WASHINGTON — A convicted sex offender has been indicted on first-degree murder charges for the deaths and disappearance of two sisters who went missing in Montgomery County more than 40 years ago, but the charges offer few answers for a community that has never forgotten the girls’ story.
Lloyd Lee Welch, 58, is charged in Bedford County, Virginia, for the deaths of Sheila, 12, and Katherine, 10, Lyon, who were last seen at Wheaton Plaza, now known as Westfield Wheaton Mall, where they had gone to look at Easter decorations and to eat lunch on March 25, 1975. They never returned to their family’s home, which was just a few blocks away.
With the girls’ parents John and Mary Lyon and other family members by their side, law enforcement and prosecutors from both Montgomery County and Bedford County announced the indictment, which a grand jury handed down Friday but was not unsealed until Wednesday, near the mall in Wheaton.
“This case has been looked at many times through the years as we worked to give answers to the Lyon family and bring justice to this case. With today’s announcement we’re finally able to start answering the questions of what happened in April of 1975,” said Montgomery Police Chief Tom Manger.
Despite not having found the girls’ remains and evidence they could provide, prosecutors decided to move forward with the case in Virginia and acknowledged that they have a long road ahead to prove the charges.
John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, said the indictment doesn’t preclude charges from being filed elsewhere.
“There are multiple jurisdictions that have some claim to this matter,” McCarthy said. “This was the best way to start.”
Randy Krantz, the commonwealth’s attorney for Bedford County, said that they do have evidence that the crime occurred in his county. He declined to elaborate.
A copy of the indictment obtained by WTOP says that the girls were killed sometime between March 25 and April 15, 1975 in Bedford County. Welch is accused of killing the girls while abducting them with intent to defile. The document provides no other details.
More than a year ago, police announced that they had identified Welch as a person of interest in the long cold case that has haunted the region’s residents and shook the community’s sense of safety. He remains in a Delaware prison and officials say they will begin the extradition process immediately.
But Welch first came to the police’s attention just days after the girls were last seen at the mall. He told mall security that he saw the girls leaving the mall parking lot in a car with a man. He was given a polygraph test by investigators that showed he wasn’t telling the truth, according to court records.
In recent interviews with investigators, Welch has admitted that he left the mall with the girls in a car with his uncle, Richard Welch. He last saw them at his uncle’s house and said he saw his uncle sexually assaulting one of the girls. But he denied killing them, court documents say.
Welch’s past sex offenses often involved young girls and includes convictions in Virginia and South Carolina. He has been incarcerated since 1997 in Delaware for a similar offense.
Welch has family ties to the mountainous Virginia county and last fall police from Montgomery County partnered with investigators there to follow up on a tip from a Delaware inmate that Welch had kidnapped the girls and buried them on a family property in Virginia.
“We’re focused on uncovering every fact of this case. The Montgomery County police and all of our partners will work to hold every individual responsible who was involved with the abduction and murder of the Lyon sisters as well as the ongoing conspiracy to conceal these crimes,” says Manger.
Investigators have suggested repeatedly that multiple people were involved in the girls’ disappearance and deaths. Welch’s uncle, Richard Welch, was also identified as a person of interest but he has not been charged. And Richard Welch’s wife, Patricia Welch, of Hyattsville, was indicted on a perjury charge for lying to the special grand jury that was convened to assist investigators.
Officials are still evaluating whether to file any obstruction of justice charges as well, Krantz said.
In the meantime, prosecutors will transition to prepare for trial. McCarthy said that it will be a difficult case to prosecute without the girls’ remains or autopsy results, sources of critical information and evidence for homicides cases.
“You have to prove that they are in fact dead. And you have to prove the agent by which they died,” McCarthy said.
But he said the girls and their family will be key.
“We know what Katherine and Sheila were like, what fine young children they were,” McCarthy said. “These were wonderful, wonderful, naive beautiful children. That will help us.”