42 years later, a guilty plea in mur­der of Md. sis­ters


At times pa­tient, at times push­ing, the cold-case de­tec­tives again went at Lloyd Welch inside the small in­ter­ro­ga­tion room.

It was their 11th ses­sion with the long­time sex of­fender, who held an­swers to ques­tions that had haunted a Mary­land fam­ily for more than 40 years: What hap­pened to Kather­ine and Sheila — the Lyon sis­ters — af­ter they van­ished from a shop­ping mall in 1975?

“I know I should be wor­ried about the girls, the fam­ily, puttin’ it to rest and stuff like that,” Welch told the de­tec­tives. “But you also got to look at it, I’m a sur­vivor. I’ve lived on the street. And like I told you, I’ve also gotta think of me. What’s go­ing to hap­pen to me?”

But soon, Welch was de­scrib­ing a grue­some story. In the days af­ter the girls were ab­ducted, Welch said, he’d gone into a dun­geon­like base­ment, where he saw his fa­ther and an un­cle dis­mem­ber one of the girls. Her re­mains were put into a large bag, Welch said, which was taken to ru­ral Bed­ford County, Va., and thrown into a fire.

His words, on May 12, 2015, fur­ther im­pli­cated Welch in the deaths of the Lyon sis­ters, to which he pleaded guilty Tues­day in Bed­ford, Va.

The con­vic­tion of the for­mer car­ni­val worker, af­ter 42 years, marked an ex­tra­or­di­nary moment in a case that stunned the re­gion in 1975. The girls’ dis­ap­pear­ance on a day when they had walked to a mall to have lunch, meet friends and look at Easter dec­o­ra­tions at Wheaton Plaza be­came a sem­i­nal event for thou­sands of peo­ple, con­vinc­ing them the world was no longer as safe as they had be­lieved. That Kate and Sheila had seemed to van­ish, and no cul­prits had been caught, en­hanced the ter­ror.

Welch’s plea to two counts of first-de­gree felony mur­der an­swered some but not all of the lin­ger­ing ques­tions in one of the Wash­ing­ton area’s most painful mys­ter­ies.

Left un­known is who, if any­one, be­sides Welch was in­volved in the Lyon sis­ters’ deaths, where they were killed and where the bod­ies are. Author­i­ties have said other par­tic­i­pants in the mur­ders are either dead or their roles could not be proven.

“It keeps me up at night,” one of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said re­cently.

Welch, 60, stood be­fore a judge and ad­mit­ted that he par­tic­i­pated in the ab­duc­tion of the sis­ters when he was 18.

He did not ad­mit to di­rectly killing either girl but was held ac­count­able for their deaths un­der a felony mur­der doc­trine for killings “in the com­mis­sion of ab­duc­tion with in­tent to de­file.”

Welch re­ceived a sen­tence of 48 years in an agree­ment with pros­e­cu­tors. Given his age, and that he still must fin­ish a prison sen­tence in Delaware for the un­re­lated sex­ual as­sault of a 10-year-old, it is un­likely that he ever will be re­leased. Welch was pros­e­cuted in the Lyon sis­ters’ case in Bed­ford County — some 200 miles south­west of Wash­ing­ton — be­cause author­i­ties es­tab­lished that the re­mains of at least one may have been buried there.

Welch’s rec­ol­lec­tions of the mur­der in the base­ment that he re­layed to de­tec­tives shed light on why so many ques­tions in the case linger.

His fa­ther died in 1998. The un­cle has de­nied any in­volve­ment and, af­ter be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, was not charged. De­tec­tives found what they thought was hu­man blood in the base­ment and even a sam­ple of DNA — but it wasn’t of the qual­ity to make a match.

For the sur­viv­ing Lyon fam­ily, haunted for 42 years about what be­came of their lit­tle girls, Welch’s ad­mis­sion may not have told them ev­ery­thing they wanted or brought the sis­ters’ re­mains home to rest, but it did mark an end­ing.

The fam­ily has re­mained in­tensely pri­vate about the case, although par­ents Mary and John, both 77, and their sons, Jay and Joe, were in court Tues­day.

In the rich voice he once used as a ra­dio host — but halt­ing at points from emo­tion — John Lyon thanked an ar­ray of Mary­land and Vir­ginia law en­force­ment per­son­nel. Speak­ing specif­i­cally about cold-case de­tec­tives in Montgomery County, he said: “The last two or three years or so they have treated Sheila and Kate as if they were their own sis­ters or daugh­ters. It’s been a long time. We’re tired and we just want to go home.”

In court, pros­e­cu­tors out­lined what they say hap­pened, re­ly­ing in part on Welch’s rec­ol­lec­tions of what he saw in 1975.

In the pros­e­cu­tors’ nar­ra­tive, the girls were ab­ducted from the mall and killed. The re­mains of one or both were taken, by Welch, to land that his fam­ily owned in a ru­ral part of Bed­ford County — and burned.

“How much you be­lieve him [Lloyd Welch] re­ally cut to the heart of this case,” said Wes Nance, the Bed­ford County com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney. “His cred­i­bil­ity is open for ques­tion­ing. How­ever, as the in­di­vid­u­als that he named as his co-con­spir­a­tors changed over time, what did not change was his in­volve­ment. . . . In my heart of hearts, I know that we put one of the main per­pe­tra­tors away.”

As part of his deal, Welch also has agreed to plead guilty in two un­re­lated child sex as­sault cases in Prince Wil­liam County, dat­ing to the 1990s, that grew out of the Lyon sis­ters in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to at­tor­neys in the cases.

Welch has agreed to a 12-year sen­tence for those crimes, which will fold into the Bed­ford sen­tence and keep his to­tal at 48 years. Un­der the plea, pros­e­cu­tors in Montgomery County agreed not to pur­sue charges against him.

The day of the ab­duc­tion “is the day we lost our in­no­cence. We be­gan to rear our chil­dren dif­fer­ently,” said Montgomery County State’s At­tor­ney John McCarthy.

It also was the day that drew in “gen­er­a­tions of cops who never stopped car­ing about this case,” Montgomery County Po­lice Chief J. Thomas Manger said Tues­day.

About five years ago, Montgomery County po­lice de­cided to make one fi­nal push to solve the mys­tery. The ap­proach: Let’s act as if a call had just come in for the two miss­ing girls and scour the many boxes of case records as if start­ing from scratch.

One of the in­trigu­ing finds early on was a brief re­port — writ­ten by in­ves­ti­ga­tors a week af­ter the dis­ap­pear­ances — about an 18-year-old named Lloyd Lee Welch who had gone up to a se­cu­rity guard at the mall a week af­ter the dis­ap­pear­ance and said he’d been there on the day the girls went miss­ing.

In that old ac­count, Welch re­port­edly said he’d seen a man — ref­er­enced in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle around the same time — who was said to have talked to the sis­ters while hold­ing a tape recorder.

Mall se­cu­rity called po­lice, who ad­min­is­tered a lie-de­tec­tor test. Welch failed and was ap­par­ently dis­missed by de­tec­tives at the time as an un­re­li­able wit­ness.

What the de­tec­tives who were newly plow­ing the case dis­cov­ered was that Lloyd Welch later had com­piled an ex­ten­sive crim­i­nal record, in­clud­ing an ar­rest in 1977 in Montgomery County for a home bur­glary near the Wheaton mall.

The bur­glary case yielded a mug shot, which bore a strik­ing re­sem­blance to a com­pos­ite sketch drawn in 1975 of a man who wit­nesses said stared at the Lyon girls so in­tently at the mall that one of the girls’ friends con­fronted him.

The newly as­signed de­tec­tives learned that Welch was in a Delaware prison for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a 10-year-old girl in that state in 1997. Un­sure of what to ex­pect, they drove to see him.

Welch spoke to them — for eight hours.

He ac­knowl­edged that he was at the mall the day the Lyon sis­ters were re­ported miss­ing, ac­cord­ing to an af­fi­davit de­tec­tives sub­mit­ted in court. When asked what hap­pened to the girls, Welch said he be­lieved they were “ab­ducted, raped and burned up,” ac­cord­ing to the de­tec­tives’ af­fi­davit.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tin­ued try­ing to un­cover as much as they could about Welch.

They learned that his mother was killed in the crash of a car driven by his drunken fa­ther, Lee. Lloyd Welch was a pas­sen­ger. He was placed in fos­ter homes, ran away and started us­ing drugs as a teenager, ac­cord­ing to court records.

As an adult, he trav­eled the coun­try and at one point started a land­scap­ing busi­ness in South Carolina. In that state, he also was con­victed of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an­other 10-year-old.

As the de­tec­tives gath­ered Welch’s his­tory, they re­peat­edly re­turned to in­ter­view him. He would shift his story, of­fer­ing names of rel­a­tives that he said he had seen abduct the Lyon girls. He also named rel­a­tives he said he had seen abuse and kill at least one of the girls.

In their visit on May 12, 2015, de­tec­tives tried to coax from Welch, in de­tail, that as­ser­tion of hav­ing wit­nessed a mur­der.

Welch started to de­scribe a house where he said he had some­times stayed in 1975 in the area of Hy­attsville. His fa­ther and step­mother lived there, he said, and it had a con­crete, dun­geon­like base­ment .

It was, like so many of Welch’s claims, grue­some in the ex­treme and yet teas­ingly cred­i­ble.

De­tec­tives and foren­sic tech­ni­cians searched the base­ment in 2015, find­ing it just how Welch had de­scribed it. They drilled into con­crete, try­ing to find patches of old blood but none was of high qual­ity.

Welch’s fa­ther had al­ready died. De­tec­tives spent months lis­ten­ing to phone taps of the un­cle who Welch said had been in the base­ment. They talked to peo­ple who knew him and probed his past be­fore pros­e­cu­tors de­ter­mined that there wasn’t ev­i­dence to seek an in­dict­ment.

And that left only one per­son re­main­ing in the ac­count that Lloyd Welch had told:

Lloyd Welch.


In Bed­ford, Va., Lloyd Welch, left, pleads guilty Tues­day in the killings of the Lyon sis­ters — Sheila, top, and Kather­ine — who van­ished in 1975 in Wheaton, Md.

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