Almost 40 years after two little girls disappeared from an East Coast mall, investigators have fingered a person of interest in the case and investigators are renewing a nationwide plea for help to solve the tragic mystery that haunted a community for years.
Lloyd Lee Welch, also known as Michael Welch, has been in prison in Delaware since 1997 on a rape conviction and is a registered sex offender. He has been named as a person of interest in the disappearance of sisters Sheila and Katherine Lyon, 12 and 10 respectively when they vanished.
The FBI said that Welch was “noticed paying attention to the sisters the afternoon” they disappeared.
Pictured below, the girls left their Kensington, Md., home to walk the half-mile or so to Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center, now known as Westfield Wheaton. They were on spring break, and wanted to get some pizza for lunch and see the Easter decorations. They had less than $4 with them.
After they missed their 4 p.m. curfew, police were called. A composite sketch was widely distributed and tips flowed in, but the Lyon sisters were never seen or heard from again.
Local news from across Southern California
Today, Katherine Lyon would be 49 years old, according to age-progressed photos of the girls. Her sister would be 51.
This week, the Montgomery County Police Department Cold Case Squad and FBI agents identified Welch as a person of interest in the case.
"Even though so much time has passed, we have not forgotten that those young girls deserve justice, and their family deserves closure," Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said. "We’re hoping one of you has information that will help us provide both."
The now-57-year-old Welch traveled extensively from the 1970s to mid-90s working as a ride operator for a carnival company, often set up at malls, the FBI said. Among other U.S. cities, Welch’s travels took him to Los Angeles, his only known residence in California, in March 1987, authorities said.
Police hope the release of Welch's picture will jog someone's memory and help them find out what happened to the Sheila and Katherine.
“We understand we’re asking people to think back several decades to remember details they may not think matter. However, the information you provide could be vital in our search for evidence and put to rest difficult questions for the Lyon family and for any other victims who may exist,” said Steve Vogt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Maryland.
Welch was arrested in several states on charges of sexual offenses against young girls, including in Virginia and South Carolina, the FBI said. He was also arrested in a burglary not far from Wheaton Plaza.
Investigators believe there may be victims who have not come forward.
Anyone who may have encountered Welch is urged to call investigators at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit any details to http://tips.fbi.gov.
NBC4 Washington's Pat Collins and Shomari Stone contributed to this report.