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FCPD: Detectives identify ‘Christmas Tree Lady,’ solving 26-year cold case

Known as the “Christmas Tree Lady,” a woman now identified as Joyce Meyer died by suicide in Annandale in 1996 (via FCPD)

(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) A woman who died by suicide at a cemetery in Annandale 26 years ago has been identified.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced this morning (Thursday) that the woman known colloquially as the “Christmas Tree Lady” was 69-year-old Joyce Meyer. Detectives made the link using DNA tests and genomic sequencing by the Houston-based forensic laboratory Othram Inc.

“After decades of wondering what happened to their loved one, Joyce’s family is finally at peace thanks to the dedicated work of several generations of FCPD detectives, anonymous donors and Othram,” FCPD Major Crimes Bureau Commander Major Ed O’Carroll said. “Our detectives never stopped working for Joyce and her family. Advances in technology will continue to help close cases and provide answers to victim’s families.”

Meyer was found deceased in the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park at 8420 Little River Turnpike on Dec. 18, 1996. Officers found two envelopes in her pocket: one containing a letter signed “Jane Doe” that indicated she had taken her own life, and another with money to cover funeral expenses.

The woman was wearing headphones and had a Walkman with a tape recording of comedians Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s “2,000-Year-Old Man” routine, according to a Washington Post report from December 2000.

A small, decorated Christmas tree located near the body led to the “Christmas Tree Lady” moniker.

While no foul play or other crime was suspected in the death, detectives were assigned to try to identify the body so any loved ones she had may find closure, the police department says.

Unable to match the victim’s physical description to known missing persons in the D.C. region, the FCPD turned to Othram earlier this year for assistance. Launched in 2018, the private lab provides DNA testing and genomic sequencing services to law enforcement, and it’s working to establish a global digital database for DNA evidence, according to its website.

Meyer was identified through “advanced forensic genetic genealogy technology” that Othram used to connect the body to a possible family member, the FCPD says. The testing was funded by anonymous donations sent to the company’s DNA Solves database.

“Detectives connected with the family member, which led to additional family connections across the country,” the FCPD said. “A DNA sample confirmed a match, which was corroborated by conversations with long-lost siblings.”

According to police, family members believe Meyer moved to Virginia after the mid-1980s. She had not been reported missing at the time of her death and had no family in the immediate area.

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