Plea ends cold case of sis­ters mur­dered in ’75

Wit­nesses in ru­ral Va. kept quiet for 38 years

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - 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.

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.

The moun­tain kept its rep­u­ta­tion for decades there­after as a roug­hand-tum­ble place where peo­ple watched out for one an­other and were re­luc­tant to deal with out­siders.

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.

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.

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

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

Lathan Goumas The As­so­ci­ated Press

Lloyd Lee Welch Jr. dur­ing a plea agree­ment hear­ing Tues­day in Bed­ford, Va., for the killings of Sheila and Kather­ine Lyon in 1975.

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