I choose this week’s topic because over the past few days, I’ve spent much of my free time reading about it and even though in the scheme of things, it’s not very important, I still find it fascinating. Hell, as far as mysteries go, it’s not even a big deal. I just really find myself invested in finding out just what the truth is…
“The 30 Year Lie”
So, technically, this isn’t a 30 year lie…at least not as far as we know it. The mystery starts 25 years ago, on May 20, 1988, when a young woman orders a copy of a deceased child’s birth certificate. The toddler, Becky Sue Turner, was born in California on July 18, 1969 and perished in a Washington State house fire with two of her three sisters on December 30, 1971. Using Becky Sue’s birth certificate, the woman applied in person for an Idaho ID card on June 16, 1988. On July 5, 1988, she was approved by a judge in Dallas, TX to legally change her name from Becky Sue Turner to Lori Erica Kennedy. On July 12, 1988, she applied for a social security number (as it was not uncommon ‘back then’ to not having a SSN until you were a teenager) and on July 13, she gets a Texas ID. On March 19, 1990, she applies for a passport. She takes her GED & goes to college at the University of Texas from 1990-1997, graduating with a degree in business. Sometime around 1991, she gets a boob job and works as an exotic dancer.
On January 5, 2004, she marries a man from a wealthy Texas family and becomes Lori Erica Ruff. When she first meets his family, she avoids answering any personal questions other than telling them that her parents are dead. She won’t let them put a marriage announcement in the paper, saying “we don’t do things like that.” Her husband is a man of few words who minds his own business and never questions her demand for privacy. The couple moves 125 miles away from his close knit family and she rarely talks to their new neighbors.
After a few miscarriages and several years of fertility problems, she gives birth to a daughter in September 2008. She becomes extremely overprotective of her daughter and refuses to let her in-laws be alone with her. She is big on taking her daughter out for tea. Her behavior begins to become so strange that her husband files for divorce after marriage counseling at a local parish doesn’t work. She is described as 5’9″ with very large hands.
She further unravels after her husband moves back in with his parents and clearly demonstrates signs of mental illness. She sneaks onto her in-laws property one day, prompting them to file a cease-and-desist order. Her husband say she takes medication for either ADHD or Tourette’s.
On December 24, 2010, she kills herself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after showing up in her in-laws’ driveway. She leaves a suicide note and a letter for her daughter to open on her 18th birthday.
When the family drives out to her house, they bring local police, fearing she has booby trapped it. Her brother-in-law finds a box hidden in a closet and pries it open. Inside, the family finds Becky Sue Turner’s birth certificate, a newspaper clipping from Washington with the Turner girls’ obituary, the letter approving her name change, and other documents relating to Lori Erica Kennedy not being who she said she was. The most puzzling thing found in the box was a piece of looseleaf paper containing mysterious scribblings: the name of a California attorney who was disbarred in 1988, a phone number for a Pennsylvania library, phone numbers for Pacific Bell and other phone companies, the words “402 months,” the phone number for the North Hollywood police, the names and numbers of (possibly) two other attorneys, and much more. Two of the names scribbled on the paper are women who Internet sleuths have discovered currently work with burlesque dancer Deeta von Teese.
Thus far, all leads have been a dead end. No one knows who Lori Erica Kennedy Ruff really is or where she came from. Her DNA has been tested against missing persons, her finger prints have not shown a match in any criminal system, and she doesn’t match any facial recognition results. All that’s known is she applied for an Idaho ID card in person in 1988 under an identity stolen from Becky Sue Turner. The Turners say these never seen her before, the people living at the address listed on the ID card claim not to know her, and the lawyer says he’s never heard of her. He, unfortunately, passed away on February 16, 2013. No one else questioned seems to recognize her, yet in a live chat, investigator Joe Velling reveals that not every lead has been followed up on because he’s doing so in his spare time. He’s a Social Security Investigator and the case was brought to his attention because of the identity fraud aspect of it. The Ruffs originally reported it because they were worried she was KGB. Velling brought it public because he’s hit dead ends for almost three years.
I realize that the case of a woman who stole dead kid’s identity for a month in order to change her own identity really isn’t a big deal. The thing about this case that truly fascinates me is that no one knows who she was. Was she on the run from the law? Was she trying to escape from an abusive spouse/significant other? Did she see a crime that she shouldn’t have and didn’t qualify for Witness Protection? Was she mentally ill as a young adult and wanted to escape her past? Was she a member of a cult or strict religious group that she felt she had to get away from and knew that they wouldn’t report her missing? Is whatever happened to her happening to someone else right now?
I don’t really remember how the world was before 9/11 because I was only 17 when it happened. AOL first became big when I was in 5th grade, so I don’t remember life pre-Internet. It fascinates me how “easy” it was for someone to just disappear and start a new life. I really want to know who Lori Erica Kennedy Ruff really was. I know my answer to this week’s topic is a little different than previous weeks, but I hope you find this even 1/8 as interesting as I do.
- The story originally appeared in the Seattle Times. The comments are what really engaged me in the story. Some are repetitive and crackpot-y, but some have great ideas: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021243552_janedoexml.html
- The New York Daily News picked up on it: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/authorities-struggle-id-mystery-woman-article-1.1383957#ixzz2XwYcE38N
- As did Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/06/26/texas-woman-identity-remains-mystery-three-years-after-suicide/
- Websleuths, an Internet investigating site for those who fancy themselves amateur detectives has pieced together some interesting leads too: http://www.websleuths.com/forums/showthread.php?t=165570&page=80
- And of course, no investigation is official until it’s got it’s own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WhoWasLoriEricaRuff