Just days after the “Lady of the Dunes” was identified nearly a half-century after her body had been discovered in Provincetown, authorities revealed Wednesday that the hunt for her killer is focused on a man she married five months before her slaying.
Moreover, the husband of the woman identified as Ruth Marie Terry was a suspect in another sensational murder mystery on the West Coast in 1960, according to decades-old media reports, but went to his grave 20 years ago without ever facing charges.
Terry, the 37-year-old Tennessee native whose body was found on the dunes in July 1974, had married New York native Guy Rockwell Muldavin that February, according to the Massachusetts State Police.
The 1960 disappearance and presumed murder of Muldavin’s previous wife and his teenage stepdaughter from the Seattle home they shared was widely chronicled at the time in newspapers across the country. Those accounts portrayed Muldavin as a smooth-talking con man who had operated a small antique shop in Seattle, stolen $10,000 from a former in-law, and reinvented himself in the 1980s as a volunteer talk radio host who at times lamented on the air that violence had become commonplace in America.
Muldavin, who also went by Raoul Guy Rockwell and Guy Muldavin Rockwell at times, had at least five wives. He died at the age of 78 in Salinas, Calif., in 2002 following a lengthy illness, according to his obituary.
He used the last name Rockwell when marrying several women from the 1940s through the 1960s and is identified by that name in newspaper accounts from decades ago.
In April 1960, his second wife, Manzanita Rockwell, 40, and her 18-year-old daughter, Dolores Mearns, disappeared from the dilapidated home in Seattle where they lived with Muldavin, who also operated the antique shop in the building, the Associated Press reported at the time. When police searched the home four months later, they discovered human remains of a young woman in a septic tank in the basement, according to the report.
In September 1960, the AP reported the remains included “an upper dental plate and a section of arm bone, sawed at both ends.”
The remains weren’t identified and Muldavin was never charged with murder. But a bulletin issued by detectives when Muldavin was wanted for grand larceny said the “investigation definitely indicates subject responsible for double murder,” newspaper accounts said.
He had previously been married to another woman, Jo Ellen Loop Rockwell, and the pair ran the Seattle antique shop for about 10 years until Manzanita Rockwell walked into the store with her husband one day in 1956, the Evansville (Ind.) Press reported in 1962.
Muldavin and Manzanita Rockwell divorced their spouses and married later in 1956, the Evansville Press said. Rockwell and her daughter moved into Muldavin’s home, but trouble arose in 1959, when Muldavin met his eventual third wife, Evelyn Emerson, the paper reported.
He divorced Manzanita Rockwell in July 1960, three months after she and her daughter vanished, on the grounds of desertion. He married Emerson eight days later, the AP reported.
Muldavin soon found himself in a legal imbroglio with Emerson’s stepmother, Germaine Winkler, who accused him of absconding with $10,000 she had lent him so he could buy Indian artifacts, published reports said.
In 1962, he received a 15-year suspended sentence in that case for grand larceny, and he peppered his testimony at trial with details about his background that strained credulity. Reports said Muldavin, born in 1923, testified that he had enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, served as a military officer during World War II, and had been part-owner of a hotel in Havana.
One newspaper account of the trial also noted that on Aug. 6, 1960, Muldavin, calling himself Michael Strong, had flown to Reno and bought a sports car, then “drove across the country to Provincetown, Mass.,” where he passed himself off as a writer for a Vancouver newspaper and magazine.
He later went to New York for a nose-straightening operation and got an apartment under the Michael Strong alias. Police arrested him for “unlawful flight to avoid testifying to the mutilation of human remains” back in Seattle, one report said. At the time of his arrest, his hair was dyed red, but he denied killing his former wife and stepdaughter, according to reports at the time.
“They are attempting to make me confess to a crime I did not commit,” Muldavin wrote in court filings his lawyer filed in 1960 seeking an injunction to prevent police from questioning him in jail about the slayings, the New York Daily News reported in 1962.
Seattle prosecutors dropped the unlawful flight charge against Muldavin and acknowledged they had no evidence to support a murder charge against him because they were unable to identify the remains found in his home or even say whether they belonged to one or two victims, according to the report.
After that, Muldavin’s whereabouts become sketchy for a number of years. But marriage records in Nevada show that on Feb. 16, 1974, he married Teri Marie Vizina, one of several names that authorities said Ruth Marie Terry went by, in a civil ceremony in Reno.
Five months later, in July 1974, a 13-year-old girl walking her dog on Race Point in Provincetown found the remains of Terry, whose hands had been cut off in an apparent effort to prevent her from being identified through fingerprints and whose head was nearly severed from her body. Terry’s identification remained a mystery for decades until authorities said this week that they had learned her identity through DNA analysis and genealogy research.
Eleven years after Terry’s death, Muldavin made headlines again, this time in Salinas, Calif., where he had gained a cult following as the host of a weekly radio program, “Talk To Me,” taking listener calls and offering commentary on a variety of topics, the Californian newspaper reported in 1985.
In an article headlined, “This guy can gab,” the reporter noted that Muldavin, then working as a clerk at a local tobacco shop, tackled topics on his show such as “the erosion of culture and his belief that killing has become a habit.”
Muldavin, who said he’d worked for decades as a buyer for major department stores before losing his money in the recording industry, told the Californian that the public could bring an end to discrimination, war, and world hunger by simply imagining it.
“We have a responsibility to fantasize for those people who have not been given the opportunity to fantasize,” Muldavin told the newspaper. “If you really create, things start happening.”
A November 2002 death notice said Muldavin had been a “buyer with Bullocks [department store] and an artist, actor, and poet.”
The Massachusetts State Police are seeking more information on Muldavin and urged anyone who might have sighted him and Terry on Cape Cod or across New England in the early 1970s to contact them.
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.