Montgomery County Maryland's Biggest Mystery: The Lyon Sisters

Originally posted 2001: last revised 2012
In 1975 Sheila and Kate Lyon vanished on the way home from Wheaton Plaza, now know as Westfield Wheaton. The girls' parents were John and Mary Lyon. John was a radio personality at WMAL, a number-one rated station that was then held by the owner of Channel 7 and The Washington Star. For the several months following their March 25th disappearance, the Lyon Sisters were the top story in the DC media, even as the U.S. was pulling out of Viet Nam.

I was graduating from the 8th grade at the time and took notice of this thing that had befallen two kids who were only a year or two younger than I was, who looked like the girls in my class. There was a Hot Shoppes Cafeteria in Wheaton Plaza in those days. My parents and I ate there often. I remember the "missing" posters with the sisters' school photos hanging every where one turned.

Some may have seen the incident as a shocking assault on suburban innocence, security and the "good ol' days," but I remember many, myself included, thinking that it had been inevitable. Just a few years before the Lyon case, there were the Beltway Murders.

Word of suspicious adults accosting children came around much more often then, it seems, than it does now. The perves have gone indoors. I was told never to walk home on the lonely "trolley path," an old overgrown right-of-way that cut through neighborhoods east of Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda. Random abduction had to happen to some kid at some time.

The Lyon Sisters were last seen on Drumm Avenue heading toward the family house on Plyers Mill Rd. As other kids had done at Wheaton Plaza that March Good Friday afternoon, they had talked to a well-dressed, middle-aged man who appeared to be interviewing children with a tape-recorder in a briefcase.

No one has ever identified this man. He never came forward in the media saturation that followed the disappearance, so it's a good bet he was involved. I don't ever recall seeing any reports of what he was discussing with the children.

The Montgomery County Police, believe it or not, had a suspect, an old man who was incarcerated for life in North Carolina for crime against children. He appeared in the DC area about the time the girls vanished. Some legal obstacle prevented the creep from being questioned.

People who were kids growing up in the Washington, DC suburbs in 1975 talk about how before the incident, their parents would say "Go out and play and don't come home unless your arm is broken." The Lyon sisters incident ended the days of roving around the neighborhood unccounted for until dinner time. Thickets and overgrown places that were many a suburb's mystery have been developed or pruned. That lonely Bethesda trolley path is now a bike trail.

The open-air shopping center that was known as Wheaton Plaza in 1975 has long been converted to an enclosed mall. Now it's a really scary dump. John Lyon gave up broadcasting and became a victim assistance counsellor. The Lyons' eldest son, the last family member to see Sheila and Kate alive, became a Montgomery County Police Officer.

Kate & Sheila Lyon
These photos of missing Sheila Lyon (left),13 and her younger sister, Kate Lyon, 11, were burned into Washingtonians' memories during the last nine months of 1975.
Copyright 2012 by Neal J. Conway. All rights reserved.

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