On Dec. 18, 1996, police responded to reports of a dead woman at a Fairfax County, Virginia, cemetery. They found her with a suicide note in one pocket identifying her only as Jane Doe and asking that no autopsy be performed, $50 to cover the costs of her funeral in the other pocket, and a decorated Christmas tree she'd placed on a blanket nearby. Because her identity was unknown, she became known as the Christmas Tree Lady. Now, more than a quarter-century after she suffocated herself, authorities have identified her as Joyce Marilyn Meyer Sommers. Authorities used advance DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy technology to identify her siblings, who then confirmed her identity, WTOP reports.
Still unknown, however, is why the 69-year-old decided to end her life, the Washington Post reports. "The way she planned it out, that was her,” her sister tells the newspaper. “She was very careful. We couldn’t find her." Only a sister and brother are still alive, and they say Joyce, the oldest of a set of five siblings, became estranged from her family in the 1960s and then essentially disappeared in the 1980s, never speaking to any of them again. They had been looking for her well into the 1990s, even hiring a private detective at one point, her sister says. (Read more cold cases stories.)