BEDFORD, Va. — The convicted sex offender charged with the 1975 murders of Sheila and Katherine Lyon has pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree felony murder.
Lloyd Lee Welch, 60, was sentenced to 48 years in prison Tuesday as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Welch acknowledged abducting 12-year-old Sheila and 10-year-old Katherine after the girls visited Wheaton Plaza during Easter vacation in March 1975.
The disappearance of the two girls — daughters of former WMAL broadcaster John Lyon, and his wife, Mary — sparked fear in the region and marked a turning point in attitudes about child abduction and safety.
The girls’ bodies have never been found.
In addition, as part of a global plea, prosecutors said Welch will plead guilty to the unrelated sexual assaults of a young girl in Prince William County.
According to the plea arrangement, Welch will begin serving his Virginia prison sentence when he completes a Delaware sentence for sexually abusing a child.
In a brief statement after Welch pleaded guilty, John Lyon, the girls’ father, thanked authorities and law enforcement.
“We just want to say simply: Thank you,” he said. “And it’s been a long time and we’re tired, and we just want to go home.”
Welch’s prison term is essentially a life sentence, said Wes Nance, Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney, in a news conference after the hearing.
Welch would be eligible for parole after about 25 years when Welch is in his mid-80s, Nance said. But he added, “the likelihood of a parole board granting him parole is very slim if nonexistent.”
Welch could be eligible to leave prison early because Virginia offered parole at the time the girls were killed. The state has since abolished its parole system.
Nance said he believed the case to be one of the oldest cold cases prosecuted in the U.S. where authorities never recovered the bodies of the victims.
Prosecutors alleged Welch burned at least one of the sisters’ bodies in a fire on the property of his family members on Taylor’s Mountain, in nearby Thaxton, Virginia.
Welch has never acknowledged killing the girls during more than eight interviews with Montgomery County detectives. The plea agreement to felony murder holds Welch responsible for the girls’ deaths even though he did not admit to participating, Nance said.
After the plea, Nance was asked if Richard Allen Welch, who Lloyd Welch claimed sexually abused at least one of the girls, was still a ‘person of interest.’
“With the intensive investigations that have taken place, I’m no longer comfortable calling any other individual a ‘person of interest,'” Nance said.
Nance’s predecessor, Randy Krantz, and Bedford Sheriff Mike Brown labeled Richard Welch, who is Lloyd Welch’s uncle, as a “person of interest.”
And as part of the plea agreement, last week Welch gave law enforcement a final proffer containing details about the case, Nance said.
John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland, where the girls vanished 42 years ago, said the case has haunted the region for decades.
“That day in March was the day we lost our innocence,” he told reporters during the news conference. “We began to rear our children differently. We began to think differently about what we could do. I guess there’s no way to turn that clock back, but the entire region was affected by this case.”
However, McCarthy said he will not prosecute Welch for the Montgomery County abduction of the girls at the request of John and Mary Lyon, who told him they wanted the case to be over.
WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.