The Current

'A no-brainer': Why reporter Mark Bowden revisited crime case that haunted him for decades

Mark Bowden was a young reporter when two young sisters were abducted from a mall in 1975, and never found. Forty years later, police found a suspect that had been under their noses the whole time — and Bowden returned to the crime for his new book The Last Stone.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon were abducted in 1975; Lloyd Welch was charged with their deaths in 2015

Mark Bowden, American journalist and author, is best known for writing Black Hawk Down. (Grove Atlantic; Amy Graves/Getty Images)

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After two young girls were abducted from a Washington, D.C., shopping mall in 1975, 18-year-old Lloyd Welch went to police saying he had information.

"[He] claimed he had witnessed the girls being led away from the mall by a man," said Mark Bowden, author of The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation. "And he told an elaborate story describing the man, describing the car he took the girls away in."

"And then was given a lie detector test and [was] asked a bunch of followup questions by police until he ultimately admitted he'd made much of it up."

Bowden was a young reporter in Washington when the kidnapping occurred, and his first front-page news stories were about the disappearance of the sisters, Katherine, 10 and Sheila Lyon, 12. The crime was a huge story at the time, and police were inundated with hundreds of tips.

Welch was easily dismissed as someone who was just trying to capitalize on the sensationalism of the case and perhaps earn some reward money, Bowden told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Lloyd Lee Welch is pictured in this 1977 booking photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Police. Welch, who has been imprisoned since 1997 as a 'convicted child sex offender' was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in 2015 in the deaths of Katherine and Sheila Lyon. (Montgomery County Police/Reuters)

"[Welch's statement] just became another slip of paper that was added to a growing file."

That file grew to fill dozens of boxes worth of information about the case, but it wasn't enough to solve the case. The news cycle moved on, and Bowden went on to become an award-winning journalist and author, penning the critically-acclaimed Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War., among others. But the disappearance of the two sisters continued to haunt him.

"I think it was just the sympathy I had for the Lyon family — the enormity of that tragedy. I remember feeling kind of ashamed of myself when I was 23 because I was so excited to be writing front-page stories. At the same time, I'm spending time with these lovely parents who've just lost these children," he recalled.

"The enormity of their loss, of the enduring tragedy of that never leaves you. And it haunts you."

Then, almost 40 years later, the Maryland police reopened the Lyon sisters' case with a focus on Welch as the main suspect. Shortly after, he was indicted and charged in the girls' deaths.

"When I learned in 2015 that the police had finally arrived at some answers, it was a no-brainer. I had to go do it," said Bowden, referring to his book, The Last Stone.

Bowden spoke with Tremonti about the book and the decades it took to crack the case.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation. 

Produced by Howard Goldenthal.