Man sentenced in 1975 girls’ murder case that alarmed region

It was an innocent time in a safe place, where parents didn’t think twice about letting their kids walk to the local shopping mall. All that changed the day the Lyon sisters disappeared.

A sense of security was shattered in the spring of 1975, when two young sisters from the Maryland suburbs of Washington went to the mall to have pizza with friends, but never made it home.

On Tuesday, one of the region’s most painful and enduring mysteries came to an end when a 60-year-old convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to felony murder in the deaths of 10-year-old Katherine and 12-year-old Sheila Lyon.

The case haunted the region for decades.

“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, who searched for the girls at the shopping center and in nearby woods in the days after they vanished.

Parents were afraid to let their children go outside. Walks to the mall and other unsupervised activities also came to an end, said Teresa Brookland, a former schoolmate of Katherine Lyon.

“Our parents were very protective. They were quite rattled by this,” Brookland said.

The crime went unsolved for decades, and the girls’ bodies were never found. Finally, in 2013, cold case detectives in Montgomery County, Maryland, honed in on Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., who fit the description of a man a friend of the girls told police she saw staring at the sisters the day they disappeared.

Welch was sentenced to 48 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree felony murder. He admitted participating in the abduction of the girls, but continues to insist he did not participate in any sexual assault of the girls or in their killings, said his attorney, Tony Anderson.

The 48-year sentence is part of a plea agreement that also calls for him to receive a 12-year concurrent prison term for two unrelated sexual assaults in northern Virginia.

The Lyon sisters disappeared on March 25, 1975, after walking from their home in Kensington, Maryland, to the shopping center.

Welch was charged in the girls’ killings in 2015 after members of his extended family said they saw him carrying two large duffel bags on property the family owned on Taylor’s Mountain in Bedford County, Virginia.

During Welch’s plea hearing in Bedford Circuit Court Tuesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance said witnesses told authorities Welch put a green duffel bag in a large fire burning on the…

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