Tooth found in Lyon sisters search disappears before Welch murder trial

WASHINGTON – A key piece of physical evidence that helped prosecutors charge Lloyd Lee Welch with murder for the deaths of Sheila and Katherine Lyon has been lost by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, WTOP has learned.

A tooth recovered during searches in recent years on Taylor’s Mountain, in remote Thaxton, Virginia – where investigators believe Welch burned the bodies of the 12- and 10-year-old girls in 1975 – disappeared before it could be forensically tested to see if it belonged to one of the Lyon sisters.

The tooth was in the custody of the sheriff’s department.

Contacted by WTOP, a spokesperson with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office declined to address how the tooth disappeared.

According to court records, the tooth was a key piece of physical evidence prosecutors had at their disposal as they attempt to prove that Welch killed the girls.

The daughters of former WMAL broadcaster John Lyon and his wife Mary never returned home after visiting Wheaton Plaza on March 25, 1975.

The Lyon sisters’ disappearance, from then-quiet Montgomery County, Maryland, remained an unsolved mystery for more than 40 years until Welch’s indictment in 2015.

Citing a gag order, Bedford County prosecutors and Welch’s defense counsel refused to confirm or deny the tooth was no longer available for use in trial.

Welch is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 12 in Bedford County, charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

It’s not clear when the tooth went missing. But in a court filing dated in February that details experts who might testify at the trial, prosecutors listed anthropologists who are expected to testify about bone fragments discovered during several searches of the Welch family property.

However, prosecutors did not list any forensic expert who could analyze testing done on the now-gone tooth to determine whether it came from one of the Lyon girls.

Instead, prosecutors have only a photograph of the tooth, and the girls’ dental records, for use at trial.

In interviews with police dating back to 2013, Welch has told detectives that the girls were “abducted, raped and burned up,” although he has denied harming them.

Prosecutors believe the Lyon sisters ended up on Welch family property located on Taylor Mountain Road.

After Welch was named as a person of interest in the Lyon disappearance, two of his cousins who lived on Taylor’s Mountain, told investigators he arrived unexpectedly in the spring of 1975.

Connie Akers lived in the house on the mountain. According to Akers, Welch had a duffel bag, containing bloody clothing, which he asked her to wash — she refused. She said Welch told her he had been carrying ground beef in the bag, which had gone bad.

Connie’s brother, Henry Parker, told investigators in 2014 that he was there when Welch’s station wagon showed up on Taylor’s Mountain.

Parker told investigators his cousin had two green army-style duffel bags, each weighing between 60 and 70 pounds, with reddish-brown stains. He said the bags smelled of death.

Parker said he helped Welch throw the bloody duffel bags onto a fire that burned for several days.

Several people who lived on the mountain in 1975 told investigators in 2014 they still remember the smell that hung over the property for several days — they described it as cremation.

Interested in more information about this case? Listen to “The Investigation Continues” podcast.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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