Sheila, 12, and Katharine Lyon, 10, vanished in 1975

By Tara Fowler
Updated July 16, 2015 08:30 AM
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AP Photo/Montgomery County, Md., Police Department

Authorities have charged a convicted sex offender with murder in the 1975 disappearance of two sisters that shocked a quiet Washington, D.C., suburb.

Forty years ago, 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and 10-year-old Katharine Lyon went to the Wheaton Plaza Mall in Maryland to shop for Easter decorations and grab a bite to eat. They were never seen or heard from again.

On Wednesday, authorities announced that Lloyd Lee Michael Welch Jr., a convicted child sex offender who is already serving time in prison for molesting a 10-year-old girl, now faces charges of first-degree felony murder during an abduction with attempt to defile, KFOR reports.

Last year, officials named both Welch Jr. and his uncle, Richard Allen Welch Sr., as suspects in the girls’ disappearance. Welch Jr. had previously admitted to seeing the girls that day and even confessed to leaving the mall with them.

But he says he never touched the girls and knows nothing about their deaths, though he did witness Welch Sr. sexually abusing them.

However, an inmate in Welch Jr.’s cell block told authorities last year that Welch Jr. admitted to burying the girls on a family property in Virginia, according to NBC News.

And in December, investigators spoke to a man who claimed that in 1975, he helped Welch Jr. dispose of two red-stained duffel bags weighing roughly 60 to 70 lbs. apiece. Together, they tossed the bags on a fire. The man said they “smelled like death,” court documents obtained by NBC News state.

At the time of the alleged slayings, Welch Jr. was just 18 years old, traveling throughout the Wheaton area as a carnival worker. He told police then that he had seen the girls leave with a man. Authorities administered a polygraph, which Welch Jr. failed, but police never pursued him further as a suspect – until 2013, when a detective uncovered the interview and failed polygraph test, the Associated Press reports.

Welch Sr. remains a suspect in the case, authorities said Wednesday.

The girls’ bodies have never been found, despite an extensive search of the family property in Virginia. But prosecutors will pursue the case regardless.

“We have a difficult road. We have a difficult burden,” said Randy Krantz, the Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney. “But in my assessment of this case, it was either move forward or do nothing, and we were willing to move forward.”

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