Police to Search Property Linked to Person of Interest in Decades-Old Missing Md. Sisters Case - NBC 7 San Diego
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Police to Search Property Linked to Person of Interest in Decades-Old Missing Md. Sisters Case

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Police Searching Property Once Owned by Family of Person of Interest

    Detectives have been searching a Virginia property for the past week in connection with the infamous disappearance of two young Maryland sisters decades ago. News4's Shomari Stone reports. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014)

    Detectives have been searching a Virginia property for the past week in connection with the infamous disappearance of two young Maryland sisters decades ago.

    The Lyon sisters -- Sheila, 12, and Katherine, 10 -- vanished March 25, 1975, from a Wheaton shopping center.

    Montgomery County, Maryland, authorities have been searching a property located in Bedford County, Virginia, between Lynchburg and Roanoke since last week. It was once owned by the family of Lloyd Lee Welch, Jr., who is also known as Michael Welch. 

    In February, Welch, 57, was named a person of interest in the Lyon sisters' disappearance. During a news conference Wednesday, police announced Welch's family members are also being investigated in connection with the Lyon girls' disappearance. They've zeroed in on Taylor Mountain, where they are looking to recover evidence "that will hold those that harmed those girls responsible in a court of law."

    Detectives have not found any remains, sources said, though neighbors in the area think police are searching for remains at a nearby cemetery. 

    The Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed that officers were assisting Montgomery County Police "with a homicide investigation."

    They've said they're "very confident" they're close to finding out exactly what happened to the sisters.

    The Bedford Sheriff's office also said cold case investigators had traveled to the area last week to meet with Bedford County authorities and Virginia State Police.

    The Lyon sisters' case is etched into the memories of several generations of Washington-area families. It shattered a sense of safety in the D.C. suburbs and made parents afraid to let their children out of their sight.

    On March 25, 1975, the Lyon sisters had a planned a day at a local shopping center. They were on spreak break, and wanted to get some pizza for lunch and see the Easter decorations at Wheaton Plaza, now known as Westfield Wheaton mall.

    With less than $4, they left their home in Kensington, Maryland and walked the half-mile or so to Wheaton Plaza.

    There, a friend saw the girls outside the Orange Bowl restaurant with an older man who had a tape recorder and a briefcase, according to news and missing persons reports.

    The girls were later spotted walking home, but by their 4 p.m. curfew, they hadn't arrived. By 7 p.m. that night, police had been called.

    Later, a composite sketch was distributed of the man who seen talking to them. Tips flowed in, but to no avail.

    Sheila and Katherine were never seen again.

    In February, police identified a person of interest in connection with their disappearance. Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., aka Michael Welch, is a convicted sex offender who has been in prison in Delaware since 1997 on a rape conviction. Welch was noticed paying attention to the sisters the afternoon they vanished, investigators said.

    "Even though so much time has passed, we have not forgotten that those young girls deserve justice, and their family deserves closure," said Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger in February.

    Lloyd+Lee+Welch+Jr.

    Welch is originally from the D.C. area. Between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, he traveled extensively through the United States while working for a carnival company with his girlfriend Helen Craver, police said.

    Welch was charged with raping juveniles in Virginia and South Carolina. He was also arrested in a burglary not far from Wheaton Plaza. He was known to hitchhike throughout the D.C. area.

    Many people who grew up in the area remember the disappearance of the sisters, and how deeply it shook their sense of safety.

    "It was just stunning. It could have been anybody's kids," said Charleen Merkel earlier this year while shopping at Westfield Wheaton.

    "It brings back a lot of memories of being scared growing up," said another shopper, who did not give her name.

    In an era when children frequently walked to school and elsewhere alone, parents started keeping their children inside.

    "The Community Just Held Its Breath"

    In 2005, 30 years after the girls' disappearance, police spoke about the frustration of never being able to solve a case that struck such an emotional chord for the community and for themselves.

    The Lyon sisters' older brother, Jay, became a police officer.

    "It's a hit-home case," Philip C. Raum, a longtime law enforcement officer in Montgomery County who headed the police's Major Crimes Unit for four years, told Montgomery County's Gazette newspaper in an article on the 30th anniversary of the disappearance.

    The girls' father, John Lyon was a popular radio personality on WMAL in Bethesda and performer. 

    Radio personality Chris Core had just started working with him at WMAL when the girls disappeared.

    "It's in that group of moments where the community just held its breath," Core told the Gazette in 2005.

    "Partly because John was a well-known celebrity and partly because here are two innocent little girls going to the mall and disappear off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again."

    Baltimore author Laura Lippman wrote a 2007 novel, "What the Dead Know," after being inspired by the Lyon case.

    "The story... happened when I was a teenager, not much older than the girls who disappeared (the Lyon sisters) and living in a similarly 'safe' suburb," Lippman wrote in a chat on GoodReads.com. "It resonated very deeply with me."