Forensic dig underway in 1975 missing sisters cold case

BEDFORD, Va. -- A task force including an FBI evidence recovery team is conducting a forensic dig on a central Virginia mountain in hopes of finding out what happened to two sisters who vanished 40 years ago, officials said Monday.

Sheila Lyon, 12, and her sister Katherine, 10, were last seen walking to the Wheaton Plaza mall in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Wheaton, Md., from their home in nearby Kensington in 1975. They were never seen again.

1adig.jpg
Investigators conduct a forensic dig on a central Virginia mountain Monday, Jan. 12, 2015 in connection with a 1975 missing sisters cold case. WDBJ

Two persons of interest -- Delaware inmate Lloyd Lee Welch, Jr., and his uncle Richard Allen Welch Sr., -- were announced in the case last year. Police said Welch, Jr. was seen at the mall that day, and Welch, Sr. was a security guard in the Wheaton area when the girls disappeared.

Welch Sr. is also believed to own or have owned property on Taylor's Mountain in Bedford County, Va., where investigators are focusing their search. The remote area between Roanoke and Lynchburg is more than 230 miles southwest of where the young sisters vanished.

The mountain has been the subject of searches in recent months. During a Monday morning press conference, Bedford County, Virginia sheriff Mike Brown said certain information and evidence led investigators to concentrate on specific areas on the mountain that would be the subject of a forensic dig expected to last two days.

Brown wouldn't specify what led the team there, but he said they "hope to" to find human remains.

"The investigative work of this task force...will be as tenacious as humanly possible with the target of locating these children and providing the parents closure in this nightmare that no parents should be forced to endure," Brown said.

The dig sites have become "locations of interest" based on joint investigations through the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, Montgomery County Maryland police department, the Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney's office and the Virginia State Police, Brown said.

"Our mission focus is to bring these children home if at all possible," said Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz. "This case will be resolved."

In October, a special grand jury was impaneled by the Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney's office to begin hearing evidence and testimony in the case. The grand jury -- which is comprised of jurors from Bedford and surrounding Virginia counties -- is still hearing evidence in the case.

In December, the grand jury charged the wife of Richard Allen Welch, Sr. of lying to them. Patricia Welch, 65, of Hyattsville, Md. was charged with perjury.

Witnesses placed Lloyd Lee Welch, Jr. at the mall and said he was playing close attention to the girls, reports WUSA9. In 1998, the 57-year-old Welch Jr. pleaded guilty to unrelated sex offenses in Delaware, where he is serving time, reported the Washington Post. He has reportedly denied any involvement in the sisters' disappearances.

Richard Allen Welch Sr., is believed to be over 70 years old. Police believe Welch Sr. was a security guard in the Wheaton area when the girls disappeared.

Officials said in October he's still alive and police know where he is, though they wouldn't comment on his location.