EXCLUSIVE: Willoughby property searched in connection with Lyon sisters cold case

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Willoughby House, at 5229 42nd Place. The garage was searched by law enforcement in connection with the Lyon sisters cold case on July 12. Photo by Lindsay Myers

BY LINDSAY MYERS — On July 12, a team of investigators led by the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) searched the garage of 5229 42nd Place in Hyattsville in connection with the ongoing Lyon sisters murder investigation. The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office of Bedford, Virginia, and the FBI also participated in the search. The Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) provided perimeter security during the search, but were otherwise uninvolved. MCPD reported that no evidence was obtained during the search.

Law enforcement identified the garage as a place of interest after a relative of Richard Welch, a resident of Hyattsville and a “person of interest” in the case, claimed to have seen him sexually assaulting one of the sisters there in 1975. Thomas Willoughby, the current owner of the property, could not be reached for comment.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon disappeared from Wheaton Mall on March 25, 1975. Their bodies were never found. After an intensive search for the girls in the months after their disappearance, the case went cold until 2013 when Montgomery County detectives reopened the files. A suspicious interview with former Hyattsville resident, Lloyd Lee Welch, caught their attention. A week after the girls’ disappearance, Lloyd Lee Welch confessed that he had seen the girls getting into a car with an adult male on March 25. Lloyd Lee Welch failed a polygraph test, but was ruled out as a person of interest until the case reopened in 2013. In 2015, Lloyd Lee Welch admitted to kidnapping the girls. He was charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder.

Lloyd Lee Welch, however, maintains his innocence in the murders. He told investigators that his uncle, Richard Welch, helped him abduct the girls from the mall, but then dropped Lloyd Lee Welch off at his home. Lloyd Lee Welch claims that he saw Richard Welch sexually assaulting one of the girls at the Willoughby garage the following day, but that he does not know what happened to them after that.

Although neighborhood sources identify the Willoughby House as a former residence of Richard Welch and his family, Patricia Ann Welch, Richard Welch’s daughter, who was 8 years old in 1975, maintains that her family never lived at 5229 42nd Place. She reported that her grandmother, Gladys Welch, and her father’s brother, Luther Welch, lived on the property and that Luther Welch’s name “needs to be put out there.”

Patricia Ann Welch voluntarily took the police to the Willoughby property on June 30. She regularly speaks on behalf of her parents and meets with detectives “two to three times a month.” Welch said that she brought the police to the house in order to be candid and cooperative.

“They didn’t even know about the house until I told them about it. I’ve been helping them. I don’t understand why people won’t put it out there that we’ve been helping them. All they want to put out there is bad stuff,” she said.

The garage at 5229 42nd Place was packed full of junk the day of the investigation. A neighbor who observed the search said law enforcement “removed a fair amount of construction materials and other large items” including an old rusted automobile and pieces of broken furniture. The scene was busy with both uniformed and plainclothes officers moving in and out of the garage. Eventually, the officers returned all the large items that had been removed and left the premises.

Bill Greene, Director of Technical Operations for the Crime Scene Investigation Division of Prince George’s County Police Department said that for a cold-case investigation like this one, law enforcement likely would have been searching for DNA evidence connected to the crime.

“You’re going to look in potential areas that maybe have discoloration, or maybe they don’t because they’ve been cleaned up with bleach or detergent, or because time itself has bleached the surface. Nevertheless, you’re still going to swab it for a presumptive test for blood,” he said.

Although collecting DNA is more difficult in a cold case, Greene said there is hope some will be recovered in the Lyon sisters case. Greene’s lab helped close the case of the 1982 murder of Laurel resident Stephanie Watson. In 2013 Greene tested one of the blood stained seats of Watson’s car and positively identified the DNA of John Ernest Walsh. Walsh was sentenced to 33 years in prison in March 2016.

Patricia Ann Welch said she is not surprised the police left the search without any evidence. She said her father is innocent and Lloyd Lee Welch implicated him in the crime because “he has nothing else to lose. … Lloyd is 100 percent guilty; he’s already admitted it,” she said.  

Patricia Ann Welch said she brought the police to the house in an effort to be transparent, not because she believes Lloyd Lee Welch’s accusations.

“[Law enforcement] wanted to know everywhere that any of my father’s family lived, that way they can look for clues or evidence. If somebody kept something [from the crime]. You think I’m going to just skip over that place? No, because these cops are getting people on perjury charges. I’m going to tell it from the beginning and how I know it,” said Patricia Ann Welch.

Patricia Ann Welch’s mother, Patricia Jean Welch, was found guilty of perjury on Aug.16.