A 2-year-old Bakersfield girl who died in 1971 is at the root of a stolen-identity mystery that has caught the attention of readers nationwide who are trying to answer a simple question: Who was Lori Ruff?
A recent story by Seattle Times reporter Maureen O'Hagan has reignited widespread interest in the odd case of Ruff, who at one time had assumed the identity of Becky Sue Turner, who was born in Bakersfield in 1969 but died two years later in a house fire in Fife, Wash.
Turner's Bakersfield birth certificate notes she was born at Kern County General Hospital (now known as Kern Medical Center) on July 18, 1969, to Terry Turner and Rosemary Weber. Weber, 22, lived on Zerker Road and Turner was a 27-year-old laborer for S.A. Camp Farms.
A woman known as Lori Ruff, aka Jane Doe, stole Turner's identity by requesting a copy of the girl's Bakersfield birth certificate. As O'Hagan writes:
"It took Jane Doe two months to take over the identity of someone she wasn't. First, she got a copy of Becky Sue's birth certificate from Bakersfield, Calif. In those days, many counties would just mail a copy to whoever asked.
"Notably, Becky Sue was born in one state but died in another -- it says so in a news clipping. That suggests Jane Doe knew what she was doing, because this kind of separation reduces the chances of being tripped up by some state database.
"She got an Idaho ID card in Becky Sue's name in Boise, claiming she was 18 years old."
But why and for how long she lived as Becky Sue Turner is not known, although she quickly applied for a Social Security number under the name Lori Erica Kennedy. Equally puzzling is why she took on other identities before committing suicide in 2010.
"She created a false identity for the sole purpose of getting lost in America," Social Security investigator Joseph Velling told Fox News.
It's a mystery that has puzzled Velling and other professional and amateur sleuths since 2010. But the search has again picked up momentum as more people read of the tale and take to message boards to share clues and theories. As O'Hagan writes, "Surely somebody out there knows her story."