Three years after his wife’s untimely death, Blake Ruff still didn’t know the true identity of the woman he had married. Lori Erika Ruff managed to fool everyone: her husband, university administrators, and even private and federal investigators. To Blake, Lori was a tall, brunette beauty with a traumatic childhood that she preferred not to discuss. But, to the people who knew her before she met Blake, her name was Becky Sue Turner. Both names are fake.
Lori’s paper trail was scarce, leaving investigators stumped for over two years. But the one thing investigators were sure of was this: Lori was a professional identity thief. What was it she was running from? Was it a crime she committed? An abusive relationship? A criminal organization?
This is the story of how Lori Ruff’s murky past turned her husband and young daughter’s world upside down.
Stashed Away Secrets
Social Security Administration (SSA) investigator Joe Velling arranges all the clues onto a table. There’s a birth certificate for a little girl from Fife, Washington. Pages from a phone book in Arizona. An ID card from Idaho. And several scraps of paper with random notes, including the name of a lawyer and the words, “402 months.”
All of these clues came from a locked safe that has been the center of an almost two-year mystery. Lori kept the safe locked away in her room for years, forbidding anyone, including her husband, to touch it. It was only after her death in 2010 that Blake’s family broke into the safe and made an incredible discovery. Lori, the woman they welcomed into their family, was someone else entirely.
From the Beginning
We’ll start from the beginning, well the beginning of Blake and Lori’s marriage, that is. The Ruff family are a close-knit, East Texas family, and well known around town for their banking and real estate business. Blake is a simple, agreeable man who is described by his family as different. Unable to really make decisions on his own, Blake often follows the lead of his identical twin brother, David.
When David bought a black truck, Blake bought the same truck in the same color. When David met his wife at a Bible study class, Blake started going too. Within a few weeks, Blake started courting Lori Kennedy after meeting her at the Northwest Bible Church in Dallas. He says that Lori was beautiful, smart, and loved going out for tea.
Meeting the Parents
When Blake’s parents heard that he had a girlfriend, they eagerly invited Lori over to meet her. Trying to be friendly, Blake’s mother, Nancy, began to ask Lori about her childhood. Lori said that she had no living relatives and left it at that. When Nancy asked more questions about her childhood, Lori became visibly agitated and defensive.
So Nancy moved on to asking about her education and college days. Lori claimed that she skipped high school and went directly to college. Nancy thought it was strange that every time she asked Lori a question, she deflected. Blake’s parents weren’t so sure of the new woman in his life, but since Blake was in love, they kept their mouths shut.
According to his family, Blake is the type of guy that takes things at face value. One time Lori told Blake that she threw away all the pictures of her family because she had had a bad childhood. Blake didn’t think to ask why it was so bad. This pattern of ambiguous answers didn’t seem to bother Blake, who decided to ask her to marry him less than a year after meeting her.
When the couple told Blake’s family about the engagement, Nancy wanted to put a wedding announcement in the local newspaper. When Nancy asked Lori for her parents’ names, Lori refused to hand them over. “She said, ‘We don’t do things like that,’” Nancy told The Seattle Times. Lori and Blake ended up eloping and getting married in a small church just outside of Dallas.
A Paper Trail
Although SSA investigator Joe Velling has caught more con artists than he can count, something about this case stumps him. He received the case in September 2011 after a frustrated investigative team handed him Lori’s case file. The three-ringed binder contained all of the documents found in Lori’s fireproof safe, as well as other documents that the Ruff family thought would be useful.
At this point, investigators knew that Lori wasn’t actually Lori, but a professional conman. They needed to bring in the big guns. Joe, who is an expert investigator of stolen identities, has brought down some of the biggest con artists in modern history. “My immediate reaction was, I’ll crack this pretty quickly,” Joe recalled.
Was She KGB?
The congressman who handed the case over to Joe was a close friend of the Ruff family. Given Lori’s strange past, he wanted to make sure that Lori wasn’t a mole for the KGB. It may sound far-fetched, especially the post-Cold War, but Joe says that people don’t just take on a new identity for the fun of it.
There had to be a reason why Lori wanted to keep her past a secret. It was clear to investigators that Lori didn’t change her identity for money. So then why did she do it? Was she running away from a cult? Did she commit a crime? Was she the victim of one? Based on her paper trail, Joe knew one thing for certain: this was meticulously planned.
Meet the New Neighbors
After Blake and Lori’s wedding, the couple purchased two-acres of land outside of Leonard, Texas. With a population of 1,900, the town is tiny. It was also roughly 125 miles away from Blake’s family’s house. The Ruff’s new neighbors tried getting to know the couple, but their efforts were unmet. Blake tried being friendly, but Lori refused to even make eye contact.
In the evenings, neighbors would often see her walking around the perimeter of their property. In the six years that the couple lived in Leonard, neighbor Denny Gorena remembers meeting them only once. The Ruffs lived in their own little world, secluded from everyone. “She really didn’t like people as much as she liked working at home on her computer,” Nancy said.
Mother to Be
Lori called herself a marketing consultant, but Blake’s family said she worked more as a mystery shopper. One day she would eat at a restaurant and report on the service, the next day, she would test out new products for a different company. Lori’s home business was perfect for someone who didn’t like to socialize. Although she kept her distance from people, Lori wanted a child more than anything.
According to Blake, she miscarried several times. Knowing what they know now, the Ruff family thinks that Lori’s age played a huge part in her multiple miscarriages. They believe she was much older than she claimed. In 2008, after completing a few rounds of fertility treatments, Lori finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
A Mother’s Love
It quickly became apparent to Blake and his family that Lori hadn’t spent that much time around kids, if any, at all. She held the baby like it was a foreign object and, if she started chewing on something, Lori would immediately snatch it away. Lori was very protective and never left the baby alone with anyone, not even Blake’s family.
One of Lori’s favorite pastimes was taking her daughter to tea shops and posing for mother-daughter pictures. But, whenever Blake’s family came over to visit, Lori wouldn’t socialize and often snuck away for a long nap. “Maybe she wasn’t even comfortable around her own self,” Blake said. “How would she be comfortable around the family?” Blake thinks something horrific happened to his former wife, forcing her to change her identity.
A Mental Breakdown
SSA investigator Joe Velling said that a curious thing happens when a person takes on a new identity. On the one hand, the person gets a fresh start, but, on the other hand, their lie creates a chain reaction. “It can take a stranglehold on you,” Joe said. “You have got to hold to that story all the way through. In the end, I think that’s what happened to her.”
As time went on, Lori’s mental state seemed to deteriorate. She constantly found fault with Blake’s family and went as far as to forbid them to see their daughter. Blake, who was extremely close to his family, couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing his family. In 2010, he moved out of their shared home and filed for divorce. That’s when Lori began to unravel.
Lori’s neighbor, Denny Gorena, said that Lori became very frantic, to the point she could barely speak. Danny, who was a pastor, invited Lori to the church for a counseling session to work out some of her issues. She agreed and met him that week. Lori brought in several notebooks and started rambling about trying to get Blake back.
From the minute Lori sat down, Danny said that he couldn’t help but notice her hands. Not only were they the longest hands he’d ever seen, but Lori couldn’t stop moving them. She would hold her hands out in front of her, gazing at them. Danny got the impression that her hands were important to her, he just didn’t know why.
It All Comes Crashing Down
Blake joined Denny and Lori for counseling sessions at the church, but nothing seemed to work. Lori was past the point of no return. A few months later, Lori started sending threatening emails to the Ruff family. Then, while dropping off her daughter at the Ruff’s family home, she stole a house key.
This scared the Ruffs, who filed a cease and desist order against Lori. But everything came to a tragic end on Christmas Eve in 2010. When Blake’s father, Jon, walked outside to grab the morning paper, he saw an image that will never be erased from his mind. It was Lori in a black Tahoe truck. She had shot herself in the driveway. Jon immediately ran inside and called the police.
A Shocking Discovery
The Ruff clan couldn’t shake the feeling that Lori was hiding something. So, after her funeral, the Ruffs sent Miles Darby, Blake’s brother-in-law, to search her home in Leonard, Texas. The house was a complete wreck. The baby’s crib was soiled, and there were piles of dirty laundry and several trash bags filled with shredded documents.
There were also several papers of Lori’s incoherent thoughts scattered throughout the house. It was clear to Miles that Lori had given up her will to live. Before Miles drove to Lori’s house, Blake told him about the safe she kept hidden in her closet. “So, what do you think I did?” Miles said. “I took a flathead screwdriver and broke that thing open.” He wasn’t prepared for what was inside.
Becky Sue Turner
When Miles opened the safe, he thought that he finally had an answer. Inside was a 1998 court document that said that before she was Lori Kennedy, she was Becky Sue Turner. To Miles’ luck, a private investigator lived next door, so Miles brought him the document and asked him to do some digging around.
When he finally called a few days later, the entire Ruff family braced themselves for the news. But they never expected to hear what the private investigator had found. Becky Sue was long dead. He found a 1971 article clipping with a headline that read, “Three children perish in fire at Fife.” Becky Sue Turner was only two years old. The Ruffs were stunned.
A Timeline of Events
SSA investigator Joe Velling, who has resorted to calling her Jane Doe, has combed through every detail of her life but only up to a certain point. “The reason I can’t find anything prior to 1988 is because she’s very good,” Joe said. According to Joe, Jane Doe’s story starts in May 1988 when an unknown woman living in Bakersfield, California, requested a birth certificate for two-year-old Becky Sue Turner.
Back in those days, many counties mailed copies of birth certificates to anyone who requested one. There wasn’t much oversight. Then one month later, Jane Doe used this birth certificate to obtain an Idaho identification card. The ID, issued in 1998, had Jane Doe’s picture with the deceased two-year-old’s name. The family of the little girl later said that they had no idea who the woman in the picture was.
Lori Erika Kennedy
Joe believes that Jane Doe chose Becky Sue for a reason. The news clipping about her death reveals that Becky Sue was born in one state, but died in another. This separation greatly reduces the chances of Jane Doe alerting a state database since states were logistically disconnected from one another back then.
Joe also points out that the Idaho-issued ID strengthens their theory that Jane Doe was from the Northwest. Jane Doe’s strange paper trail then continued to Dallas, Texas, where she officially changed her name from Becky Sue Turner to Lori Erika Kennedy. She also created a mailbox in Boulder City, Nevada, that forwarded all of her mail to her new home in Dallas, Texas.
A Clean Slate
Next came the holy grail of identity theft: obtaining a Social Security number. Today most people are given a Social Security number at birth, but back then, it was just as easy to apply for one as a teenager. That’s exactly what she did. After two months, Jane Doe was officially Lori Erika Kennedy, government ID and all. Even without high school transcripts, Jane Doe applied for GED and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1997 with a business degree.
Desperate for clues, Joe tracked down a few of her friends and colleagues from her college days. One person who knew Jane Doe said that she worked as a dancer at a gentleman’s club in the early ‘90s. But other than providing Joe with details from her college days, no one knew anything about her from before 1988.
Trail of Random Clues
Besides the 1988 name-change court document, Jane Doe kept many other documents inside the safe. Miles found letters of reference from an employer and several pieces of paper with random notes: “North Hollywood police,” “402 months,” and the name of attorney Ben Perkins. What did this all mean? Was she in some sort of legal trouble? Was she facing 402 months in jail?
Investigators followed all possible leads but came up short. The reference letter was from a fake employer, most likely forged by Jane Doe. Attorney Ben Perkins had no idea who she was and claims she never tried to contact him. If she was facing possible jail time, there must be fingerprints. Investigators sent her prints to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, but they didn’t come up as a match.
A Dead End
SSA investigator Joe Velling even ran her photograph through every facial-recognition system that he knew but came up empty-handed. Joe then looked at Jane Doe’s medical files and learned that she had breast implants. Since silicone implants have serial numbers, Joe thought maybe this would lead him to her medical records. But after a little digging, Joe learned that she got them done after officially becoming Lori.
Jane’s body was also cremated, meaning that the serial numbers were gone. Joe then obtained Jane Doe’s DNA samples and compared them with other samples from different databases, but nothing came up. After receiving permission from the Ruff family, Joe turned to reporters at The Seattle Times, with hopes that someone would call with a tip.
My God, It’s Kimberly!
For almost three years, Joe received calls from people claiming to know who Jane Doe was, but after thorough investigations, he always came to a dead end. Then one day in 2015, Joe received a call that sparked his interest. A California scientist, who had been following the case, had a theory. Colleen Fitzpatrick believed that Jane Doe came from a family on the East Coast, but she still didn’t know her real name.
Joe believed Colleen based on all of the evidence she provided. In 2016, Joe and Colleen hopped onto a plane and flew out to Philadelphia. They knocked on the door of someone they suspected was related to Jane Doe. As they began to lay her pictures onto the kitchen table, the family member said, “My God, that’s Kimberly!”
Trail of DNA
While most Internet sleuths who were investigating the case looked for missing persons that resembled Jane Doe, Colleen took a different route. Nuclear physicist turned forensic genealogist, Colleen knew that her best chance at finding Jane Doe’s real identity was to use DNA. Colleen has made a career of reunited families.
From helping adopted kids find their birth parents, to reuniting long lost siblings from the Holocaust, Colleen has done it all. One time, she even found the identity of a baby who had died on the Titanic in 1912 by using his relatives’ DNA. Although Jane Doe had passed away, she still had a living daughter who shared her DNA. Colleen knew that she could take a sample from their daughter and essentially erase Blake’s DNA, leaving only Jane Doe’s DNA sample. That’s exactly what she did.
The Waiting Game
Colleen took this sample and put it into a genealogy database. She found several people that shared Jane Doe’s DNA, but most of them were distant cousins. Only one first cousin came up in the database: Michael Cassidy. However, there were no details listed under his name. There could be thousands of Michael Cassidys in the US. How was Colleen supposed to contact them all?
So she sent Michael a message on a genealogy website and patiently waited. Michael never responded. Colleen checked the website regularly and worked on other leads until the opportunity presented itself. Although she didn’t have a concrete lead, all clues started pointing in the direction of Pennsylvania. Then, finally, the name of a third cousin came up…
Piecing the Puzzle Together
Collen’s mission was to build a family tree. First, she traced the third cousin back to a great-great-grandfather who was born in Ireland in 1848. From there, Colleen followed the family tree down a different branch until she reached Jane Doe’s cousin, Michael Cassidy. With most of the family tree built, Colleen was then able to track down the correct Michael Cassidy, who lived in Philadelphia.
Colleen then looked at Facebook, public records, online obituaries, and private investigators to paint a better picture of the Cassidy family. Since Jane Doe was Michael Cassidy’s first cousin, this meant that her mother was his aunt. But which one? And what was Jane Doe’s real name?
Meeting the Family
For reasons unknown to the public, Colleen and Joe decided to visit a different family member in Philadelphia instead of Michael Cassidy. Joe struggled with what he was going to say when the family member opened the door. “I had a boss that said, if something lands on your lap, do something,” Velling recalled. “I had news. Bad or good, I had it. And it had to get relayed.”
When the pair arrived at the relative’s workplace, Joe didn’t have a government ID proving he was a federal investigator. At this point, Joe was just a retired government worker still invested in an unsolved case. Regardless, Joe put on a suit, smiled, and hoped for the best. “Do you have a moment for me to tell you a story?” Joe remembers asking.
Joe and Colleen sat the family member down and started from the beginning. They explained how Lori Ruff’s death led them down a rabbit hole of complete mystery. Joe explained how the woman wasn’t who she said she was and, in fact, had changed her identity twice. But Joe’s explanation wasn’t getting him anywhere, so he started laying out Jane Doe’s pictures in front of the family member.
Only when Joe pulled out a picture of Jane Doe’s most recent driver’s license, did the family member recognize her. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I realized she knew who this person was,” Joe said. The following day, Joe met with Kimberly’s extended family to compare stories.
Kimberly’s Childhood Story
Kimberly McLean was born and raised in the Philadelphia suburbs with her parents and sister. Her mother, Deanne, was a stay-at-home mom and her father, James, was a volunteer firefighter and carpenter. James would often take Kimberly and her sister for rides on the fire truck, and he built them a playhouse in the back yard. The McLeans had dinners every night and took their daughters on family vacations every year.
But when Kimberly’s parents got divorced, trouble started at home. Her mother remarried a man by the name of Robert Becker, and she moved the girls to Wyncote, Pennsylvania. “Kim never adjusted to the new house and the divorce,” Deanne’s brother, Tom, said. The new rules, new family, and new school all became too much for Kimberly.
Don’t Contact Me Again
When Kimberly turned 18, she moved out of her parents’ house and into a house a half-hour away. According to Tom, Kimberly woke up one morning and told her mother that she was leaving for good. She warned her not to follow her. The Cassidys never heard from Kimberly again. “For the life of me, we can’t figure why,” Tom said.
So, Jane Doe wasn’t a KGB spy, nor was she trying to escape a cult. She was just a teenage runaway. According to the Cassidys, Kimberly left home in 1986, meaning there are two years that Joe cannot account for (Kimberly didn’t obtain a false identity until 1988). Did she run into some trouble during those two years? We’ll never know.
A Life Unraveled
For the life of them, the Cassidys cannot figure out why Kimberly cut off contact with her own family. Kimberly paid the price by living her life in complete solitude. There was no one there to give her a hug when she graduated from college. No one from her family was there when she married Blake. Kimberly gave birth to her daughter without her mother by her side.
Kimberly’s birthday was October 16, 1968, but, as Lori Ruff, she couldn’t celebrate. “Can you imagine the burden of all that fakeness? How it all added up?” Tom said. But that’s exactly what the Ruffs saw happen. Over the years, Lori became more and more troubled until she ultimately took her own life.
The Case Is Closed
The Ruffs and the Cassidys have now been connected. Lori’s daughter now has a new set of grandparents and cousins on the East Coast. But for Joe, Jane Doe’s real story and identity is still hard for him to comprehend. He spent years wondering if she went AWOL from the military, or if she had some connection with a crime family, but nothing like that ever came up.
“Most of us, we get lonesome and homesick the first time we go to college when we join the military,” Joe said. “You wait for that first phone call to talk to mom and dad. And yet, at 18, she’s out there on her own.” After years of investigating, Lori Ruff’s name was officially removed from the missing and unidentified persons list in September 2016.