Murder Mystery Lyon Sisters
Murder Mystery Lyon Sisters, Katherine Mary Lyon, age 10, and Sheila Mary Lyon, age 12, vanished on March 25, 1975, while going to a mall in Wheaton, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.Their case led to one of the biggest police investigations in the history of the Washington metropolitan region, and they are commonly referred to as the Lyon Sisters.In 2013, after the cold case was reopened, detectives tracked down Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., who was then in Delaware serving a lengthy jail term for child sex assault. Welch admitted guilt to two counts of first-degree murder in September 2017 for kidnapping and killing the sisters.Even after being convicted guilty, the girls’ remains were never discovered.
Police records show that during the original investigation, Welch had come forward a week after the disappearance and falsely told a security guard at the shopping center that he had witnessed another man abduct them there. The description he provided matched a description that newspapers and other media already had provided the public. A short time later he was questioned by police, failed a lie detector test, admitted he had lied, was released and was not questioned again until more than thirty-eight years later.
After the case was reopened, police discovered that a mug shot taken of Welch in 1977 bore a strong resemblance to a police sketch of a possible suspect who had been seen staring at the Lyon sisters in the shopping center. Detectives began interviewing Welch in prison; he made incriminating statements but continued to protest his innocence. One of his relatives told them he had helped Welch burn two heavy, bloodied duffel bags in Bedford County, Virginia. In July 2015, Welch was indicted and charged with the girls’ murders there; he pleaded guilty to murder two years later. His uncle is a person of interest as well.
John and Mary Lyon had two daughters in Kensington, Maryland, a neighborhood of Washington, D.C.: Katherine and Shiela. They have an elder brother named Jay who eventually worked as a police officer. At the time WMAL-FM was owned by the same individual who owned the now-defunct Washington Star and the ABC affiliate WMAL-TV, their father was a well-known radio host there. He later worked as a victim’s counselor.
On March 25, 1975, between 11:00am and noon, the Lyon sisters left their home and walked a half-mile to the Wheaton Plaza shopping center (now Westfield Wheaton) to see Easter exhibits; they planned to have lunch at the Orange Bowl, a pizza restaurant which was part of the mall. Their mother had instructed the girls to return home by 4:00pm; when they had not arrived by 7:00pm, the police were summoned and an extensive search was conducted. Police felt comfortable enough with the accuracy of this timeline to release it to the public:
- 11:00 AM to Noon: The girls leave home.
- 1:00 PM: A neighborhood child sees both of the girls together outside the Orange Bowl speaking to an unidentified man, according to what he later tells investigators.
- 2:00 PM: The girls’ older brother sees them at the Orange Bowl eating pizza together.
- 2:30 to 3:00 PM: A friend sees the girls walking westward down a street near the mall which would have been one of the most direct routes from the mall to their home. This is the final sighting of the sisters that is absolutely confirmed by police.
- 4:00 PM: The curfew set by their mother passes. The girls are expected home and do not arrive.
- 7:00 PM: Police are called. The investigation and an active search by professionals begins.
Witnesses informed the police that the sisters were in attendance at the mall about 1:00 p.m. Unidentified male, around six feet tall, in his 50s or 60s, and wearing a brown suit was reportedly seen interacting with the sisters together outside the Orange Bowl, according to a local youngster who knew them. Other children were present and speaking into a microphone the man was holding. He was also carrying a briefcase with a tape recorder inside. Authorities considered the unidentified man to be a key suspect in the case because of the witness’ account of the individual. They produced two composite drawings of the figure.
Investigators followed up on reports from several people who said they recognized the sketches. Press reports indicated that a man matching the sketch was seen a few weeks earlier at the Marlow Heights Shopping Center and Iverson Mall, both in neighboring Prince George’s County. Witnesses reported that he had approached several young girls and asked them to read an answering machine message typed on an index card into his hand-held microphone. The police never publicly acknowledged a direct link between these reports and the Lyon disappearance.
A friend of the sisters, a girl who was in their age bracket, described to detectives how a long-haired man at the mall had stared at them so long and so intently that she confronted him. A sketch artist made a drawing based on her description: white, late teens or early 20s, acne on his face, scars on his left cheek, and shabbily dressed. This sketch, however, appears not to have been widely disseminated. The description from the friend contrasted sharply with the initial suspect description of a well-groomed, conservatively dressed person eventually labeled “tape recorder man.” Aside from the major differences in facial features, hair and clothing, the long-haired man and “tape recorder man” were several decades apart in age.
As weeks passed, numerous volunteer groups combed vacant lots and stream beds for the Lyon sisters. The search continued and media attention reached such a fever pitch that on May 23, 1975, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Blair Lee ordered 122 National Guardsmen to participate in a search of a Montgomery County forest for the missing girls.
No trace of the girls was found.
On April 7, 1975, about two weeks after the disappearance, a witness in Manassas, Virginia, reported seeing two girls resembling the Lyon sisters in the rear of a beige 1968 Ford station wagon. The witness stated that the girls were bound and gagged in the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle resembled the man in the publicly available composite sketch. The witness further claimed that when the driver spotted the witness tailing him, he ran a red light and sped west on Route 234 towards Interstate 66. The station wagon had Maryland license plates with the possible combination “DMT-6**”; the last two numbers are unknown due to the bending of the car’s plate.
The known combination was issued in Cumberland, Hagerstown, and Baltimore at the time. This supposed sighting inspired a small army of mobile citizen band (CB) radio users to scour the area throughout the night with a running commentary and chatter but without any tangible results. A search for matching plate numbers failed to produce any information. Although this witness’ report was at first treated as credible, and a media firestorm erupted because of it, it was later deemed “questionable” by police.
The disappearance generated calls from psychics, extortionists and attention seekers. Several phone calls from people claiming to be holding the girls for ransom were made to the Lyon family in the immediate aftermath of their disappearance. One began with an anonymous male voice on April 4, 1975, and demanded that John Lyon leave a briefcase with $10,000 inside an Annapolis courthouse restroom. He left $101 in the briefcase as directed by law enforcement officials, just enough to make the crime a felony, but the briefcase was never claimed. This same anonymous person called John later and said that there were too many police around the courthouse and he could not retrieve the ransom. John said he would have to hear the girls’ voices before he would do anything else. The caller never made contact again.
Fred Howard Coffey was convicted in 1987 for the beating, fatal strangulation, and molestation of a ten year old girl in North Carolina in 1979. Authorities learned that he interviewed for a job (and was subsequently employed) in Silver Spring, Maryland, a short distance from Wheaton Plaza, six days after the Lyon sisters vanished. Investigators have been unable to determine if Coffey is connected to the case. He was never charged in the disappearances.
Raymond Rudolph Mileski Sr., a resident of Suitland, Maryland, at the time of the disappearance, murdered his wife and teenage son, as well as wounded another son, in November 1977. He was convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison. Based on both prison informants’ tips and Mileski’s own claims to know something about the case, which he offered to share more fully in exchange for more favorable prison conditions, authorities searched his former residence in April 1982 but no evidence was discovered. Mileski died in prison in 2004.
On the same day that newspapers printed police descriptions of the “tape recorder man”, Lloyd Lee Welch Jr. returned to Wheaton Plaza and told a security guard he had evidence in the case. Welch corroborated seeing the girls talk to a man with a tape recorder and elaborated further, claiming to have seen the man forcing the girls into a car. Welch was interviewed at a nearby police station and given a polygraph test. When informed that he had failed, Welch admitted he had provided false information and was released by police, according to documents in the case. A one page report wasd placed on top of the transcript of the interview, with the word “lied” written on top. For more than thirty-eight years thereafter, information about Welch’s possible involvement in the case was accessible only via a search of police records.
By 2013, many of the original investigators on the Lyon case had retired. After years of reviewing every detail in the original investigation, Sergeant Chris Homrock ran across Welch’s statement. Critically, he noticed Welch’s mugshot roughly matched the sketch based upon the testimony given by the Lyon sisters’ friend. Having learned that Welch had since been convicted of child molestation, detectives secured a prison interview with Welch which took place on October 16, 2013. They had feared that Welch would not speak with them; however, on the first day of that interview, Welch spoke for many hours. Throughout this long interrogation he inadvertently revealed the new details about the crime.
In December 2014, Welch’s cousin, Henry Parker, told detectives that he had met Welch at a property on Taylor’s Mountain Road, in Thaxton, Virginia, in 1975. Parker claimed that he had helped remove two army-style duffel bags from Welch’s vehicle. Each bag “weighed about 60 or 70 pounds and smelled like ‘death'”, according to a search warrant affidavit, which was filed and sealed in January 2015. Moreover, Parker said the bags had been covered in red stains. Without knowing their contents, Parker threw the bags into a fire.
In February 2014, Welch was openly named as a person of interest in the case. Police said Welch, who was eighteen years old in 1975, and had since been convicted of rape in three other states, had been “seen ‘paying attention’ to the sisters.”
On September 20, 2014, police searched a forest in Thaxton and a residence in Hyattsville, Maryland, seizing several items. The home was that of Welch’s parents; he had lived in the basement. Although the evidence was too degraded to trace any DNA, one room of the basement had significant evidence of blood; one of the detectives used the word “slaughtered” to describe the scene.
Welch was charged with first-degree murder for his alleged role in the murders of the Lyon sisters more than a year later, in July 2015, while he was still serving a significant sentence in Delaware for a molestation conviction. He was also accused with kidnapping with the intention to defile. It is still unknown where the girls’ corpses or any of their remains may be. It would have taken the longest amount of time between a murder and a trial that resulted in a conviction for bodiless murder if Welch had been tried without the bodies of the girls being admitted into evidence.
Ultimately, in September 2017, Welch pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for the abduction and killing of the Lyon sisters. He received two 48-year sentences for the two counts of first-degree murder he was facing. The sentences will be served concurrently.