Crime draws at­ten­tion to re­mote moun­tain

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION -

THAXTON, Va. (AP) — 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.

One cousin said Welch had a duf­fel bag con­tain­ing bloody cloth­ing, and told her he had been us­ing it to carry ground beef. An­other told them Welch had two army-style duf­fel bags with red­dish-brown stains on them, and that he helped Welch put the bags into a fire.

Other people who lived on the moun­tain told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they re­mem­ber a fire that burned for days that had “the stench of death,” Bed­ford County Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Wes Nance said dur­ing Welch’s plea hear­ing Tues­day.

Au­thor­i­ties be­gan dig­ging on the moun­tain in 2014, try­ing to re­cover the girls’ re­mains. They did re­cover a tooth, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments filed in court, but au­thor­i­ties have never said if they were able to match it to the girls’ den­tal records.

Welch’s rel­a­tives sold their home on the moun­tain five years ago now. Lo­cals bris­tle at the re­newed at­ten­tion the case has brought.

Jen­nifer Thom­son, a li­brar­ian at the Bed­ford Mu­seum and Ge­nealog­i­cal Li­brary, said the moun­tain is made up of “good, hard-work­ing coun­try people,” al­though some lo­cals who live in Bed­ford de­ri­sively re­fer to it as “the red­neck cap­i­tal of the county.”

“People are kind there, they look out for his fam­i­lies and they’d look out for a stranger there, too. Very good people,” John­son said.

Homes on the moun­tain range from small, di­lap­i­dated ranch-style houses built more than 50 years ago to a hand­ful of larger, newer, high-priced homes. And while a hand­ful of fam­i­lies had lived there for gen­er­a­tions, to­day there are new­com­ers in the mix. The last can­nery closed in the late 1970s. The last pub­li­cized ar­rest for boot­leg­ging was in the 1980s.

Now people are hop­ing Welch’s guilty plea will fi­nally re­move the spot­light.

“People re­sent the fact that they brought the chil­dren here. I re­sent it, too. We’re not a dump­ing ground for bod­ies, and it was just quite a blow to ev­ery­body that some­body would do that,” said Ron­nie Laughlin, a re­tired Bed­ford County deputy sher­iff. “They live quiet and peace­ful, and they didn’t ask for this to hap­pen.”

Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., stands dur­ing a plea agree­ment hear­ing for the killings of Sheila and Kather­ine Lyon in 1975, in Bed­ford County Cir­cuit Court in Bed­ford, Va., Tues­day. Welch, who pleaded guilty in the killing of the two young sis­ters from...


ABOVE: This im­age pro­vided by the Mont­gomery County, Md., Po­lice De­part­ment shows the orig­i­nal miss­ing per­son/sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances bul­letin for the 1975 dis­ap­pear­ance of sis­ters Sheila Lyon, left, and Kather­ine Lyon in Mary­land, who never re­turned...

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