Two Sisters Go Missing: The Lyon Case

Updated on December 4, 2019
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Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon went missing in 1975, while going to a shopping mall in Wheaton, Maryland.
Katherine and Sheila Lyon went missing in 1975, while going to a shopping mall in Wheaton, Maryland.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon

Katherine Mary Lyon, 10, and Sheila Mary Lyon, 12, are two sisters who vanished without a trace on March 25, 1975, while on a trip to a shopping mall in Wheaton, Maryland. For decades, their disappearance has been a lasting mystery and source of terror for their community.

Katherine and Sheila were born to John and Mary Lyon in Kensington, Maryland. They also had an older brother, Jay, who later became a homicide detective. Their father, John Lyon, was well-known as a radio personality on WMAL Radio. They lived in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood, at a time when parents let their children play outside and didn’t have to worry about Stranger Danger. As said in the Montgomery County Gazette, it was a simpler time when everyone watched out for each other’s children.

Sheila was in fifth grade and Katherine in seventh, and both were honor roll students. They kept their money in piggy banks, and, as any typical child did, they had John Denver and Kenny Loggins posters on their bedroom walls.

Wheaton Plaza Shopping Mall. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail UK.
Wheaton Plaza Shopping Mall. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail UK.

The Disappearance

On the first day of Easter vacation from school, Katherine and Sheila decided they wanted to walk to the nearby Wheaton Plaza mall (now Westfield Wheaton). That afternoon, they had planned to see the Easter exhibits and eat at the Orange Bowl pizza joint approximately a half-mile from their home. They left home at approximately 11:00 a.m., agreeing to return home by 4:00 p.m.

Police and searchers in 1975, during the disappearance of Katherine and Sheila Lyons. Photo courtesy of Washington Post.
Police and searchers in 1975, during the disappearance of Katherine and Sheila Lyons. Photo courtesy of Washington Post.

That afternoon, the Lyons sisters did not arrive home and their parents called police by 7:00 p.m. An extensive search began with police combing through weeds and every stand of trees. The police sent Scuba divers into ponds and storm sewers, along with every vacant house for miles. Neighbors helped the Lyons desperately search the woods and streets. Lasting for months, the enormous search for the Lyon sisters had created widespread media attention with hundreds of tips pouring in.

However, as tips dwindled, the hope the Lyons held onto became desperation as the rollercoaster of ambiguity set in.

Witnesses Emerge

Police were told by witnesses that the sisters were at the mall at 1:00 p.m. A boy who was a friend of Katherine and Sheila told police he saw them together outside of the Orange Bowl talking with an unidentified man who looked in his 60s wearing a brown suit. He described the man carrying a brown briefcase with a tape recorder inside with children around who were speaking into the microphone.

About two weeks after the disappearance, a witness living in Manassas, Virginia, reported seeing the two girls in the rear of a 1968 Ford station wagon bound and gagged. This lead was later labeled “questionable” by police. The story created a media firestorm and generated calls from attention seekers, psychics, and extortionists.

Missing sisters Katherine and Sheila Lyons' parents, John and Mary Lyons, in 1975 after the girls’ disappearance.
Missing sisters Katherine and Sheila Lyons' parents, John and Mary Lyons, in 1975 after the girls’ disappearance.

In the weeks following, several calls were received at the Lyon’s home demanding ransom money in exchange for the girls. One man told the Lyons to leave $10,000 inside an Annapolis courthouse restroom. Police directed the Lyons to pay one ransom leaving only $101 in the briefcase (enough to make it a federal crime) but the ransom was never picked up.

Mugshot of Lloyd Welch, a drifter and carnival worked that was in the town of Wheaton at the time of Katherine and Sheila Lyon’s disappearance.
Mugshot of Lloyd Welch, a drifter and carnival worked that was in the town of Wheaton at the time of Katherine and Sheila Lyon’s disappearance.

A Break in the Case?

A week after the abduction, a man, about 18 years old, Lloyd Welch, went to Wheaton Plaza shopping mall. He approached a security guard and told him that he had been at the mall the day the girls vanished. Lloyd said the man had a tape recorder and was talking to the girls.

Not much was known about the young stranger. A carnival worker, Welch traveled from town to town and was considered a drifter. Police issued a lie detector test that Welch failed, but he was still quickly dismissed as a suspect and considered an unreliable witness.

Another strong lead came from a young girl and friend of the Lyons sisters. To this day, the girls' identity has been kept confidential for fear of retaliation. The girl described the man as wearing raggedy clothing, white, in his late teens or early twenties with acne and scars on his left cheek. The unidentified girl told police that the man was staring so intently that she felt compelled to confront him and say something.

Police sketch issued in 1975, according to a description provided by a young friend of Katherine and Sheila Lyons.
Police sketch issued in 1975, according to a description provided by a young friend of Katherine and Sheila Lyons.

Strangely, the police sketch looked very similar to a mugshot taken of Welch. When police made a push to solve the case in 2014, they found Welch had an extensive criminal record, including an arrest in 1977 in Montgomery County for breaking into a house eight blocks from Wheaton Plaza and stealing $580 worth of jewelry.

The Cousin

As Life Daily reported, Henry Parker was a cousin of Lloyd Welch. He informed police in December 2014, that back in 1975, during the month of December, that he had met his cousin at a house in Virginia, and helped him remove two duffel bags. Parker told police the bags smelled of death and had red stains covering them. Apparently, they threw the bags into a fire in the remote mountain in Bedford County, Virginia.

Welch in 2015, during the indictment for first-degree murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. Photo courtesy of Life Daily.
Welch in 2015, during the indictment for first-degree murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. Photo courtesy of Life Daily.

Years Later

In February 2014, police announced Welch was again a person of interest in the disappearance of the Lyons sisters’ case. Since their disappearance, between 1973 and 1977, Welch had been charged with various charges that included rape in 3 states and was serving time for child molestation.

Police indicted Welch for the kidnapping and murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. According to court documents, Welch kidnapped the two girls from the mall and traveled miles away with them to a remote location. He then proceeded to murder the girls and burn their remains.

Ten women have come forward and willing to testify that they were also kidnapped by Welch. Their testimony, however, would only be heard by the court. One of the women, now in her 50s, told police that Welch had approached her outside of a record store. He told her was a policeman and told her he needed to speak with her about her brother stealing a radio. When the woman called her brother, Welch took off.

Lloyd Welch during the trial for the murders of Katherine and Sheila Lyons. Photo courtesy of Life Daily.
Lloyd Welch during the trial for the murders of Katherine and Sheila Lyons. Photo courtesy of Life Daily.

Guilty Verdict

Reported in Life Daily in July 2015, while Welch was serving time for other cases, his trial for the murders of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. The case continued for two years, and he finally pled guilty to the accusations. Finally, the killer had been located, and the family has some peace knowing their daughter’s murderer has finally been held accountable.

The details of the case are still somewhat cloudy, but police believe the sisters were held against their will, raped, murdered, possibly dismembered, and burned.
According to those who followed the case, Welch’s conviction was an extraordinary accomplishment by detectives and prosecutors. “I think what they did was unprecedented,” Robert Lowery an executive at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, who worked the case.

The family has always been low key, releasing one statement on February 11, 2014. “March 25th will mark 39 years since Katherine and Sheila were taken from our family,” the Lyons statement said at the time. “Throughout these years our hopes for a resolution of this mystery have been sustained by the support and efforts of countless members of law enforcement, the news media, and the community. The fact that so many people still care about this case means a great deal to us."

Lloyd received a sentence of 48 years due to his age and the fact he is serving a 10-year sentence for an unrelated case in Delaware.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon abducted and murdered in 1975. Their bodies have never been found.
Katherine and Sheila Lyon abducted and murdered in 1975. Their bodies have never been found.

Finally, Some Peace

John Lyon thanked authorities once the trial was over. The 3-year trial had been grueling for him, his wife, and his two sons. However, he was very appreciative of the detectives involved in the case and said that over the past 3 years, they had treated his daughters like their own and he would be forever grateful.

The disappearance of Katherine and Sheila profoundly changed the dynamics of the Lyon’s family. John became a victim’s advocate in Montgomery County counseling other families who are suffering from tragedy and loss.

The conviction of Welch left the state of Maryland in disbelief. A normal afternoon for the Lyons turned into the most unimaginable nightmare decades ago. Finally, some peace has been brought by tireless detectives who unturned every stone possible to solve the case.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Kym L Pasqualini

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