WASHINGTON — Forty-two years after the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and her 10-year-old sister Katherine from Wheaton Plaza, the man charged with abducting, killing and burning their remains in a remote county in the mountains of Virginia goes on trial next week.
Lloyd Lee Welch, 60, will stand trial in Bedford County on two counts of first degree felony murder during an abduction with intent to defile, beginning Sept. 12.
According to court filings reviewed by WTOP, prosecutors have subpoenaed a friend of the Lyon sisters — the daughters of WMAL radio broadcaster John Lyon and his wife, Mary — who saw the girls at the plaza, talking with a man thought to be Welch, shortly before they vanished.
Other witnesses will testify about blood recovered from the basement of a home Welch lived in at the time the Lyons disappeared, as well as Welch’s unexpected appearance on Taylor’s Mountain, in remote Thaxton, Virginia, where prosecutors believe the girls’ bodies were burned.
Welch was indicted by a multi-jurisdictional grand jury in July 2015.
If convicted, Welch could face the death penalty.
Judge James Updike, Jr. instituted a gag order for the prosecution and defense in the Welch case, making news coverage reliant on court documents, hearings and interviews of individuals not limited by the gag order.
A mix of family members, detectives, forensic experts and Bedford County residents have been subpoenaed by the prosecution to testify during the trial.
In this narrative, WTOP details what information they might share with jurors, and their role in the investigation, based on motions and other other public filings in the case, plus interviews with several of those who have been subpoenaed.
For the privacy of potential witnesses, WTOP will avoid naming subpoenaed individuals who have not been previously identified in court hearings or filings.
At Wheaton Plaza
Several witnesses saw the Lyon sisters at Wheaton Plaza the day they disappeared, including a friend who told police she saw a 20-ish man leering at them and following them.
Two days after the sisters disappeared, the girl, who WTOP has referred to as Darlene, provided information to a Montgomery County detective for a composite sketch.
Based on Darlene’s description, the detective’s sketch showed a white male, approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall and 140 pounds, with long hair and acne scars.
WTOP has reported the sketch was never made public in 1975, nor widely distributed through the department, in part because the detective who drew it told his supervisor he didn’t think the sketch was accurate and would generate false leads.
Instead, a different composite sketch, based on a description of a neighbor of the Lyons, was made public by police. The sketch showed an older, well-dressed man, who had supposedly coaxed the Lyon sisters to speak into a microphone and cassette recorder.
Soon after the sketch of “tape recorder man,” as it came to be known, was made public, Welch approached a security guard in Wheaton Plaza and said he had been there the day the Lyon sisters disappeared and described seeing them leave with man matching the description of “tape recorder man.”
Montgomery County detectives gave Welch a lie-detector test, which he failed.
Apparently, detectives did not review Darlene’s eyewitness description or composite sketch, because Welch was released. At the time, police believed he was trying to get the $9,000 reward being offered in connection to the Lyon case.
Decades later, when Montgomery County detectives saw that sketch again in 2013 and noted its resemblance to Welch’s 1977 Montgomery County mug shot for a burglary near Wheaton Plaza, police sought to re-interview Welch.
Darlene and the now-retired Montgomery County police detective who drew both composite sketches have been subpoenaed to testify.
Bedford County prosecutors have alleged the Lyon sisters were kidnapped, with the intention of sexually abusing them. In news conferences, former Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney Randy Krantz identified Welch’s uncle, Richard Allen Welch, of Hyattsville, as a person of interest.
In 2015, Krantz said Lloyd Welch told detectives in a July 2014 interview that Richard Welch sexually assaulted one of the Lyon sisters, in Richard Welch’s home.
Richard Welch has never been charged, and his daughter, Patricia Ann Welch, who has been subpoenaed, has steadfastly denied her father abused either sister, or that the Lyon sisters had ever been in her family home.
More recently, Montgomery County police looked for evidence in a Hyattsville home Lloyd Lee Welch lived in, in 1975. Crime scene investigator David McGill is expected to testify about blood recovered from concrete in the basement, according to a filing from prosecutor Wes Nance
“The defendant indicated that at least one of the Lyon sisters was killed and dismembered in this basement,” Nance wrote.
The documents on file offer no proof that the blood recovered from the basement matched either of the Lyon girls.
During one of at least eight interviews with detectives in a Delaware prison, where Welch was serving 29 years for 1998 convictions for child sex crimes, Lloyd Welch said his nephew Thomas Welch Jr. led the Lyon girls out of the plaza. Welch later admitted to falsely accusing his relative, “because he was angry at the relative for that person attempting to sexually assault his girlfriend.”
Thomas Welch Jr. has been subpoenaed to testify.
On Taylor’s Mountain
Prosecutors believe the Lyon sisters ended up 240 miles from Wheaton Plaza, on remote Taylor’s Mountain, in Thaxton, Virginia, at a home owned by Richard Welch’s sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Welch Parker. Lizzie Parker died in 2006.
Parker’s daughter, Connie Akers, told detectives in September 2014 — six months after Lloyd Lee Welch was named a person of interest in the Lyon sisters’ disappearance — that Welch had shown up unannounced on Taylor’s Mountain in spring 1975.
Akers told detectives Welch had a duffel bag containing bloody clothing. Welch told Akers he had been carrying ground beef in the bag, “which had gone bad and caused his clothing to become bloody,” according to a court filing.
Akers has been subpoenaed to testify.
Her brother, Henry Parker, told detectives Welch had two green army-style duffel bags that each weighed between 60 and 70 pounds, with reddish-brown stains and the odor of decomposition.
Parker said he assisted his cousin Lloyd in throwing the duffel bags into a fire on the Taylor Mountain property.
Parker is not listed among people subpoenaed to testify, but that does not preclude his taking the stand.
In 2015, subpoenaed neighbors who lived across the road from the Parker home told detectives they recalled the odor of burning flesh in 1975, during the fire that burned for several days. Another sister of Lizzie Parker has also been subpoenaed.
It is unclear whether prosecutors have recovered physical evidence of the sisters’ remains.
Two anthropologists, Cliff and Donna Boyd, of Radford University, examined materials recovered during several dig operations on the property, “that appeared to be bone fragments,” according to prosecutors.
However, forensic scientist Brian Shannon, of the Virginia Department of Forensic Scientist Central Laboratory is expected to testify that all of the samples were found not to be human bone fragments, with the exception of one item gathered by the FBI the which was inconclusive.
In February 2017, a prosecution filing named 10 women who were willing to testify that they were attacked or nearly kidnapped by Lloyd Lee Welch.
The subpoenaed women’s testimony and the information detailed in the document could only be introduced during a sentencing hearing should Welch be convicted of capital murder.
Two women told detectives they got into Welch’s vehicle near Wheaton Plaza in spring of 1975. “Sensing danger, (they) attempted to exit the vehicle, however the door handles were inoperative and (they were) forced to roll down the windows to escape and avoid abduction,” according to the filing.
Ten years after the Lyon sisters disappeared, Welch and a girlfriend were living in a North Carolina trailer park. He allegedly started a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl who lived in the park. After getting caught, Welch allegedly beat the girl.
Around the same time, Welch kicked his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach, sending her into premature labor.
Welch’s defense team of Aaron Houchens, Anthony Anderson and Melissa Friedman have never discussed publicly what defense strategy they will use in trial.
The court has provided funding to enable the defense to hire a private investigator, as well as a mental health expert.
In June 2017, the defense filed a motion saying if Welch is convicted of capital murder, his attorneys “will present testimony of an expert witness to support a claim that he is a person with intellectual disability.” Welch’s attorneys have never claimed he is incompetent to stand trial.
Also in June, Welch’s attorneys filed a motion requesting a change of venue, saying it would be impossible for him to receive a fair trial in Bedford County, given the pretrial publicity. A hearing was never set to argue for change of venue, so it is unlikely the location of the trial will be contested before next week.
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