NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — More than 40 years after 12-year-old Katherine and 10-year-old Sheila Lyon disappeared from Wheaton Plaza in Maryland, investigators said rejuvenated memories, rather than physical evidence, were key in the first-degree felony murder conviction of Lloyd Lee Welch.
Montgomery County Police Captain Darren Francke and Assistant Chief Russ Hammill told WTOP a major turning point in the investigation was when neighbors and family members first offered a glimpse of where the girls bodies likely ended up.
In 2014, after police and prosecutors named Welch as a person of interest in the Lyon sisters case, neighbors of Welch’s extended family on Taylor’s Mountain, in Bedford County, Virginia, told investigators that he showed up unexpectedly, with two bloody duffel bags which were tossed on a fire.
“Down there, a lot of folks burn their trash, so having a burn pile in 1975 wasn’t a big deal,” said Francke.
However, witnesses were struck with how hot the fire burned, and its duration. They described the smell similar to a cremation.
“We were given a different narrative, as far as a possible dog being on the fire,” Francke said.
Hammill said knowing that Welch was on Taylor’s Mountain in spring 1975 brought the narrative into focus.
“It absolutely made sense, and it tied in other things as well,” said Hammill. “People may recall there was a sighting of who believed to be the girls in Prince William County, [Virginia].”
In 1975, two eyewitnesses described, in different interviews, seeing at least one girl matching the description of Sheila Lyon in Manassas, Virginia, in the days after their disappearance.
The witness testimony was most of the prosecution’s case, in the no-body murder case from four decades ago.
“The availability of physical evidence just wasn’t there, to the degree that we need it,” said Hammill.
Agencies who helped solve the Lyon sisters disappearance were among those presented with public safety government partner of the year awards on Friday, from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
Agencies honored were the FBI’s Baltimore division, Virginia State Police, Bedford County Sheriff’s and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and Prince William County police and prosecutors.