BY LINDSAY MYERS — Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., a former resident of Hyattsville and convicted sex offender, plead guilty on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to the first degree felony murders of 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and her 10-year-old sister Katherine. Sheila and Katherine disappeared from the Wheaton Plaza Mall in Montgomery County in 1975 while window shopping for Easter decorations. The case went unsolved for 42 years and the girls’ bodies were never found.

Sheila and Katherine Lyon

The story Welch Jr. tells is gruesome. He claims that he helped abduct the girls from Wheaton Plaza on March 25, 1975, and then delivered them to his father Lloyd Welch Sr. and uncle Richard Allen Welch Sr. In the days following the abduction, Welch Jr. says he witnessed his father Lloyd Welch Sr. and his uncle Richard Welch Sr. rape at least one of the girls and then dismember the other in the dungeon-like basement of Welch Sr.’s home in Hyattsville. Welch claims the remains of the dismembered girl were put into a large duffle bag, which he was then instructed to destroy. Welch Jr. took the remains to Taylor’s Mountain in Thaxton, Va., and burned them in a large bonfire.

Connie Akers and Henry Parker, cousins of Welch who lived on Taylor’s Mountain in the spring of 1975, testified that Welch unexpectedly showed up on the mountain following the disappearance of the girls with two large duffle bags that were bloody and stunk “of death,” according to Parker. Akers says that Welch tried to get her to wash the duffle bags. He claimed, according to Akers, that he had been carrying ground beef that had gone bad.

In June 2017, WTOP reported that the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office had lost the only potential piece of physical evidence in the case. A human tooth had been recovered from Taylor’s mountain during one of two official excavations of the Welch’s property in 2015 or 2016. The tooth had not been genetically tested by the time it disappeared. Citing a gag order on the case, a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Office declined to discuss who might have lost the tooth.

The missing tooth is just the most recent of the many bizarre and convoluted details of the Lyon sisters case. Stories of the so-called “Tape Recorder Man” initially lead police down an investigation rabbit hole, as did a ransom phone call placed to the girls’ father on April 4, 1975. Since the case was reopened in 2013, three members of the Welch family have been charged with perjury or obstruction of justice for lying to the grand jury investigating the case. Patricia Welch, a Hyattsville resident and wife of Richard Welch Sr., was found guilty of perjury  in 2016 for lying about recorded conversations she had with other potential witnesses in the case.   

Richard and Patricia Welch’s daughter, Patricia Ann Welch, has been an outspoken critic of the investigation and defender of her father’s innocence. She, and other members of the Welch family, have hinted or even openly accused various other family members of involvement in the crime, although nearly all members of the Welch family have agreed on Lloyd Welch Jr.’s guilt.

Welch Jr., to this day, denies that he raped or murdered either of the Lyon sisters, claiming that he only abducted the girls. His murder conviction was possible, however, because the girls’ deaths happened as a result of the abduction. Welch Jr. has been sentenced to 48 years in prison and will also finish serving another 10 years for an unrelated sexual assault of a 10 year-old-girl in Delaware. Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance said Welch’s sentence is effectively a life sentence. Welch will not be eligible for parole until his mid-80s, at which point Nance said that “the likelihood of a parole board granting him parole is very slim if nonexistent.”

Although Welch Jr. maintains that his father and uncle raped and killed the girls, neither has been charged. Lloyd Lee Welch Sr. died in 1998 and police have been unable to acquire enough evidence to charge Richard Welch Sr. after naming him a person of interest in the case in 2015. The Washington Post reported that authorities were able to collect human blood samples from the basement where Lloyd Welch Jr. claims he saw his father and uncle torture the girls, but the samples were low quality and inconclusive. Phone taps on Richard Welch Sr. also have not yielded enough evidence to charge him with the crime.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said in a press conference after the conviction on Tuesday that the day of the Lyon sisters’ abduction marks the “day we lost our innocence. 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.”

John and Mary Lyon, who have remained intensely private about the case, thanked the cold case detectives in a brief statement that John read in court. “The last two or three years or so [the detectives] 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.”