UPDATE: This case has now been fully funded and is in the process of DNA testing. Thank you to those who contributed!
On December 18th, 1996 freshly starting their workday at 9am, a groundskeeper at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Cemetery in Annandale Virginia stumbled upon a peculiar scene. Near the infant burial portion of the cemetery known as “Babyland” stood an 8 inch tall Christmas tree, decked out with gold ball ornaments and red ribbon. What he saw beyond the tree really drew his concern. Sprawled on a tarp, he found a lifeless body with a plastic bag over its head.
Detectives Richard Perez and Mike Headley arrived around 9:40am and found the deceased to be still warm, indicating that whatever had happened had been recent. It wasn’t long before they discovered the notes in her pockets. She carried no identification, but only two sealed envelopes addressed each to the cemetery and the coroner. Each envelope contained $50 and a typed letter.
“”Deceased by own hand. . . . Prefer no autopsy. Please order cremation, with funds provided. Thank you, Jane Doe.”
Physically, she was petite at only 5 feet tall. She looked to be in her 50’s or 60’s with short, curled, copper/red hair. Her nails were freshly manicured in a festive shade of red, and her clothes were all high end designer brands from department stores like Nordstrom and Saks. Due to this, some people have speculated that she may have come from a more middle or upper middle class background.
- “Eddie Bauer”, size-M, Teal jacket.
- “Classiques Entier” size- L, navy cardigan sweater.
- “Classiques Entier” size-XL, red sweater.
- “Classiques Entier” size-Petite L, sleeveles red silk shirt.
- “Classiques Entier” size-L, navy knit wool pants.
- Knee high stockings.
- White sport bra (no tag).
- White “Fruit of the Loom”, size-5, underpants.
- A pair of black loafer shoes, size- 7M.
- two clip-on earrings,
- a small gold women’s Guess watch with a mesh band,
- a 14-karat gold ring with four jade stones
- Metal bead chain with medic alert pendant engraved with “NO CODE, DNR, No penicillin”
In addition to the clothes on her body and her decorated Christmas Tree, the Annandale Jane Doe also carried some personal effects in a small, green knapsack. In it, she had bifocals with translucent frames, a red scarf, an empty bottle of brandy and two empty bottles of juice, I believe they were peach and mango, as well as a plastic drinking cup.
Also in the backpack were two cassette tapes- Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” and a recording of Monty Python’s the Holy Grail. On her body at discovery, they also found a walkman with a tape recording of famous comedians Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner doing their “2000 Year old Man” routine. It appears she was listening to this at the time of her passing.
Perhaps most unusual was the children’s sized Minnie Mouse fanny pack. It was too small to hold even a pencil, and it was well loved, held together with tape and safety pins. Lastly, she carried a typewritten poem that many speculate she may have written herself.
Despite Jane Doe’s wishes, under the circumstances she was given an autopsy. Between those findings and the deliberate scene, it was surmised that she had taken her own life by drinking brandy, taking valium pills, and taping a plastic bag over her head. The official cause of death was listed as asphyxiation, manner of death was suicide.
Another finding of the autopsy was an 8 inch vertical scar on her abdomen. This is quite possibly a C-section scar, though that cannot be confirmed as those scars could be from a number of surgeries. But between the scar, the children’s fanny pack, and the fact that she chose her final place to be in “babyland,” many have speculated that she may have been a parent or even had trauma surrounding motherhood in some way. What detectives have found most frustrating about this case is that unlike so many other Doe cases, they weren’t working with skeletal remains here! They didn’t have to do guess work at what she could have looked like. She may have passed away moments before groundskeepers arrived! They even circulated her post mortem photos and still no one recognized her. Someone should have recognized her. She had to have had relatives or coworkers or someone.
Over 600 missing women have been ruled out as possible matches to our Annandale Jane Doe known as the Christmas Tree Lady through dental and fingerprint comparison. The Doe Network lists her DNA as “Samples submitted. Tests not complete” and I googled for more information to no avail. I’m hopeful this means someone has picked up her case and we may find some familial matches.
If you have any information that can help identify the Annandale Jane Doe- our Christmas Tree Lady, please call:
The Fairfax County Police Department or the Northern District Medical Examiners office at
800-673-2777 Ref Case # 96353000549
If you feel the pull to help close unsolved Doe cases, consider submitting your DNA to organizations such as DNA Solves, or combing through missing person’s cases for comparison. Remember to double check the “rule out” list, and submit it the official way through.
For more information on how you can help prevent suicide, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/