You’re History: The discovery of a human skull panics a killer into a confession. Perhaps he should have waited for the coroner’s report.
Cold-Blooded: Karen was the former wife of an American icon. But celebrity is no shield against a determined psychopath.
The Janitor: When a preteen girl goes missing from a school, suspicion falls on the one person all of the female students are wary of – the creepy janitor.
A Bullet for Your Broken Heart: Roy Joe had been dealt many tribulations in his life. None of them, though, was as bad as Carolyn.
The Other Ripper: For years, Joan was thought to be a victim of Britain’s most notorious slayer. Her killer turned out to be a different psychopath entirely.
Young Blood: Two teenagers meet up for a moonlight tryst in an abandoned building. One of them won’t make it out alive.
Neighborhood Monster: It was a simple errand, a quick run to the store in a safe neighborhood. It should not have cost a little girl her life.
Cold Cases: Solved! Volume 1
The Darkest Shade of Evil
If you lived anywhere in the D.C. area during the ‘70s, you knew the voice of John Lyon. John was a popular host on WMAL, serving the metro area. He was also the husband of Mary and the father of Jay, Sheila, and Katherine. The family lived in Kensington, Maryland, a short half-mile from the Wheaton Plaza mall. On the morning of Tuesday, March 25, 1975, Mary Lyon gave her daughters Sheila, aged 12, and Katherine, 10, permission to walk to the mall. The girls left sometime between 11 o’clock and noon and were under strict instructions to be home by 4:00 p.m. Their mother would never see them again.
The disappearance of Sheila and Katherine would be reported to the police at 7 o’clock that evening. It would spark a massive search and dominate the news for weeks to come. As detectives began reconstructing the girls’ last moments, they learned that a friend had seen them talking to an unidentified man outside the Orange Bowl restaurant at around 1:00 p.m. About an hour later, their brother Jay had seen them inside the restaurant, eating pizza together. Sometime between 2:30 and 3:00, another friend had spotted them leaving the mall, walking westward in the direction of their home. After that, they vanished.
What particularly interested the police about this timeline was the conversation with the unidentified adult male. This was the man in the brown suit, the man with the briefcase, the individual they would soon dub Tape Recorder Man. This person was immediately elevated to the top of the suspect list. Investigators were convinced that he knew something about the missing girls and might be responsible for their disappearance. A considerable amount of effort was expended to find him. In fact, the police devoted so much attention to Tape Recorder Man that they completely overlooked another suspect.
In the aftermath of their disappearance, a friend of the Lyon sisters reported to detectives that a scruffy, long-haired man had been eyeing the sisters up. In fact, he’d been so fixated on the girls that their friend, barely 12 years old herself, had decided to confront him. The man had shuffled off after she berated him for staring at Sheila and Kate. The description that the girl provided was of a white male, late teens to early 20s, shabbily dressed, scars on his left cheek, and a bad case of acne. The police attached very little importance to this report. They were fixated on their main suspect. Despite their considerable efforts, they would never find Tape Recorder Man.
The search for the Lyon sisters was protracted and intense, involving police from multiple jurisdictions, hundreds of volunteers, and even the Maryland National Guard. Vacant lots, stream beds, abandoned buildings, tracts of forest, all were combed without result. There was a reported sighting of the girls, trussed up and gagged in the back of a beige station wagon in Manassas, Virginia; there were calls from psychics and scam artists; there was a callous attempt by some sick individual to extort $10,000 from the distraught parents. And then there was a claim by a man named Lloyd Welch that he had witnessed the actual abduction.
Welch first reported his sighting to a security guard at the Wheaton Mall one week after the girls vanished. The guard then called the police and Welch was transferred to an interrogation room and asked to repeat his story. He claimed to have seen an older man, dressed in a brown suit, bundling the girls into a car and driving away with them. The man, he said, walked with a limp. Since the person he was describing was almost an exact match for their main suspect, the police were naturally interested. However, there were inconsistencies in Welch’s statement, and so he was asked to take a polygraph. He agreed and failed.
That, right there, should have roused the suspicions of investigators. However, their obsession with Tape Recorder Man was still to the fore, hampering their efforts. Rather than flagging Welch as a suspect, they took him for an attention-seeker, trying to insinuate himself into the investigation, to play the hero, perhaps to cadge a reward. Welch was sent on his way with a warning not to waste police time. No one seemed to notice that he was an exact match for the man that the Lyon sisters’ friend had described, the creep who had been staring so intently in their direction.
These missteps by the investigative team clearly illustrate the dangers of pre-judging a case. In any event, the investigation stumbled and stalled, faltered and ground to a halt. Two little girls had disappeared from a busy mall in broad daylight, and no one had any idea what had happened to them. Over the decades that followed, the case would haunt the Montgomery County Police Department. It was the one that everyone wanted answers to, the one that got away. Generations of detectives came and went, and many of them had a crack at it, poring over boxes of yellowing evidence, hoping to find something, anything, they might have missed. One of those was Detective Chris Homrock. In 2013, he made a breakthrough.
Homrock had been through the case file before, yet somehow had never seen one particular piece of evidence until now. It was a six-page transcript of the statement given by an 18-year-old named Lloyd Welch. Now, reading through that statement, the detective was stunned. Here was a guy who’d lied to the police, who’d failed a polygraph. Why hadn’t he been looked at? It was time to redress that oversight.
Finding Lloyd Welch was easy. He was in prison in Delaware, entering the final stretch of a 33-year prison term for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. The relevance of that offense was not lost on Homrock. He and Detective Dave Davis sat down with Welch on October 16, 2013. The first words out of the convicted pedophile’s mouth were telling. “I know why you’re here,” he grinned. “You’re here about those two missing girls.”
From that point on, however, Welch was in full denial mode. “I didn’t kill nobody. I didn’t rape nobody. I didn’t do nothing to those girls,” he insisted. No matter what the detectives tried, they couldn’t shift him from that stance. Eventually, Homrock decided on a different tactic. As he was leaving, he asked Welch what he thought had happened to the girls. Welch’s answer was informative. He suggested that they had probably been raped and killed and that their bodies would then have been burned.
This would be the first of many interviews that Det. Homrock conducted with Lloyd Welch. Lloyd turned out to be a talker, who liked the sound of his own voice. He was also a compulsive liar, and not a very good one. Time and again, he talked himself into a corner, contradicting something he’d said before. Eventually, he was forced to concede that he did know something about the Lyon sisters’ disappearance after all. He admitted that he had helped kidnap them but insisted that he hadn’t harmed them in any way. That was done by a member of his family, he said, although the identity of this individual changed with each retelling. First it was his cousin, then an uncle, then his father.
It was time for investigators to delve deeper into the extended Welch clan. What they found was like something out of a James Dickey novel. The family had deep Appalachian roots and conformed to just about every bad hillbilly cliché ever conceived. Abject poverty, contempt for the law, impulsive violence and suspicion of outsiders, all seemed to be ingrained in the family’s DNA. So too were incest and child abuse. If this band of miscreants had somehow been involved in the abduction of the Lyon sisters, then the fate of those little girls did not bear thinking about.
And Lloyd was insisting that they had been. The chief culprit, he said, was his Uncle Dick. According to him, it was Dick who’d abducted the girls, he who had drugged them and directed their gang rape and murder. Thereafter, Lloyd said, the children had been dismembered and their bodies burned.
Dick Welch was nearly 70 years old when detectives arrived to question him. That would have put him in his early 30s at the time the girls were taken. Back then he’d worked as a security guard, and he’d had a reputation for violent belligerence. Even the battle-scarred members of the Welch clan were afraid of him. Yet Dick seemed almost wounded by the idea that he’d harm a child. “As God is my witness, no,” he insisted when asked. Later, he’d repeat that denial in front of a grand jury.
Lloyd’s cousin Teddy Welch (one of those he’d accused as the girls’ abductor, even though Teddy would have been just 11 back then) was rather more forthcoming. He described a night in 1975 when Lloyd arrived at the family homestead on Taylor’s Mountain, Virginia. There he’d stoked up a fire and then hauled out two bloody duffel bags from his car, which he consigned to the flames. Two other cousins, Henry Parker and Connie Parker Akers, also recalled the incident as did some of the Welches’ neighbors. They remembered the sickly stench of seared flesh that had pervaded the area for several days thereafter.
The net was closing on Lloyd Welch. Even as he continued to deny rape and murder, the evidence was continuing to stack up against him. The detectives had now learned to read between the lines of Lloyd’s narrative, picking out the vivid little details that kept popping up in his stories, repeated over and over like disks in a juke box. There was the one about stalking the girls in the mall; how they were lured to a station wagon; the picture of one of the terrified children crying in the backseat of the car, while the other tried to comfort her; the grimy basement where they were kept; drugging them; the repeated rapes; the ax that had been used to kill and dismember them; a green military-style duffel bag; a bonfire. These were not passive third-party reflections. These were the recollections of someone who’d been there.
In May 2015, Det. Dave Davis went looking for the place where Sheila and Kate had been held. Lloyd had claimed that this was his Uncle Dick’s basement, which was convenient since Dick’s old home in Hyattsville had been torn down to make room for the new district court building. Still, Davis knew Lloyd well enough by now to know that he was probably lying. If Lloyd said that Dick Welch’s basement had been the place, then almost certainly, it had not been. Far more likely was the basement of Lloyd’s father’s house, where Lloyd had been staying at the time.
There were new residents at 4714 Baltimore Avenue on the day that Det. Davis came calling. The tenant was happy to let him view the dingy, low-ceilinged stone vault, filled to capacity with old furniture and other junk. Entering the room, the detective instantly felt a prickling of recognition. It was almost as though he’d been here before. In a sense, he had been. He’d heard this place described before, in Lloyd Welch’s rambling narratives. This dank dungeon was where two terrified little girls had been held, where they’d been repeatedly violated by multiple abusers, where their lives had been brutally snuffed out.
The following day, Davis was back, this time with a forensics team in tow. The furniture was cleared away and then the team got to work, spraying the walls and other surfaces with Luminol. This is a blood-detection agent which is triggered by the presence of hemoglobin and gives off a luminous glow when viewed under a blue light. Applied to the rear wall, it lit up the room from floor to ceiling. Someone had been killed here. No, not killed, Davis corrected himself, slaughtered.
The discovery of the murder scene finally gave the police enough evidence to charge Lloyd Welch with kidnapping, rape, and murder. This placed Welch, who had frequently voiced his fear of execution, in a precarious position. Maryland had abolished capital punishment four years earlier, but Welch would be tried in Virginia, the state which moves condemned prisoners through the legal process faster than any other.
Clearly terrified by this prospect, Welch decided to come clean. On September 12, 2017, he entered guilty pleas to two counts of felony murder in a Bedford County courtroom. The plea spared him the needle but earned him two 48-year terms. Since he is already 60 years old, he will die behind bars. Welch has since stated that he is now branded a child killer and lives in fear of a prison shank. Although others (including Lloyd’s Uncle Dick and his father, Lee) are suspected of having participated in the rapes and murders, no charges have been brought due to lack of evidence.
The remains of Sheila and Katherine Lyon have never been found. Likewise, we will never know exactly what happened in that dark, dank basement. Better that we do not know. Better to remember Kate and Sheila as they were – two pretty little girls, one with long blonde hair and gold-framed glasses, the other with a stylish blonde bob – heading out for a day of fun at the mall. Better that the story ends there.