Crime draws un­wanted at­ten­tion to re­mote Vir­ginia moun­tain

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Denise Lavoie

THAXTON, VA. » The dis­ap­pear­ance of two young Mary­land sis­ters shook the sub­urbs of Wash­ing­ton, and re­mained an ag­o­niz­ing mystery for more than four decades.

Now an­other re­gion 250 miles away is linked to the crime. Author­i­ties say con­victed sex of­fender Lloyd Lee Welch Jr. burned at least one of the sis­ters’ bod­ies in a fire on his cousins’ prop­erty on Tay­lors Moun­tain, in west-cen­tral Vir­ginia.

Fol­low­ing Welch’s guilty plea this week, the peo­ple of Tay­lors Moun­tain are hop­ing to put an end to any as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween their home and the slay­ings of 10-year-old Kather­ine and 12-year-old Sheila Lyon. The sis­ters van­ished in 1975 after walk­ing to a shop­ping mall near their home in Kensing­ton, Mary­land.

“All of us feel like he stained all of our rep­u­ta­tions. We had noth­ing to do with it. It’s some­thing we’d rather have not had hap­pen here. We wouldn’t want to see it hap­pen any­where,” said Danny John­son, who runs an ap­ple or­chard and win­ery on the moun­tain.

Tay­lors Moun­tain is perched in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, north of U.S. Route 460, be­tween Bed­ford and Roanoke. The moun­tain was set­tled by Chero­kee Indians in the 1700s. Much later, it was known for its thriv­ing tomato can­ner­ies, where many of the lo­cal res­i­dents worked, and its moon­shine, in­clud­ing “some of the best brandy in this world,” John­son said.

A 1924 ar­ti­cle in The Wash­ing­ton Post de­scribes a con­fronta­tion when of­fi­cers went up the moun­tain to shut down a still dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion. Sev­eral res­i­dents warned them not to go any far­ther. When they con­tin­ued up the moun­tain any­way, shots were fired at them from sev­eral di­rec­tions. No one was hurt, but the of­fi­cers “made a hasty re­treat,” ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle.

The moun­tain kept its rep­u­ta­tion for decades there­after as a rough-and­tum­ble place where peo­ple watched out for each other and were re­luc­tant to deal with out­siders.

“If some­thing hap­pened, they would get to­gether then and de­cide how they wanted it to end up be­fore they went to town,” John­son said.

Welch did not live on the moun­tain, but he had cousins, an aunt, un­cle, and other rel­a­tives who did. And for 38 years, the mystery re­mained un­re­solved, de­spite what they and their neigh­bors saw back in 1975.

Only when de­tec­tives from the cold case unit in Mont­gomery County, Mary­land showed up in 2013 did peo­ple on Tay­lors Moun­tain start talk­ing. Welch — long im­pris­oned for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an­other girl, had be­come a “per­son of in­ter­est” in the sis­ters’ dis­ap­pear­ance by then, based on a re­view of ev­i­dence in the case file.

Two of his cousins told po­lice they re­mem­bered an un­ex­pected visit to their home on Tay­lors Moun­tain that spring. The Lyon sis­ters dis­ap­peared on March 25, 1975.

STEVE HELBER - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

John Lyon and his wife, Mary, right, par­ents of Sheila and Kather­ine Lyon, in­tro­duce their son, Joe, after a plea by Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., for the killings of the young sis­ters in 1975, in Bed­ford County Cir­cuit Court in Bed­ford, Va., Tues­day. Welch plead guilty to two first de­gree mur­der charges and was sen­tenced to two con­sec­u­tive 48-year prison terms.

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