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Missing Lyon Girls case now 35 years old

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Published on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

By Annie Farber

Two young girls walked to Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center for lunch were never seen or heard from again.

Katherine and Sheila Lyon, sisters who lived on Plyers Mill Road in Kensington, were on their school’s spring break when it happened. Katherine, then 10 years old, and Sheila, then 12, decided to get pizza for lunch and visit an Easter exhibit in the mall. That was March 25, 1975, nearly 35 years ago.

Several later claimed they had seen the girls speaking with an older man who had a tape recorder in a briefcase. Sketches of the man were compiled and he was established as the prime suspect. Many others stepped forward saying they had witnessed a man with a tape recorder at various shopping centers in the area. However, a link was never made between the reports and the girls’ disappearance by the police.

The county police department was not willing to comment on the 35-year-old case, saying the family has had enough media exposure. The police could confirm that they continue to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Residents are still encouraged to come forward with any information.

Robert Lowery, the executive director of NCMEC’s missing children division, said the case received so much attention and continues to today because of the shock of it happening in a place where people felt secure. 

“It makes the community feel vulnerable,” Lowery said.  “The girls went to have lunch and their mother had every reason to believe her children were safe.”

And they never returned.  Lowery said what is most frustrating about this case is that NCMEC, the police, and residents just don’t know what happened. Despite it being one of the largest police searches in the area, and that occasional leads come in to this day, there are still no answers.

Lowery remains optimistic. 

“We never forget a case.  We never close a case until we know what happened,” he said.The NCMEC case managers are still in contact with the Lyon family.

“We just want to let them know someone still cares,” Lowery said. “We’re convinced someone out there knows something.”

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST or the Montgomery County Police Department at 301-279-8000.

Reader Comments - 5 Total

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Posted By: Adam On: 8/15/2011

Title: Part 2 DeBardeleben

He likely committed the "same" crime twice, or a perfect layover crime. The missing trio occurred in Fort Worth Texas, Dec 23, 1974 where 3 girls went missing from an outdoor mall in the middle of the busy holiday shopping. The girls were likely last seen in a van with a security guard impersonator.
Likely, DeBardeleben refined his technique by stealing Maryland State Police uniforms from a dry cleaners in Baltimore in Feb of 1975. This crime is documented in the Sept 1975 Washington post archives. Once he has the uniforms he begins a psycho-sexual crime that begins with his acting as a Tape Recorder Man in area malls including Wheaton Plaza, White Oak shopping ctr and a couple in PG county.
Then he strikes. He dresses as a Maryland State trooper and preps his car to match. He lies in wait for suitable victims - which turned out to be the Lyon girls. He gains their trust as a police officer and asked them to help him by speaking into the microphone at the mall when he later appears as a plain clothed officer. "If you guys talk into the microphone my partner and I can communicate while not drawing attention to the criminal we are surveilling".
He wants to be seen. He wants to be sketched - which fits with DeBardeleben and his criminal profile.
TRM then left the mall and likely waited for the girls - a second meeting of TRM and the Lyon girls was likely arranged for outside the mall - same place they met. He may have asked for their continued help at the station, including a special honor merit to be given to them and their parents. Once they got in the car it was over.

Posted By: Adam On: 8/15/2011

Title: James Mitchell DeBardeleben

Montgomery County Police never had a chance. Mike DeBardeleben was a criminal known as "the most dangerous serial criminal in America". Of all the crimes that he did and he did many terrible and heinous crimes, this may have been his greatest creation of hell on earth.
He died in prison on Jan 26,1011 in a prison in NC while serving a 375 year sentence for kidnapping, raping and slew of other crimes. He was a serial killer, probably and extremely prolific one.
He impersonated police officers to pull over women, kidnap them, take them to safe houses and rape them for days. He photographed and tape recorded himself while performing his crimes. These photos and cassettes were used as proof to convict him in several cases.
He was convicted for doing crime all over the DC area, and it was discovered committed dangerous, violent crimes all in and around Wheaton.

Posted By: Christine On: 6/4/2010

Title: Remembering Katherine and Sheila Lyons

I remember this story like yesterday and was sharring with a friend on what happen when I was growing up...I was also 10 and remember playing on the field of Oakland Terrace ES when I was in 5th grade with Katherine, I called her Kate...I remember for some odd reason that she had brown leather shoes and she reminded me of a tom boy playing kick ball and running around at recess...and I will never forget them...

Posted By: Catharine On: 3/24/2010

Title: Still in people's minds

Just yesterday, in reaction to the Rockville woman being sentenced for the murder of her two adopted daughters (and storing their bodies in a freezer), people I work with recalled this story of the Lyon sisters. It shows how people from this area are still affected by this crime, 35 years later. I would hope that the mother's DNA was tested, and the results kept with the case file. Then, should skeletal remains be found someday, perhaps the teeth could be tested for mitochondrial DNA to determine identity. Nothing could be worse than having your children taken, and not even having remains to consecrate and bury.

Posted By: KB On: 3/19/2010

Title: Wow

I grew up in Kemp Mill (right up the road from Wheaton Plaza). This was the boogey man story when I was growing up, relayed by the older kids and adults as well. I was born in 1975, but this story was always told whenever my friends and I ventured off on our own, especially if we were headed to Wheaton. It's sad that all this time later and it is still an unsolved case.


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