As evidenced by books like Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, and The Fireman, Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) has become a superb horror writer in his own right. And now, thanks to renewed interest in a 2015 theory he first published online, he’s also angling to prove himself a real-life murder-mystery detective.
Hill is a lifelong fan of Jaws, and as recently recounted by both the Washington Post and Esquire, in 2015 he took his three sons to a 40th-anniversary screening of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic in New Hampshire. Along with Roy Scheider’s great lead performance and some legendary scares, Hill (whose full name is Joseph Hillstrom King) saw something truly eye-opening that evening — a female extra who eerily matched the description of a woman who was murdered the same summer that Spielberg’s film was produced.
That victim, known as the “Lady of the Dunes,” was discovered in July 1974 in the beachy dunes outside Provincetown, Mass. — approximately 100 miles from where Spielberg shot Jaws in Martha’s Vineyard. Never identified by police, this enigmatic woman has remained at the center of one of America’s great cold cases. And Hill, who’d recently read about the Lady of the Dunes in Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, soon became convinced that the anonymous actress he’d spied (in a large disembarking-ferry crowd scene) might be that very slain woman.
Writing on Tumblr (with the aid of the above comparison between a Jaws frame-grab and a composite re-creation of the Lady of the Dunes’s face), Hill explained what made him think he’d found a possible match. Both were somewhere between the ages of 25 and 49. Both weighed about 145 pounds and wore a blue bandanna. And though the Jaws figure wasn’t specifically seen in Wrangler jeans — which is what the Lady of the Dunes was wearing when her body was discovered — he opined that it stood to reason that a young 1970s woman might very well own more than one pair of denim pants.
As he said in his 2015 post:
“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.”
Speaking to Vice about Hill’s theory shortly after his post first went viral, Halber said, “It seems interesting. Honestly, I have to say with all the people I talk to in my book and cases that were solved decades later, I could believe anything is possible.”
Although records unfortunately don’t exist for Jaws’ extras — a fact borne out by an Entertainment Weekly reporter’s unsuccessful attempts to procure them a few years ago — Hill’s idea still stands another fascinating hypothesis for a crime that’s baffled police for decades. As Provincetown police detective and lead investigator Meredith K. Lobur told the Boston Globe in 2014, “How does someone end up here, of all places, not to be identified for 40 years? … She’s always some part of my day. Some murders are never solved. I refuse to believe this is one of them.’’
Hill admits that his theory is more than a bit unlikely, given his penchant for spooky mysteries and the thinness of this evidence. “My thing is writing ghost stories. I can’t tell if this is my imagination just doing the thing that it always does or if there’s actually something there,” he told the Washington Post. Such doubts were there from the start, as his original Tumblr post concluded by stating:
I am under no illusions about the situation here. I was watching JAWS, under the influence of The Skeleton Crew, and my subconscious invented an exciting little story about the Lady of the Dunes on the spot. It was so good, I persuaded myself it might be true.
It IS a helluva what-if, isn’t it? What if the young murder victim no one has ever been able to identify has been seen by hundreds of millions of people in a beloved summer classic and they didn’t even know they were looking at her? What if the ghost of the Lady of the Dunes haunts JAWS?”
What say you, Yahoo readers? Is Hill onto something, or is this just a case of an imaginative mind running away with an intriguing whodunit?
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
- Universal Studios’ Jaws: The fintastic inside story of George, Carrot Tooth, and the ride that ate Hollywood
- From ‘Mr. Jaws’ to Misterjaw: A brief field guide to the greatest ‘Jaws’ cash-ins, knockoffs, and send-ups
- Stephen King on killer clowns, ‘Stranger Things,’ and his secrets for scaring you silly