On Christmas Eve 2010, the body of 42-year-old Lori Erica Ruff was found in a car parked outside the Ruff family home in Longview, Texas. She had ended her life with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Lori’s husband, Blake Ruff, was devastated. In the days following her death, he began the grim task of sorting through his wife’s possessions. Included among the items was a sealed lockbox buried deep in Lori’s closet.
The grieving husband recognized the box. In life, Lori had warned him to stay away from it. Upon opening the container, Blake discovered why: Inside was a birth certificate and IDs belonging to several different people.
His wife was not who she claimed to be. She was an accomplished identity thief.
Blake Ruff married the woman he had known as Lori in 2004. Her suicide came after Blake had filed for divorce and moved back in with his parents. Lori’s behavior was highly erratic in the time between the separation and her death; she sent threatening emails to Blake and his family, and might have even attempted a break-in at Blake’s parent’s home.
Prior to marrying Blake, Lori was known as “Lori Erica Kennedy”. She arrived at this identity by way of a girl named Becky Sue Turner. Little Becky was just two years old when she died in a house fire outside of Seattle, Washington in 1971. Lori acquired Becky Turner’s birth certificate in 1988. It's clear that even at this time, Lori knew what she was doing–Becky had been born in one state and died in another, making it far less likely that the fraudulent use of her identity would be discovered.
She then moved to Idaho and procured a driver’s license using the deceased girl’s birth certificate. After several months living as Becky Sue Turner, she legally changed her name to Lori Kennedy. It was under this new assumed name that she eventually moved to the Dallas area, where she met and married Blake Ruff.
Although Blake’s family was suspicious of Lori from the beginning, Blake himself was very much in love. When asked about her background, Lori was guarded and evasive; she claimed her parents were dead and she had no siblings. Blake and Lori married in 2004–the only witness to their marriage was the priest. After marrying, the couple moved away from the senior Ruffs, who lived in eastern Texas, settling in Leonard, Texas, in the southwestern region.
Lori and Blake tried to have a child almost immediately after they were married, but found themselves experiencing fertility issues. Four years filled with miscarriages and disappointments passed. Lori kept to herself, rarely speaking Finally, in 2008, the pair had a daughter, conceived with in vitro fertilization. After the birth of their daughter, Lori's behavior became increasingly strange.
She refused to let other people hold the child and was overly protective, even for a first-time mother. The tension between the Ruffs continued to grow as the new grandparents were rebuffed from visits. Lori began to complain to Blake about his parents whenever she was even mildly inconvenienced. Blake, who was close with his parents, couldn't take it anymore. In 2010, he moved back in with his parents and filed for divorce.
Within a few months of Blake moving out, Lori had completely deteriorated. She was sending unhinged, threatening emails to the Ruffs; she and her daughter were losing weight; she even possibly tried to break into the Ruffs' home.
Early on Christmas Eve, Lori drove over to the Ruff house. She parked her car, left it running, and shot herself. Sometime later, Blake's father left the house to pick up the paper. He noticed the car and called the police.
Lori left behind two suicide notes, one of which was addressed to her husband and the other to her young daughter. Authorities inspected both letters, which they described as “ramblings from a clearly disturbed person.” They contained no reference to Lori’s life as an identity thief, nor a confession of her true identity. With little to no clues about who she might actually be, the woman once known as Lori Erica Ruff was registered in the federal government’s database of missing and unidentified persons as a Jane Doe. Investigators then began to search of her true identity—a process that would take six years to complete.
Then, in September 2016, the case of Lori Erica Ruff was finally solved: her real name was Kimberly McLean. Using a DNA analysis from Ruff’s daughter, investigators were able to trace Ruff’s identity back to a family in Pennsylvania, whose daughter had disappeared in 1986, when she was 17. They believed she fled because she did not like her mother’s new husband.
While the file on Lori Erica Ruff may be closed, her bizarre case continues to fascinate, and will forever raise the chilling question: Just how well do you know those closest to you?
Featured photo: Alchetron