Justin Jouvenal and Dan Morse (c) 2014, The Washington Post.
Authorities have identified a sex offender incarcerated in Delaware as a “person of interest” in the nearly 40-year-old disappearance of two Maryland girls, who vanished after leaving home to go to a mall.
Police in Montgomery County, Md., appealed to the public for more information about Lloyd Lee Welch, 57, at an afternoon news conference, saying he was at Wheaton Plaza the day Sheila and Katherine Lyon, 12 and 10, went missing.
Police said Welch, who was 18-years-old at the time, was seen “paying attention” to the sisters. He has been convicted of raping girls in Virginia, South Carolina and Delaware, they said, and worked as a ride operator for a carnival company that travelled around the country.
The disappearance of the Lyon sisters is one of the most high-profile unsolved cases in the Washington area and it prompted a massive police search and investigation in the weeks, months and years that followed.
The girls set out from their Kensington home around 11 a.m. on March 25, 1975, to have lunch and window shop at what was then called Wheaton Plaza, now Westfield Wheaton Mall. They were last seen by their older brother, Jay, outside the Orange Bowl eatery at the mall around 2 p.m.
The sisters never returned home and John Lyon, their father and then an announcer on WMAL, reported the girls missing later that night. Police used dogs, helicopters and foot patrols to comb the area, but turned up no sign of the girls.
The case received widespread media attention and thousands of tips flooded in from across the area and the country. At the time, The Washington Post reported the disappearance drew “intense public involvement that sometimes . . . bordered on hysteria.”
Pyschics offered clues, a woman said she spotted the girls and their captor in the audience of a TV show, and a group of CB radio enthusiasts — some reportedly armed — chased cars after a man reported seeing bound and gagged girls in the backseat of a station wagon.
More than a dozen people reported their teenage daughters were approached at local malls by a microphone wielding man, who wanted to record the girls’ voices. Police put out sketches of the man, but that lead, like so many others, lead nowhere.
On the five-year anniversary of the disappearance of the Lyon sisters, Montgomery County police sergeant Rodney Ingels said investigators were baffled. He said: “except for a helluva lot of work, we’re no further than we were.”
Police said Welch is from the Washington area, but traveled around the country in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. They said he was arrested in the mid-1970s on a burglary charge a few blocks away from Wheaton Plaza, and that he was known to hitchhike and walk along railroad tracks around the Washington area.
“Welch was considered a drifter,” Police Chief Tom Manger said.
During the 1970s and ’80s, police said, he often stayed in hotels and homeless shelters.
Court papers show that Welch was convicted in 1998 in New Castle County, Del., of charges including first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact.
In a statement provided by police, the Lyon family said they would be “grateful for any information the public can provide to help bring this story to its conclusion.”
“March 25th will mark 39 years since Kate and Sheila were taken from our family,” they said. “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.”