One of the oldest cold case prosecutions in the country’s history ended Tuesday in Bedford when Lloyd Welch, Jr. pleaded guilty to the abduction and murder of two sisters.
The long, twisting road began 42 years, 5 months and 18 days earlier, according to investigators. In 1975 sisters Katherine and Sheila Lyon disappeared from a shopping center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. The girls’ disappearance changed the community, according to Montgomery County Maryland State's Attorney John McCarthy. "We’ve lived with this for decades," McCarthy said Tuesday. "That day in March (1975) was 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 that case."
Investigators interviewed Lloyd Welch in 1975. Witnesses said they had seen him staring at the girls at the shopping center. Police didn't charge him and the investigation moved on and then went cold. It stayed cold until investigators renewed the case in 2013 and focused new attention on Welch, who was then serving prison time in Delaware. Over the next few months they interviewed Welch more than a dozen times. The details of his stories about what happened at that shopping center often changed but one thing did not, according to Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Wes Nance. Welch was always one of the actors. In court Tuesday, Nance said Welch admitted he took the girls, was present at Katherine's murder and was tasked with disposing of her body. Nance said investigators had found witnesses who would have placed Welch at the shopping center with Katherine and Sheila. He also said witnesses in Bedford County would have placed him at rural Taylors Mountain shortly afterward. They would say Welch threw two duffle bags on a huge fire that burned for days and smelled like death.
Facing that evidence and a possible death penalty, Welch decided to plead guilty to the two counts of first degree felony murder. In return, prosecutors asked for a 48 year prison sentence. The final signatures were made Monday night and Judge James Updike agreed to the deal in court Tuesday morning. Welch will serve that sentence after he completes his time in Delaware. He is also expected to plead guilty to unrelated sex offenses in Prince William County, Virginia. The 12 year sentence for those crimes will run concurrently with the 48 year sentence from the Lyon sisters murders. Because the crimes occurred in 1975, the 60-year-old Welch will be eligible for parole. Prosecutor Wes Nance says based on review of similar cases, he would become eligible in his early or mid eighties. Nance said it's unlikely that parole would be granted, based on Welch's record.
Welch's attorney, Tony Anderson, told Judge Updike that the evidence, though circumstantial, was accurate. Anderson said Welch has always admitted that he had a role the girls' abduction and disappearance but he did not participate in their abuse or murders. Welch was abused as a child, has limited intellect and was easily manipulated both others, Anderson argued. Nevertheless, Anderson said, Welch hoped the plea agreement would provide some closure for both the Lyon and the Welch families.
When asked if he had anything to say, Welch said "no." He shook hands with his attorneys and was led out of the courtroom.
After Tuesday's hearing, Katherine and Sheila's father, John Lyon, read a statement on the family's behalf. "Well, it's been a long road," he began. He thanked investigators for their determination. "The last two or three years or so, they have treated Sheila and Kate as if they were their own sister or daughter. It’s a tremendous display of professional performance but even more a beautiful emotional investment in the case and in our family."
Nance and McCarthy echoed the family's faith in the investigators. And they praised the Lyon family. John McCarthy called them pillars of the community. John Lyon worked as a victim and witness coordinator, helping crime victims even as the crime against his own family went unsolved for so many years. Katherine and Sheila's brother, Jay, is a retired
Montgomery County police detective. "We’re here today because John and the family, they needed this resolution. They needed this to end," McCarthy said. "They need this to be over and to get on with their lives."