How the Repeated Mention of a Basement Cracked a Case

Mark Bowden looks at the 1975 disappearance of the Lyon sisters
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2019 1:52 PM CDT
Updated Apr 7, 2019 11:40 AM CDT
How the Repeated Mention of a Basement Cracked a Case
Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., stands during a plea agreement hearing for the killings of Sheila and Katherine Lyon in 1975, in Bedford County Circuit Court in Bedford, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.   (Lathan Goumas/News & Daily Advance via AP, Pool)

It took 42 years to get justice for the Lyon sisters—decades that didn't pass unnoticed by Mark Bowden. In a Washington Post article adapted from his new book, The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation, Bowden writes that he was a "green 23-year-old" on the crime beat at the Baltimore News-American in March 1975 when Sheila and Katherine Lyon, ages 12 and 10, vanished after going to the Wheaton Plaza shopping mall in Montgomery County, Maryland. Their bodies were never found, and it wasn't until 2017 that Lloyd Lee Welch pleaded guilty in the case. Bowden traces how that came to be: Detectives revisited the case over the years, and one came across a statement given by a then 18-year-old Welch, who claimed to have seen the abduction. They tracked him down to a Delaware prison, where he was serving time for molesting a 10-year-old girl.

Detective Dave Davis first interviewed Welch on Oct. 16, 2013, and found a man who "appeared to enjoy talking for its own sake." Welch was full of denials and lies but in that first session, Davis asked him to speculate on the girls' fate. The killer "killed ’em and he probably burned ’em," he replied. Detectives listening in from an adjacent room were startled. As one put it, "Who says 'burned them'?" In later conversations, his story continually shifted but led investigators to probe the entire Welch clan, their Appalachian roots, the incest that went on, and a bloody duffel bag two cousins recall Welch tossing on a bonfire. And while Welch always fingered other relatives as the culprit, "gradually—often inadvertently—he revealed more and more about himself and the crime." One detail that kept recurring: a basement hangout one could only enter from the backyard. Then Davis found that basement ... and the evidence within. Read the full story here. (More Longform stories.)

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