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Report: Suspect in 1975 missing sisters case to plead guilty

BEDFORD, Va. -- A convicted sex offender accused in the 1975 murders of two young sisters who disappeared from a Maryland shopping mall is expected to plead guilty to the crime that has haunted the region for more than four decades.

Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., 60, was scheduled to stand trial Tuesday in the killings of 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and 10-year-old Katherine Lyon.

Online court records in Bedford County, Virginia, indicate the trial has been "withdrawn" and a plea hearing is scheduled instead for the same date.

A source confirmed the expected guilty plea to CBS affiliate WUSA9. The Washington Post, citing multiple officials familiar with the case, also reported Thursday that Welch plans to plead guilty.

Lloyd Welch Delaware State Police/WUSA9

Prosecutors and Welch's attorneys declined to comment, citing a gag order that Circuit Judge James Updike issued in the case.

The Lyon sisters disappeared March 25, 1975, after walking from their home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Wheaton Plaza to have pizza with friends during a school vacation.

Police affidavits unsealed in 2015 detailed how Welch surfaced in the case. A week after the girls vanished the then-18-year-old Welch went to the mall, Wheaton Plaza, and told a security guard that he had seen the sisters leave with a man in a car. Police gave him a polygraph test which showed he was lying, according to the affidavits, which did not say whether authorities continued to look into Welch.

The detectives on the case in 2013 set out to learn more about Welch, who had been arrested in 1977 in a burglary case. His mug shot from that arrest strongly resembled a sketch in the Lyon sisters case that had been drawn based on a witness's description of a man at Wheaton Plaza who was staring at the girls and following them, according to the affidavits.

In interviews with police beginning in 2013, Welch acknowledged he was there, and said he believed they'd been "abducted, raped and burned up," according to court documents. He also allegedly admitted leaving the mall with the girls.

Welch, a former carnival worker, was charged two years ago in the killings. He was already in prison in Delaware, having pleaded guilty in 1998 to molesting a 10-year-old girl.

If convicted at trial in Bedford of two counts of first-degree felony murder during "the commission of abduction with the intent to defile," he faced the possibility of the death penalty.

Welch was prosecuted in Bedford because authorities believe he dumped the girls' bodies there, on a remote mountain where his family owned land. The mountain has been the subject of several searches. But without recovering the girls' bodies, prosecutors may have had a difficult time proving their case at a trial.

The case shook the community.

"It was very scary at the time," recalled Jane Harding, who lives around the corner from where the sisters lived, told WUSA9. Harding has lived there since the 1950s.

Any plea deal would not be final until Welch appears before a judge and agrees to the terms. The deal would also need the judge's approval.

The Post reported that the plea agreement also would resolve two unrelated sexual assault cases in Prince William County in northern Virginia. In 2016, Welch was indicted there in the rape of a 6-year-old girl in 1996. Earlier this year, he was indicted for allegedly sexually abusing another girl about the same time.

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