Forty years and more than 2,000 leads later, a kidnapping case of two sisters that gripped suburban Maryland has finally gained some ground, authorities say.
Lloyd Lee Michael Welch Jr., a child sex offender currently in prison for another crime, may face the death penalty after officials in Bedford County, Va., announced Wednesday they would be charging him with first-degree murder charges.
Mr. Welch is accused of killing 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and 10-year-old Katharine Lyon. The sisters disappeared after walking from their house to a Wheaton shopping mall one day in March 1975.
Welch, who is serving a 30-year sentence at a Delaware correctional facility for assaulting another girl close to the victims’ age and had been previously named a person of interest in the case, was indicted by a grand jury on Friday. The indictment had been sealed until Wednesday's announcement.
Authorities had placed Welch, then an 18-year-old carnival worker and drifter, at the mall the same day the girls had vanished. He was seen paying attention to them.
The decades-long manhunt was revived with fresh vigor last year, when officials began combing a mountain in Bedford County in search of the girls’ remains. Information had revealed that the girls were likely abducted in Maryland and killed in Virginia, prosecutors in both states said.
A grand jury in that county handed down the indictment, which was announced by county Sheriff Mike Brown Wednesday, reported the AP.
Federal agents and state officials last year began questioning both Welch and his uncle, 70-year-old Richard Welch, whom they named as another person of interest.
After testifying before the grand jury in December, Richard Welch’s wife was charged with perjury. Authorities refused to disclose what she allegedly lied about because grand jury proceedings are confidential.
Lloyd Welch had publicly denied his involvement in a letter to The Washington Post last year. “I had nothing to do with this and I told the police this,” he wrote.
According to police affidavits obtained by The Associated Press, Welch told investigators that he left the mall with the two girls and saw his uncle sexually assaulting one of them at his home the next day. But he said he'd then left the home, and never saw the girls again.
Details of what exactly happened remain hazy, as officials were careful to emphasize Wednesday that the investigation remains active. Saying that a lack of cooperation had prolonged the case, they did not rule out the possibility of issuing further charges.
Now, authorities will try to extradite Lloyd Welch back to Virginia, where if convicted, he could face 20 years to life in prison or the death penalty, according to Randy Krantz, commonwealth's attorney in Bedford County.
He said prosecutors hadn't yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.
The girls’ parents, John and Mary Lyon, who still live in the area, left the news conference before it ended and did not speak to reporters. Police have asked that their privacy be respected.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.