- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Authorities announced Wednesday that a convicted sex offender in Bedford County, Virginia, has been indicted on two counts of first-degree murder in conjunction with the 1975 disappearance of a pair of young sisters in Montgomery County, Maryland — one of the most high-profile unsolved missing persons cases in the region.

Lloyd Lee Michael Welch Jr., 58, who police previously identified as a person of interest in the case, was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Sheila and Katherine Lyon in Bedford County. He currently is jailed in Delaware.

The announcement came after months of investigation, including grand jury proceedings and excavations for forensic evidence on a remote Virginia mountain as authorities searched for the remains of Sheila, 12, and Katherine, 10. The sisters were last seen at Westfield Wheaton mall, formerly known as Wheaton Plaza, about a half-mile from their home before they disappeared on March 25, 1975.

Their disappearance deeply affected area residents, and decades later still “haunts this community,” Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said Wednesday at a press conference within sight of the Wheaton mall.

Authorities said the Welch indictment is not the end of the investigation. Prosecutors promised to bring charges against others involved in the girls’ abductions and deaths, as well as against those who have sought to disrupt the investigation.

“These efforts are not finished,” Chief Manger said. “Montgomery County Police and all of our partners will work to hold every individual responsible who was involved with the abduction and murder of the Lyon sisters as well as the ongoing conspiracy to conceal the crimes.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, authorities offered no additional details about what may have happened to the sisters after they were abducted or how long they lived, but the fact they chose to bring charges against Welch in Bedford County as opposed to Montgomery County seemed to suggest the girls were killed in Virginia.

A search warrant affidavit obtained by The Washington Post, states that a cousin of Lloyd Welch told investigators in 1975 that Welch had brought two heavy duffel bags that smelled like death up to a remote spot on Taylor’s Mountain and burned them and their contents.

Investigators have searched several times for evidence on Taylor’s Mountain, where a Welch family member owned property, but have not recovered the girls’ remains. Prosecutors admit the case against Welch will be challenging without their remains.

Last year, prosecutors charged Patricia Welch with perjury, accusing her of lying to the grand jury hearing evidence in the case. Patricia Welch is the wife of another person of interest in the case, Richard Allen Welch, who is the uncle of Lloyd Welch.

Officials investigating the case previously have said that Lloyd Welch was at the Wheaton mall on the day the Lyon sisters disappeared and that he admitted to leaving with the girls in a car along with Richard Welch and a juvenile. Lloyd Welch told investigators the last time he saw the sisters was at Richard Welch’s home, where one of the girls was being sexually assaulted.

Commonwealth’s Attorney for Bedford County Randy Krantz said officials would work to extradite Lloyd Welch from Delaware to Virginia to begin work on the murder charges.

If convicted, Welch could face life in prison or the death penalty, Mr. Krantz said, adding that prosecutors had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Officials declined to provide details about what evidence led to the indictment, which was handed down under seal Friday.

Additional information about the case, including evidence uncovered through searches, is expected to be released Thursday at a press conference in Bedford County.

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