The Mystery of Identity Thief Lori Erica Ruff
By Jake Rossen
Last spring, we brought you 8 Mysterious People Without a Past, a list of individuals who seemed to have had much of their early existence wiped from history.
We now need to revise that list to seven, since one of those mysteries has now been solved. Lori Erica Ruff, a Texan who committed suicide in 2010 and left behind a series of puzzling documents hinting that she wasn’t who her family thought she was, has now been identified. She wasn’t Lori Erica Ruff—she was a Pennsylvania woman named Kimberly McLean.
According to the Seattle Times, a crowd-sourced investigation into Ruff’s background began after the paper ran a story on her in 2013. Papers belonging to Ruff, who had been married with a child, surfaced after her suicide indicating she had once been known as Lori Kennedy, and prior to that, as Becky Sue Turner, the name of a young girl who had died in a Washington state fire in 1971.
Ruff’s apparent identity theft pulled in former Social Security Administration investigator Joe Velling, who hoped that publicity from the Times piece would urge amateur sleuths to provide some leads. It did. Late in 2015, Velling received a call from a former nuclear physicist and forensic genealogist named Colleen Fitzpatrick, who had been following the case online. Based on her own research, and a DNA sample the Ruff family submitted that indicated Lori had a first cousin named Michael Cassidy, Fitzpatrick suggested Velling contact the Cassidy family in Philadelphia.
Velling traveled to the city and approached a member of the Cassidy family, who saw Lori’s driver’s license photo. The response? "My God, that’s Kimberly!” The family member confirmed Ruff was actually Kimberly McLean, daughter of Deanne Cassidy and James McLean, who had run away from home in Pennsylvania at the age of 18.
According to Deanne’s brother, Tom, Kimberly grew irate after her mother and father separated in the 1980s. Dismayed by having to move and attend a new school, she told Deanne she’d be leaving for good. McLean assumed a series of aliases before marrying Blake Ruff in 2004 and settling down—leaving no trace of Kimberly McLean, at least until Fitzpatrick began researching her family tree. Although questions about the case remain, Lori Ruff's name has now been removed from the federal government's database for missing and unidentified persons.
[h/t Seattle Times]