On August 21, 1939, Harlan and Betty Geiger of Osage, Iowa, welcomed into their family the birth of their second child, a little girl who they named JoAnn. Their first child was a boy named Donald who had been born 18 months earlier. Over the years, the Geiger family added two more girls, Carolyn and Nancy.
At the age of 6, JoAnn and her family moved to Ames, Iowa, where her father worked as an assistant state 4-H leader at Iowa State University. JoAnns mother attended classes in home economics at the university where her husband taught. According to Heather Birds Not Above the Law, Betty and Harlan provided their children with a solid Methodist upbringing, of which God and the family remained at the center of everyday life. They were considered to be a close-knit and wholesome family that blended easily into the idyllic university town in which they lived.
JoAnn grew into a beautiful brown-eyed, blond girl with a keen interest in school, sports and fashion. Her friends and family saw her as outgoing, independent, ambitious and eager to learn. JoAnn excelled in high school, receiving high marks and participating in a plethora of extra-curricular activities.
In her late teens, JoAnn attended Iowa State University where she blossomed into an elegant young woman. She joined the prestigious Chi Omega sorority, where she was elected vice-president. JoAnn also received straight As throughout her years at the university, which eventually won her several scholarships. JoAnn was particularly interested in home economics and she was frequently recognized for her outstanding achievements and high scholastic standards. According to Maggie Siggins in A Canadian Tragedy, JoAnn considered her four years at the university to be the happiest and most fulfilling of her life.
In 1960, during JoAnns last year at school she met and fell in love with a young Canadian man named Colin Thatcher whom she met on a blind date. The 23-year-old man attended school with JoAnn and majored in agriculture. The two were especially fond of one another, although their personalities were very different.
That same year during Easter JoAnn introduced her new love interest to her parents. The Geigers were impressed by the young man and found him to be handsome and knowledgeable about worldly affaires and politics. It appeared to the Geigers that JoAnns interest in the young man were more than just a passing fancy. Little did they know that Colin would change their daughters life forever.