches tall with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. He was a flirt, she wrote, who went by several different names and lied prodigiously.
“But there was no question at all that he was brilliant, knowledgeable in his field and a captivating storyteller,” Rule wrote. Muldavin was an antiques dealer.
Both Manzanita and her 18-year-old daughter, Dolores Mearns, were never seen alive again, according to news accounts. Six months after they disappeared, body parts were found in the septic system of the home Muldavin shared with them.
By then, Muldavin was wanted for swindling the mother of his third wife, whom he married four months after Manzanita and Dolores disappeared. He had borrowed $10,000 from his mother-in-law to buy antiques. The Evansville Press reported in 1962 that he used the money to buy a sports car and drove to Provincetown (where his wealthy father, Albert Muldavin, owned property) under the name Michael Strong. Muldavin then moved to New York City, where in December 1960 he was arrested for “unlawfully fleeing to avoid giving testimony before a grand jury concerning mutilation of a human body,” according to the New York Daily News.
“Hipster, bunco artist and great lover, Guy Rockwell Muldavin, 37, was seized in his curio-cluttered Greenwich Village apartment yesterday by the FBI,” the News article began.
Muldavin was found guilty of grand larceny. But his 15-year jail sentence was suspended 13 months later on condition that he repay the money he stole, according to news reports.
Muldavin was never charged with the Seattle murders, in spite of widespread suspicion.
“It is my duty to completely eliminate the fact that I know what the suspicions are of our police department and our community,” the judge who sentenced Muldavin told the Associated Press.
The 15-year sentence would have kept him in jail until 1975. Hanchett said his mother was a victim of the judge’s decision.
Guy Muldavin died in 2002 in Salinas, Calif. His obituary states he was married to Phyllis Smirle Muldavin, an art professor at Los Angeles City College, who died in 2021.
Hanchett said Muldavin was a “con artist,” and his mother was a victim.
“From everyone I talked to, she was just so kindhearted,” Hanchett said of Ruth Marie Terry, “almost to a fault.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, published in print on Dec. 1, inaccurately described the family of Johnny “Red” Terry and the circumstances of Richard Hanchett’s birth. Terry had three biological children with each of his two wives and three stepchildren. Billy Ray Smith is known not to have been Hanchett’s father.