A convicted sex offender has been charged with the murder of two young Maryland sisters whose 1975 disappearance triggered one of the biggest police investigations in suburban Washington history, authorities said on Wednesday.
Lloyd Lee Welch, a former drifter and carnival worker, has been the focus of the 40-year investigation for two years, Maryland and Virginia authorities said.
Katherine and Sheila Lyon, ages 10 and 12, disappeared on March 25, 1975, when they walked to a mall in Wheaton, Maryland, and were never seen again.
Despite a massive search, the case went cold until 2013 when authorities began looking into Welch, a convicted child sex offender imprisoned in Delaware since 1997.
His mug shot strongly resembled a description given by a witness of a man at the Westfield Wheaton mall seen staring at the girls and following them, according to police affidavits released earlier this year.
Investigators described Welch as a drifter who worked in carnivals and landscaping in about a dozen states from the 1970s through the 1990s.
Local Maryland police last year named Welch and his uncle, Richard Welch, as persons of interest in the case.
There may be additional arrests, authorities said on Wednesday.
“If this helps the Lyon family, it is a wonderful day for me,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy at a news conference in Wheaton.
Welch is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and, if convicted, could face the death penalty. The indictment was handed down on Friday and unsealed on Wednesday.
The two girls had walked to the mall, about 11 miles north of Washington, D.C., to have lunch with friends and see an Easter exhibit.
The case shocked residents of the region, making parents frightened and wary of leaving their children alone.
According to the police affidavits, Lloyd Welch told police he left the mall with the girls in his car. He said he saw his uncle sexually abusing one of them the next day but never saw the girls again.
The investigation led authorities to rural Virginia, where a search failed to turn up evidence of the girls’ remains.
SOURCE: Reuters, John Clarke