Terror gripped a small Maryland town in 1975 following the disappearance of the Lyon sisters, forever changing the historically safe town's perceptions of their own community. Now, decades later, a confession from a sex offender may be the solution to a crime etched in the village's memory, according to ABC News.
"That fear lingered for years and years, and it was just the kind of thing that nobody will ever forget," said retired Sgt. Harry Geehreng. Geehreng had been one of the many policemen who searched for the girls at the shopping center where they vanished after getting pizza and in the nearby woods.
"Our parents were very protective [after the sisters went missing]. They were quite rattled by this," said Teresa Brookland, a former student where the Lyon sisters attended school.
The day the girls went missing “is the day we lost our innocence. We began to rear our children differently,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. “The entire region was affected by this case.”
Although the bodies of the sisters were never found, cold case detectives began narrowing the search for the culprit behind the disappearance in 2013. One name they came to was that of Lloyd Lee Welch Jr, a former carnival worker, who fit the description of witnesses who claimed they saw a man leering at the girls shortly before they were never seen again.
“I know I should be worried about the girls, the family, puttin’ it to rest and stuff like that,” Welch had said to detectives investigating the case. “But you also got to look at it, I’m a survivor. I’ve lived on the street. And like I told you, I’ve also gotta think of me. What’s going to happen to me?”
Welch ultimately told varying stories about the girls: He claims to have seen his father and brother dismembering one of the children, placing the bodyparts in bags to later be burned.
In 2015, two family members admitted to seeing Welch carrying two duffel bags, both of which were later burned. Welch's uncle was also listed as a suspicious person in the case.
On Tuesday, Welch was sentenced to 48 years in prison. He pled guilty to two counts of first-degree felony murder, finally giving closure to the case that has remained inconclusive for almost half a century.
Prosecutors are unsure who, if anyone else, was also involved in the killing — other suspects, which included members of Welch's family, either did not have enough evidence for a conviction or have since passed away. “It keeps me up at night,” one of the investigators said recently.
Although Welch admitted to have participated in the abduction of the girls, he never quite admitted to being involved with their deaths. He will, nonetheless, be held responsible for the killings “in the commission of abduction with intent to defile.”
Many of the specific details of both the kidnappings and the murders will likely remain a mystery. According to prosecutors' narrative, Welch took the girls from the mall and killed them. One or both of their remains were burned by Welch on family property in a rural part of Bedford County.
“How much you believe him [Lloyd Welch] really cut to the heart of this case,” said Wes Nance, the Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney. “His credibility is open for questioning. However, as the individuals that he named as his co-conspirators changed over time, what did not change was his involvement. . . . In my heart of hearts, I know that we put one of the main perpetrators away.”
Welch remained silent throughout court proceedings — except for when he entered his plea. Welch's lawyers attempted to argue that limited intellectual capabilities led to his participation in the crimes: “He didn’t know they were going to be killed,” said Welch's attorney, Tony Anderson, according to The Washington Post. “He knew that they were going to be exploited.”
"It's our hope that this agreement... will in some way add some closure in a meaningful, meaningful way to the Lyon family and Mr. Welch," said Anderson, who insisted that Welch had not sexually abused the children.
Welch had potentially faced the death penalty for his crimes, but prosecutors decided against that route, fearing years of court battles and appeals.
He is currently serving time in Delaware after being convicted for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old child. He will begin serving time for the murder charges in Virginia in 2026.
Although Welch is technically eligible for parole when he reaches his 80s, experts said the chances of it being granted are "very slim or none," ABC News reports.
"We just want to say, simply, 'thank you,' and it's been a long, long time, and we're tired, and we just want to go home," John Lyon, the father of the missing children, said.
[Photo: Police handout]