My friend sent that message. The name did not register.
“Who is that?,” I reply.
“Lori’s real name.”
The baffling mystery behind Lori Erica Ruff was finally revealed. A recently separated and single mom out of Texas, Lori fatally shot herself on Christmas eve of 2010. A nearly middle aged woman who committed suicide while parked in front of her former in-laws home already doesn’t appear as your run-of-the-mill mystery.
After her death, Lori’s in-laws cracked open her personal lock box. The contents inside revealed a surprise: an Idaho ID of Lori pictured under an alias, Becky Sue Turner; the birth and death certificate of the real Becky Sue Turner, a toddler who died in 1971; random notes containing scriptures such as “402 months.”
During Lori’s marriage, she outright dodged questions about her past when relatives asked. Lori mentioned to her husband that she was from Arizona and that her parents died. Nothing could be derived from the fresh faced and pony tailed Lori displayed in the Idaho ID.
The Seattle Times first reported the Lori story back in 2013. Not long after the Thinking Sideways, Generation Why, and In Sight podcast covered the puzzling case. Reddit, Websleuths, and other internet boards carried the conversation for years. Everyone including myself were supremely interested into the whereabouts of this unknown woman.
Despite the decades of deceit, a social security investigator and forensic genealogist finally cracked the case.
Lori Erica Ruff was actually Kimberly McLean, a Pennsylvanian teen who left her home for good in 1986. Kimberly’s bloodline –the family she grew up with– would only hear again of her existence until posthumously, when the investigator visited her relatives this past March.
Between the interim of disappearance and death, Kimberly briefly masqueraded as Becky Sue Turner before quickly changing her name to Lori Erica Kennedy in 1988. These duplicitous identifies unfolded just a few months shy of Kimberly turning 20-years-old.
By 2008, Lori accomplished graduating from the University of Texas, marrying Blake Ruff, and becoming a parent.
A case where scores of sleuths were wildly interested in the what if’s, were now suddenly and unexpectedly turned off. Apparently some people were disappointed the outcome didn’t reveal something in the likes of a grand finale, one you’d might find in a Breaking Bad or Gone Girl script. The conditions in which Kimberly left Pennsylvania are way more appealing than any overrated theory of being a spy or running away from a cult. Personally I find the angle of Kimberly being fragile and despaired as very fascinating.
Don’t all teens feel damaged?
Details gathered from the latest Seattle Times article says that Kimberly had a tough time adjusting and assimilating to her parent’s divorce around high school. Think for a second if you went off the grid. The theories that strangers behind a screen would type up would probably be laughable or offensive if you were the one talked about. The truth is often simpler than you think. The runaway angle completely makes sense in this case.
The case slipped through the cracks because Kimberly McLean was not reported missing, she was legally already an adult. In addition, Kimberly gave a fair warning to her mom that she was going to leave. If Kimberly’s story was reported to the local news –or say even Unsolved Mysteries— there wasn’t enough legroom for an interesting tale.
People assume since there were no traces leading down her trail, that something must have gone awry.
Disappearances, murders, and unidentified person cases are always a hotbed discussion. Kimberly’s story is not an anomaly. Lyle Stevik’s case jumps off the page because Lyle committed suicide during the week of September 11, 2001. The investigation into his death carried the same compelling twist as Kimberly’s story: Lyle wasn’t Lyle. To this day, the young man who hanged himself in a Washington motel has not been officially identified.
Internet sleuths down to the bone care about finding the truth; I am one of them. The thing sleuths don’t consider is weighing down their high expectations. The fact very well may be that Lyle Stevik will not be ever identified. (Believe me I don’t want that to happen). What if the family he actually had didn’t care about him? Lyle strikes me as a depressed and down on his luck individual. Strangers riddled with the mystery man under an assumed name is the last thing Lyle would have imagined people caring about. The attention probably would have made him happy. Whether pulling the plug on his suicide plan would have made a difference is something we will never know. Lyle’s case has always interested me, especially some new information regarding his potential roots in the United States, pinpointing from hair and tooth analysis.
A sad realization involving Kimberly –and many others in her plight– is the possibility of friends, neighbors or co-workers from Pennsylvania not noticing her absence. Something about that says she didn’t make an impression while her invisibility lasted much longer. So far the only artifact delivered from Kimberly’s past is a rather ordinary yearbook photo.
Why would people expect anything more from this woman?
The psychological toll has got to weigh heavy. Going off the grid and assuming an identity must bring a lonely lifestyle, regardless of the milestones you touch along the way. Kimberly’s marriage couldn’t even be saved. Forming a union brought complications. Surreptitious details were kept hidden. The trail certainly didn’t get cold when Clark Rockefeller and Esther Reed were caught under mountains of suspicion.
Trying to blend in without everyone knowing the true fraud or failure that you are. The facade of being Lori Erica Ruff shut Kimberly down. Pursuing suicide was a way to remedy her downward spiral.
Whether a case brings an overt amount of concern or concentration, you still don’t know how the answers will affect an audience. People interpret facts and mold the most fitting presentation. Scenarios seem safer or sexier in the abstract.
If the truth ever arrives, the answer might underwhelm or fulfill you.
Yours truly has some wise words to serve: true crime isn’t about the crime, it’s about the dirty laundry. Still I don’t put much too much heat on my expectations. My point is directed towards internet detectives in needing to drum down their theories or thoughts. As our resident retired detective, Joe Kenda, over at the ID channel likes to say, “People are simple and murder is simple.”
Scratch the murder part for this case though.
While committing identity fraud is risky and uncalled for, I still feel sympathy for the woman. Kimberly’s families have endured enough, especially the one kept in the dark for three decades. I am satisfied the truth arrived.
We all have our problems. No doubt Kimberly was complicated.
You don’t end up many miles away for nothing.