The Tragic Murder Of Katherine And Sheila Lyon

On March 25, 1975, sisters Katherine Lyon, 10, and Sheila Lyon, 12, left their home in Kensington, Maryland, and headed to Wheaton Plaza. It was the first day of their spring break, and the two girls wanted to have a little fun with their friends. The shopping mall was only a short distance from their home, and the girls went there to grab lunch with friends and look at Easter decorations and exhibits (via Charley Project).

During that time, it was common for children as young as the Lyon sisters to go to places unsupervised by an adult. They lived in a safe community where serious crimes rarely happened. The girls were expected to be home at 4 p.m. for their curfew, but they never showed. By 7 p.m., Katherine and Sheila still weren't home, and that was when their parents, John and Mary Lyon, called authorities to report them missing.

The search for the Lyon sisters and witness statements

Authorities immediately started an investigation and looked for Katherine and Sheila Lyon. According to the Charley Project, a few witnesses came forward and said they saw the two girls. Katherine and Sheila's 15-year-old brother saw them at the Orange Bowl restaurant having a meal at approximately 2 p.m. on the afternoon of their disappearance. A friend of the sisters saw them walking along Drumm Avenue — the road leading back to their home — at about 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Investigators searched for clues and the Lyon sisters' whereabouts, but they weren't able to find anything. The community also came together to search for the missing children, but they were unsuccessful. The neighborhood was no longer a safe place, and parents were worried about the safety of their own kids. "The tragic disappearance of these two young women is every parent's worst nightmare, and completely shifted the dynamics of parenting back in 1975," Henry Schleiff of Investigation Discovery said, per Den of Geek. Residents feared that someone in their community was responsible for abducting the girls, and they put a tighter leash on their children.

There were a few different leads and suspects

Investigators interviewed several people who had something to say about Katherine and Sheila Lyon's case. Per The Cinemaholic, one girl who was at the mall on the day the girls disappeared said the witnessed the Lyon sisters confronting a man who was staring at them. She described him as having long hair with a pock-marked face and a scar on his cheek, and she estimated his age to be late teens to early 20s. A sketch of the description was made but it wasn't released to the public.

There was another young man who claimed to have seen Katherine and Sheila talking to an old man outside the Orange Bowl. He said the man wore a suit and carried a briefcase with a tape recorder. Sketches were also made of the man, and it was released to the public. Several people claimed that they saw the man at the mall that day. Despite the witness statements, however, there were no further leads that pointed to what happened to the Lyon sisters, and the case went cold over the years.

The case was reopened after nearly 40 years

In 2013, detectives reopened the cold case of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. As reported by Bethesda Magazine, they pored over case files that included interviews, witness statements, and sketches of the possible suspects. They focused on a man named Lloyd Lee Welch, who gave a statement to the authorities back in 1975 when he was just 18 years old. In his interview, Welch stated that he witnessed the Lyon sisters' abduction and provided an overly detailed account of what happened.

Back then, authorities didn't focus on Welch, as they assumed that he approached the police with a false statement in order to collect the reward money, per The Washington Post. Detectives who were working on the cold case noticed that Welch had a resemblance to one of the composite sketches of the possible abductor back in the '70s. They looked further into his whereabouts, and they discovered that he was serving time in prison for molesting a minor. Detectives visited Welch in prison to see whether they could find a link between him and Katherine and Sheila's case.

Who is Lloyd Lee Welch?

Upon meeting Lloyd Lee Welch at the penitentiary where he was locked up, detectives were surprised by what the inmate said. "I know why you're here. You're here about those two missing kids," he stated, according to The Washington Post. In 1975, Welch worked for a carnival company that traveled to different locations in the United States, but it was confirmed that he was in Maryland at the time of Katherine and Sheila Lyon's disappearance.

Detectives also named Lloyd's uncle, Richard Welch, as a person of interest, and they believe that he worked as a security guard in Wheaton in the '70s, per NBC Washington. During an interview with Welch, he revealed that he left Wheaton Plaza with the Lyon sisters, but denied doing anything to them. He claimed that he brought the girls to his uncle's property in Bedford County, Virginia, and he never saw the girls again. Welch claimed that his father and uncle sexually assaulted the girls and killed them before burning their bodies. Detectives have no way of confirming Welch's claims, as his father had already died, and there was no evidence found to charge his uncle. In 2015, Welch was charged with first-degree felony murder for the deaths of Katherine and Sheila.

Lloyd Lee Welch's sentence

Although Lloyd Lee Welch claimed that he wasn't responsible for the murders of Katherine and Sheila Lyon, he admitted to abducting them and he was charged with abduction with intent to defile. Welch entered a guilty plea in court and he was sentenced to 48 years in prison, as reported by The Washington Post.

Although the Lyons don't have all the details about what happened to Katherine and Sheila, the conviction of Welch brings some sort of conclusion to their decades-long ordeal. In a statement, the girls' father, John Lyon, said, "The last two or three years or so they have treated Sheila and Kate as if they were their own sisters or daughters. It's been a long time. We're tired and we just want to go home." Welch is also serving time for sexual assault cases not related to the Lyon sisters, and he will most likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.