Fairfax County police said its cold case investigators have finally identified the woman known as the “Christmas Tree Lady,” who took her own life at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park in Annandale, Virginia, 25 years ago.
Joyce Meyer, was identified by investigators on May 11 using advanced DNA testing and “advanced Forensic Genetic Genealogy technology” to identify relatives.
That testing led detectives to long-lost siblings across the country whose DNA samples and conversations helped confirm her identity.
Major Ed O’Carroll, the bureau commander for major crimes, cyber & forensics, said the case baffled the department for a quarter century, but detectives persisted.
“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,” O’Carroll said.
Othram is a Texas-based company that provides advanced forensic DNA testing funded entirely by DNASolves anonymous donors.
O’Carroll said that Meyer took steps to hide her identity, which made the case much more difficult to solve and “a little bit more unusual.” However, the bureau commander said that working past the difficulties helped provide Meyer’s family with “the information they have been waiting for a very long time.
“We always wondered (about) the circumstances surrounding this case,” O’Carroll told WTOP’s Neal Augenstein. “We always thought there were family members out there that wondered what happened to their family member.”
A quarter century of waiting
The cold case started on Dec. 18, 1996, when officers responded to reports of a deceased woman at the cemetery.
The woman was found with two envelopes in her pocket — a typewritten suicide note in one, $50 to cover funeral costs in the other — and a decorative Christmas tree near her body. The notes were signed “Jane Doe” and asked that she not be identified.
Police said that detective tried to match 69-year-old Meyer to the physical descriptions of missing persons across the D.C. area, but she did not match any of them.
Family members said the woman moved to Virginia in the mid-1980s, but was not reported missing and had no family in the immediate area.
Some of those same relatives told the Washington Post that the suicide, “the way she planned it out, that was her.”
“She was very careful. We couldn’t find her,” said Annette Meyer Clough, reportedly one of Joyce Meyer’s few remaining immediate family members.
If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting the word TALK to 741741.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.