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Bedford County, Va. Sheriff Mike Brown speaks at a news conference in Wheaton in July with Commonwealth Attorney Randy Krantz, second from left, to discuss developments in the investigation of the disappearance of 10-year-old Katherine Lyon and 12-year-old Shelia Lyon in 1975. Authorities on Wednesday announced first-degree murder charges against an imprisoned sex offender in the disappearance of two sisters from a suburban Maryland mall in 1975, bringing some clarity to the baffling case that made parents question whether to allow children out of their homes alone. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Suspect’s uncle is focus of investigation into 1975 slayings

WASHINGTON — A day after charges were announced in the 40-year-old kidnapping and slayings of two sisters from Maryland, investigators are turning their attention to the suspect’s uncle and others they say were involved in the crime and subsequent cover-up.

This file handout image provided by the Montgomery County Police Department shows photos from the original missing person/suspicious circumstances bulletin for the 1975 disappearance of two sisters in Maryland, Sheila Lyon and Katherine Lyon, who never returned home from a shopping mall. (AP Photo/Montgomery County, Md., Police Department)

This file handout image provided by the Montgomery County Police Department shows photos from the original missing person/suspicious circumstances bulletin for the 1975 disappearance of two sisters in Maryland, Sheila Lyon and Katherine Lyon, who never returned home from a shopping mall. (AP Photo/Montgomery County Police Department)

At a news conference Thursday in Virginia, police and prosecutors said they believe 70-year-old Richard Welch sexually abused at least one of the Lyon sisters. Twelve-year-old Sheila and 10-year-old Katherine Lyon were abducted from a suburban Maryland mall in March 1975. Authorities believe they were slain in Bedford County, Virginia, within three weeks of their abduction. Their bodies have never been found.

Richard Welch remains a person of interest in the case but has not been charged. His wife, Patricia Welch, has been charged with perjury following her testimony before a grand jury last year. Their nephew Lloyd Lee Michael Welch Jr., 58, a child sex offender serving a lengthy sentence in a Delaware prison, is charged with the girls’ murder.

According to a police affidavit, Lloyd Welch has told investigators that he saw his uncle raping one of the girls at his home the day after they were kidnapped, and investigators are continuing to build a case against Richard Welch, authorities said Thursday.

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“There is other evidence out there besides what Lloyd Welch has said,” said Capt. Darren Francke, commander of the major crimes division of the Montgomery County police department.

A call to Richard and Patricia Welch’s home in Hyattsville was referred to Richard Welch’s attorney, Carter Garrett, who was in court Thursday and did not immediately return a message.

Newly unsealed police affidavits also provided chilling details about what may have befallen the girls, whose disappearance haunted the suburban Washington community for decades and made parents question whether their children were safe unsupervised.

According to the documents, Henry Parker, another relative of the Welches, told investigators that Lloyd Welch arrived at the family’s Bedford County property in 1975 with two Army-style duffel bags that were covered in red stains. The bags, Parker told police, weighed 60 to 70 pounds each and smelled like “death.”

Parker told police that the bags were thrown onto a fire on the property, according to the documents. During their search of the site, police found possible bone fragments, the documents show.

Francke said Thursday that Parker was another person investigators are focused on, although he did not categorize Parker as a person of interest.

Francke also described an “ongoing conspiracy” to conceal what happened to the girls. Police documents describe numerous conversations between Richard Welch, his wife and other relatives that occurred after Lloyd Welch was identified as a person of interest last year.

Lloyd Welch is charged with two counts of felony murder during an abduction with intent to defile. Police have not said who they believe killed the girls, but the felony murder statute allows Lloyd Welch to be charged with murder because of his alleged involvement in the kidnappings. Mike Brown, the Bedford County sheriff, said Thursday that the girls were taken so that Lloyd Welch and his uncle could sexually abuse them.

“They were killed in order for their captors to escape detection,” Brown said.

Authorities said they believe people are still withholding information about the slayings.

“Those that have been involved in the actual crimes or in the recent cover-ups, obstruction, non-cooperation, here’s what I would say: Examine your conscience,” said Randy Krantz, the Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney.

Tad DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor who tracks and has written a book about “no-body” murder cases, said that if Lloyd Welch is tried, it would set a record for the longest period of time between a slaying without a body and a trial. Still, he said he believes a conviction is possible.

“They do have some damning evidence against him,” DiBiase said. “You always want forensic evidence, but it doesn’t look like they have that, at least so far.”