Lori Erica Ruff
Lori Erica Ruff
2001 photo of Ruff
October 16, 1968
|Died||December 24, 2010 (aged 42)|
|Cause of death||Suicide by gunshot|
|Other names||Lori Erica Kennedy, Becky Sue Turner|
|Known for||Formerly unidentified identity thief|
|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||160 lb (73 kg)|
(m. 2004; div. 2010)
|Children||1 daughter (b. 2008)|
Kimberly McLean, alias Lori Erica Kennedy Ruff (October 16, 1968 – December 24, 2010) was an identity thief who remained unidentified for nearly six years after her death. Ruff was eventually identified as a native of the Philadelphia area who moved away from her Wyncote home in fall of 1986 and later vanished after struggling to adapt to her parents' divorce. Within the next two years, she obtained the birth certificate of Becky Sue Turner, who had died in a fire in Fife, Washington near Tacoma at the age of 2 in 1971. Ruff used the certificate to get an Idaho identification card, then moved to Texas and changed her name to Lori Erica Kennedy.
Kennedy gradually acquired more documents in that name, including a new Social Security number. After earning a college degree, she married – becoming Lori Erica Ruff – and had a child. Due to some of her unusual behavior and her unwillingness to speak of her past, she clashed with her in-laws and the marriage collapsed. She ended her own life at her father-in-law's home in Longview on Christmas Eve 2010.
After her death, her husband and his family found the evidence of her falsified identity in a lock box in her closet. Her true origins remained a mystery until 2016, when forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick discovered her identity using direct-to-consumer autosomal SNP analysis on her husband and her daughter's DNA that led investigators to the McLean family, still living outside Philadelphia.
Activities before marriage
Ruff's earliest known activity dates back to May 1988, when she requested the birth certificate of Becky Sue Turner, a two-year-old girl who was killed, with two of her siblings, in a house fire in Fife, Washington in 1971. The request was made in Bakersfield, California. She then traveled to Idaho, where she obtained a state ID card on June 16 using the girl's birth certificate.
After obtaining the driver's license, Ruff went before a judge in Dallas on July 5, 1988 and legally changed her name to Lori Erica Kennedy; a week later she obtained a Social Security number, effectively erasing her past. She received a Texas driver license in 1989, and the next year qualified for a GED. She enrolled in Dallas County Community College. She eventually graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1997, with a degree in Business Administration.
In 2003, she met Blake Ruff, the son of a well‑established family in East Texas, in a Bible study class. Ruff describes her as being incredibly secretive, particularly regarding her past. She had told him she was from Arizona, that both her parents were dead, and that she had no siblings. She also said her father was a failed stockbroker. Despite the questions Blake's family had about Lori, the couple married in January 2004. The only person in attendance was the preacher.
After getting married, the Ruffs moved to Leonard, Texas. They tried several times to have a child, but had trouble conceiving and suffered multiple miscarriages. This led investigators to believe that Ruff was older than she claimed, though the difference turned out to be less than a year. She eventually gave birth to a baby girl via in vitro fertilization in 2008.
Divorce and suicide
Ruff was "extremely protective" of her daughter, often refusing to let anyone else hold her, which angered her husband's family. She would also obsessively track the Ruffs' family history and try to find out their family recipes, but still refused to talk about her past. Additionally, she displayed many socially‑inappropriate behaviors, such as leaving social gatherings to take naps.
Eventually, Ruff did not want her in-laws to have any contact with her daughter. After some failed marriage therapy meetings, Blake Ruff moved back to his parents' house in Longview and filed for divorce, leaving Lori with their daughter in Leonard.
In the months between the separation and Lori's suicide, she behaved very erratically. A neighbor recalled that she and her daughter appeared to be very thin and that Lori would often ramble incoherently about her problems. She also began sending harassing emails to the Ruffs, created a scene at a custody exchange, and stole a set of house keys from them. The harassment was so severe that the Ruffs filed a cease and desist order just before Lori's death.
On December 24, 2010, Ruff's body was discovered in her car in the Ruffs' driveway, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. In the car were two suicide notes: One 11‑page note addressed to "my wonderful husband" and another addressed to her daughter, to be opened on her 18th birthday. The Ruffs opened and read the letter, but it contained only "ramblings from a clearly disturbed person" and no details about Lori's past.
Discovery of past
After Lori's funeral, some of the Ruffs drove to Leonard to see if they could find out more about her in her house. The house was discovered in disarray, with piles of dirty dishes, laundry, and trash stacked up around the house, as well as shredded documents and papers with incoherent scribblings on them. They then discovered the lock box in a closet, pried it open with a screwdriver, and discovered the documentation of Ruff's past. Also found in the lock box was a paper with several seemingly random scribblings.
The suicide notes were quickly determined to be incoherent ramblings that offered no clues to Ruff's identity. Other papers included the birth certificate of Becky Sue Turner and a judge's ruling allowing someone presenting herself as Turner to legally change her name to Lori Erica Kennedy. A friend of the family investigated Turner, only to discover that she had died in a house fire at the age of 2.
Other materials she left behind failed to uncover Lori's birth name. The writings on the paper found in the lock box included the scribblings "North Hollywood police", "402 months", and "Ben Perkins", which turned out to be the name of an attorney. The nature of these scribblings has led some to believe that Ruff was trying to avoid prison time, due to the references to police, a possible jail term length, and the name of an attorney. However, Perkins stated that he had no memory of the woman, and there were no matches for the woman in fingerprint and facial recognition databases. The fact that Ruff was able to cover up her identity so well in a time before the Internet has led to speculation that she had visited an "identity broker".
In September 2011 the Ruff family, with the help of a congressional aide, sought the help of Joe Velling, an investigator for the Social Security Administration (SSA). Velling agreed to help identify her as a case of identify theft. After following numerous leads he was stumped, and sought the help of the general public to identify her through an article published June 22, 2013, in The Seattle Times. The article was subsequently republished in a number of different newspapers with few changes.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, a former NASA contractor and forensic genealogist, learned of Ruff in 2013 and began work on the case. Fitzpatrick had Ruff's husband and daughter tested by a direct-to-consumer testing company, through which she was able to obtain Ruff's DNA results using genetic genealogy phasing techniques. Ruff had a first cousin named Cassidy on her list of matches, however the name was very common and the cousin was not responsive. After two years, Fitzpatrick finally identified Ruff when she discovered a third cousin match to Ruff who was related to the Cassidys. Knowing the identity of the third cousin led her to Ruff's identity.
Fitzpatrick informed Joe Velling, who had in the meantime retired from the SSA. He flew to Pennsylvania to meet the potential family. Velling approached a relative, who immediately identified the deceased Lori Ruff as Kimberly McLean.
- Suzanne Sevakis, a woman who lived and died under the name Sharon Marshall, the stepdaughter of convicted murderer Franklin Delano Floyd who passed her off as his wife.
- Lyle Stevik, a 2001 suicide in Washington. The man used this alias at the hotel in which he stayed. He then hanged himself in his room. He was identified on May 8, 2018. His identity has been withheld at the request of his family.
- Joseph Newton Chandler III, a 2002 suicide in Ohio who was also discovered to have been living under of the identity of someone who died in childhood years before; he was identified as Robert Nichols in 2018.
- Peter Bergmann, the alias of a man who arrived in Sligo, Ireland in 2009 and was found dead a few days later. His true identity remains unknown.
- O'Hagan, Maureen (September 21, 2016). "'My God, that's Kimberly!': Scientist solves perplexing mystery of identity thief Lori Ruff". Seattle Times. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
- "Ancestry - Sign In". www.ancestry.com. Retrieved 2017-12-31. (Subscription required (help)).
- O'Hagan, Maureen (June 25, 2013). "She stole another's identity, and took her secret to the grave. Who was she?". Seattle Times. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
- Corbin, Cristina (June 26, 2013). "Three years after Texas woman's suicide, a question lingers: Who was she?". Fox News. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- Golgowski, Nina (June 27, 2013). "Texas woman's true identity baffles ex-husband, authorities years after her suicide". New York Daily News. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- "Live chat with investigator, reporter about Jane Doe case". Retrieved 2016-07-21.
- Maureen O'Hagan, The Woman in the Strongbox Amazon Original Stories (July 31, 2018) Amazon page