In March 1975, two sisters aged just 10 and 12 years old disappeared after visiting the Wheaton Plaza Mall in Maryland half a mile away from their home. To have one child vanish is unbearable, but two children from the same family at the same time is unthinkable. Sheila and Katherine Lyon were two young pretty girls who simply went out to look at Easter decorations and have lunch together at their local mall but undoubtedly met a horrid and senseless death.
The girls left their home not long before noon on 25 March 1975, promising their mother they would be home by 4 pm that afternoon. When they had not returned the police were called and a search party organised to search their route and the surrounding area for any sign of the sisters. It was soon clear to police investigators these two girls had not wandered off on their own accord but had, in all probability, been kidnapped by an individual or individuals with sinister intentions.
As the days turned to weeks the searches for Sheila and Katherine Lyon intensified with a full search of the local forest taking place yet no clues being found.
The only information police had to go on was sightings of a smartly dressed man estimated to be 50-60 years old who was carrying a briefcase and speaking to young girls inside the mall on the day the Lyon sisters disappeared. He had a microphone and was asking children to record answering machine messages reading from pre-printed cards. In line with these sightings and a possible identification of Sheila and Katherine also talking to this man, a sketch was produced and widely circulated in attempts to identify this mystery man. The police did not receive any information on his identity but one man did come forward, a Lloyd Lee Welch who was 18-years-old and a fairground worker often working on the mobile fairgrounds which set up in the car parks of shopping malls around the area, including the Wheaton Plaza Mall.
Welch told police he had witnessed a man matching the description circulated talking with two young girls and then forcing them into a car. He was given a lie detector test which he failed, telling police when confronted that he had indeed lied and had witnessed no such event on the day the two girls disappeared. Welch was dismissed from the case as an odd-ball with nothing better to do than to waste police time and his file and involvement in the case became buried within the by now sizable records into the disappearance.
There was one further sighting which police followed up on. A friend of the young girls reported seeing a teenager talking with them at the mall. She described the teen as long-haired and scruffy, a very different description and age to the mystery man with the briefcase police were initially focusing on. A further sketch from this description was created and it would be a sketch that in years to come would be compared with a photo of Lloyd Lee Welch with an unexpected but clear similarity visible.
Despite extensive searches, publicity and police interviews across the Maryland area, no trace of the two girls was found and for 40 years the case remained a mystery and firmly unsolved.
Lloyd Lee Welch came back to the attention of the police after a statement given by his cousin, who told police in 2014 that he met with Welch at an isolated property owned by the family in Thaxton, Virginia and helped dispose of and burn two large, heavy and very pungent duffel bags from the back of his truck. In the 39 years between the Lyon sisters disappearance and Lloyd Lee Welch in the spotlight in relation to the case, Welch had carried out a number of attacks and rapes of women and children and in 2014 was serving a 30-year sentence in Delaware for the 1998 molestation of a 10-year-old girl.
In May 2015, during interviews with police, Welch admitted his involvement in the case. The Washington Post reported that Welch told police officers, “He’d gone into a dungeon like basement, where he saw his father and an uncle dismember one of the girls.” He also told them her body was then put into a duffel bag and thrown onto a fire in Virginia to burn. Two months later, Lloyd Lee Welch was charged with two counts of first-degree felony-murder with abduction with intent to defile. Due to stand trial in September this year, Welch unexpectedly pleaded guilty to both counts removing the necessity for a full trial.
While Welch did plead guilty he was admitting his role in the abduction of Sheila and Katherine Lyon but continues to deny any participation in their murder. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison to start in 2026 after the completion of his current 30-year sentence, meaning 60-year-old Lloyd Lee Welch will most likely die behind bars. His father, who he accused of dismembering one of the girls, died in 1998 and his uncle, also accused, has denied all involvement and has never been charged with any offence.
This conviction provides some justice for these two young girls, however, questions still remain on who else may have been involved in both their abduction and murder. The house and grounds in Virginia have been extensively searched but the remains of Sheila and Katherine Lyon have never been found. Wes Nance, the Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney said after the verdict, “In my heart of hearts, I know that we put one of the main perpetrators away.”