Kate and Sheila Lyons: Remembering You and Your Family : Surviving Charlie
Team Charlie Lives

Kate and Sheila Lyons: Remembering You and Your Family

by Elise Normile on 05/08/13

Step by Step in Agonizing Hunt for Sisters
By Mary Ann Kuhn
Washington Star Staff Writer
Sunday, 6 April 1975
Pages B-1 and B-2

On the morning of Tuesday, March 25, Mary Lyon awoke slowly, at the sounds of her two daughters, Sheila Mary, 13, and Katherine Mary, 11 and her two sons stirring upstairs in their second-floor bedrooms.

It was 10 a.m. Mary Lyon glanced at her husband, John, 35, a radio announcer for WMAL. "He had worked on the show all night and he had just gotten to sleep," said Mrs. Lyon.

It was the second day of Easter vacation - the day Mary Lyon also was to sub in a bowling game. It was sunny. Thank God. The day before it had rained and the children had stayed inside most of the day, helping her houseclean.

Mrs. Lyon, 34, quickly slid from the double bed and stepped onto the dark Oriental design rug beneath her. She wanted to tend to the children before they woke her husband. She tiptoed down the hallway of the white two-story house, past the living room and into the kitchen.

Someone already had put the morning paper on the kitchen table. She started the coffee. The youngsters came in: Joe, 9, Jay, 15, and her two daughters. All in pajamas and robes.

Mrs. Lyon sipped coffee from a blue mug. The girls got their breakfast of cereal and toast. Nothing fancy, although Sheila was capable of handling omelettes and french toast. She had learned that in her home-ec course this year.

Jay, Sheila and Kate Looked at the paper. Mrs. Lyon didn't nag them about what they were eating. It was vacation, and she let the youngsters, at such times eat pretty much what they wanted.

The girls cleared the table and carried the dishes over to the sink. They didn't bother to load the dishwasher.

Decision Time. The children had to make up their minds what they were going to do the rest of the day. No sitting around, making a lot of noise and waking their father up.

"They tend to sit around and sit around and sit around until I tell them to go upstairs and get dressed," said Mrs. Lyon.

"Come on," she had told the girls, "you've got to make up your minds about what you want to do today."

That was the scene in the Lyon kitchen nearly two weeks ago, a few hours before Sheila and Kate seemingly vanished into thin air to become the subjects of an unrelenting search that still has not yielded a successful clue as to their whereabouts.

Picking up the scenario of that Tuesday morning in a conversation in her living room at 3121 Plyers Mill Road, Kensington, Md., the other day, Mrs. Lyon recalled that the phone rang at 11:15 a.m. It was Melanie Ganas, 11, a fifth grader and Kate's best friend. She had called, Melanie said later, "to ask if she could come up and play."

Melanie and her sister, Cassandra, 16, are frequent companions of Sheila and Kate. The night before they had played gin rummy together until 10 p.m. in the Ganas' Kitchen. They live several doors from the Lyons on the other side of the street.

"Kate said no, that she couldn't come up to play with me," Melanie, a beautiful dark-eyed little girl, recalled later. "She said she had to go to the Plaza (Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center) and get out of the house because her father was sleeping.

"She wanted me to go with them and I said, No, my mother doesn't let me walk up there by myself." At that, Melanie cast a glance at her mother, sitting on the other side of the Ganas living room.

"I believe I said you don't have any business up there," said Mrs. Ganas. "I just never believed in it. I thought there was a possibility of danger with girls going up there at a young age."

"Everybody walks up there," said Melanie. "Anne does, and her mother is so strict."

Mrs. Lyon said she hadn't thought it was a good idea for her daughters to go over to the Ganas house that day because "I knew they would be right back over here." She said she was worried they might be too noisy, awakening her husband.

"I had asked Kate what time she was going to be home," Melanie recalled. "Kate said, 'three.' I said, 'I'll call you then; and Kate said. 'all right.'"

So Melanie Ganas didn't accompany the Lyon girls that spring afternoon, 12 days ago.


Sheila and Kate went to Wheaton Plaza by themselves. First, though, they went upstairs to the pale yellow bedroom they share with their stuffed animals and dressed.

Sheila put on a navy blue sweatshirt and wheat colored jeans that she called her "Cheap jeans" and tennis shoes.

Kate had on Wrangler blue jeans, a bright gold turtleneck, a red knit jacket and brown shoes.

Mrs. Lyon told the girls she thought 3 o'clock would be "a good time" to be home.

"I didn't give them any money," recalled Mrs. Lyon. "They had their own money." She took a sip of her coffee and lighted up a Viceroy. "They get an allowance. They have chores to do. Sheila, Joe and Kate split the Advertiser (newspaper) route every Wednesday. Sheila had just started to babysit."

"I said to them," she took a drag on her cigarette, "Why don't you stop off at the Orange Bowl (pizza carryout) and get some pizza. I remember Kate complained that a slice of pizza used to be 40 cents and now it's 45 cents."

It was 11:30 a.m. as the girls got ready to leave. Mrs. Lyon had a half hour to get dressed, wash her short hair, and be on time for her bowling game, her fourth venture at duckpins.

"I was trying to wash my hair. I was in the bathroom, and they kept saying: 'I'm going now, Mom. I'm going now, Mom.' Then the boys kept asking where the basketball was."

Mrs. Lyon took another drag. "I was feeling a little bugged," she said. "I don't function well in the morning."

Sheila and Kate Lyon walked out the front door of their home together, down the flagstone path, out the chain link gate, around the corner to Jennings Road and down Jennings to a wooded path on the left.

This is the route the girls customarily use to the plaza, their mother said, and the one she often has walked herself.

It is a 15 minute stroll that took the two sisters beyond a series of red brick houses, past the brick home of Fred Sigmon, a retired federal employee, and his wife, who have lived there 16 years, past the home where Don Anderson, 18, an Einstein high school student lives with his parents, brother and puppy, and through a wooded area the size of two city blocks.

The wooded path brought them out to a clearing behind the white two-story house of Mrs. Mary Tolker, mother of four, and a former principal of Potomac Elementary School. But Mrs. Tolker wasn't out gardening in her backyard the day the Lyon girls walked to the plaza. She had a dentist appointment at 11 a.m.

The clearing near Mrs. Tolker's garden opens onto McComas Avenue where the Kensington Gardens Nursing Home sits on the right. The route to Wheaton Plaza continues across McComas, up Drumm Avenue to Faulkner and on top of that street looms Montgomery Ward's and Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center.


Wheaton Plaza. For the past 15 years it has been there, a neighborhood shopping center if it can be called that with 70 stores, but still much smaller than many of today's huge shopping malls, and more friendly. It's a hangout for some kids. It's an outdoor shopping center surrounded by apartment buildings and private homes where youngsters go as toddlers tugging at their parent's hand and return years later to buy engagement rings and wedding bands.

"The people who settled here keep on coming back," said John S. Grega, manager for the past 15 years of Winthrop Jewelers. "Some youngsters have brought me in the first cookies they ever baked. The kids knock on the window when they pass by and wave."

Grega added, "We also have some unusual characters. But not as bad as three or four years ago. Kids on drugs come in."

March 25, with school out, was one of the busiest days at the plaza. Easter was just five days away. The weather was warm and sunny.

"It was a madhouse," said Frank E. Pratt, manager of Lerner's. "People were waiting in lines to get into the dressing rooms."

Next door, at the Orange Bowl pizza carryout, business was booming. Between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., that Tuesday, The Orange Bowl almost doubled its normal hourly business and by the end of the day had sold 2,400 slices of pizza.

It was into this busy, teeming shopping scene that the two Lyon sisters walked. Two blond haired girls: Kate, the youngest, "sort of the silly one - the outgoing one" as some friends affectionately put it, and Sheila, the oldest, who they said is "quiet - she would talk when you talked to her."

Sheila is the cook, the honor roll student at Newport Junior High, the artist, the bowler, a young girl just starting to take outside babysitting jobs - with a secret ambition to be a cheerleader.

Kate likes to garden, play volleyball, roller skate, read books - and run. "She is really a fast runner - like a bullet," one friend said. And Kate is especially fond of her youngest brother, Joe. She often would dress him and walk him every day to their school, Oakland Terrace elementary.

Sheila's school is Newport Junior High, to which she rides a bus.

Sheila's and Kate's faces are not unfamiliar at Wheaton Plaza. The girls like candy and frequently browse through the shops, especially to look at clothes. At least six persons saw them there that Tuesday afternoon.

One of the first persons to see the girls there was Mrs. Sarah Biosca, a retired seamstress who noticed them at Beckers Leather Goods store, at about 11:45 a.m.

Mrs. Biosca said one of the girls had stepped in front of her to look at a woman's wallet on display. "The one with the glasses (Sheila) was walking with the other one behind her, and had said, 'Oh, excuse me' to me. She was looking for a wallet, and I heard her say something to her sister like, 'Look at this. Isn't this nice?'"

Five shops away, Brian McAbee, 18, a clerk at Up Against The Wall, a clothing store featuring jeans and shirts, said, "They were in here. They just came in and looked around. I saw them walk throught the arch."

Sheila's and Kate's oldest brother, Jay, a ninth grader at Montgomery Hills said he saw his sisters over by the big Easter bunny display in the center of the plaza at about 1 p.m. "I walked past them. They kind of looked like they were waiting there," he said. "I think they saw me but they didn't make any signs."

Moments later, another 13-year-old boy saw the girls. Sheila, he said, was sitting on one of the Easter bunny's arms listening to the little children come up and tell the Easter bunny what they wanted for Easter.

Another 13-year-old boy also says he saw a 50 to 60 year-old man recording a conversation with Sheila and Kate at about 2 o'clock. He overheard the man asking one question: "Are any of you two involved in sports?"

And the youngster says he then saw the man walk away in one direction and the girls in the other. That was the last time they were seen at Wheaton plaza. Police have circulated a composite sketch of the man with the tape recorder, but he has not been located.

Only one person has reported seeing the girls later that day. At 7:30 that night, David Reed, 12, a seventh grader at Sheila's school, said he saw the two sisters walking in the opposite direction of their home near the intersection of Drumm and Faulkner headed toward the plaza. "I was coming from a friend's house from playing basketball," said David, "I passed them (on the sidewalk) and then I looked back. Why? They're girls." David said he had seen both girls before up at the community swimming pool and had seen Sheila at school.

At 3:30 p.m., Mrs. Lyon arrived home from her bowling trip. The girls weren't there. She said it was her worst bowling performance ever - so bad, in fact, that she is embarrassed to tell her score.

Her husband had met her outside the Wheaton Triangle bowling alley. From there they went together to the Kensington bank before it closed and then on to a used bookstore.

Back home, Mrs. Lyon recalled, "John went in and lay down. I changed my clothes and worked in the front yard for three hours. The boys had come home by then."

As she was gardening throughout the afternoon, Mrs. Lyon wondered about the girls. "I hadn't told them absolutely they had to be home at 3. So I thought that maybe they had stopped off at a movie or a friend's house."

The Lyons customarily do tell their children to be home at 6 o'clock for dinner, although the food usually isn't served until 45 minutes later.

Six o'clock came and went, however, with no sign of the girls. "As we sat down to eat fried chicken," Mrs. Lyon was more angry than worried, so much so that "I even thought I wouldn't give them any chicken when they got home."

By 7 o'clock, however, the anger had given way to anficty. "I said to John, 'I don't understand this," Mrs. Lyon said, so she and her husband drove in their Ford station wagon down Jennings and up Drumm to Faulkner to see if they could spot their daughters walking home.

"Back home," said the mother, "I got out my little phone book and started calling their freinds." "John left and went to the Plaza to look some more. He got home at 8 p.m."

"We were really scared by then. John called the police. I knew when it started to get dark they'd know to come home. But they didn't."

The Montgomery County Police took the Lyons' call "seriously as soon as I told them how old they were." said Mrs. Lyon "They sent a police car over and took a complete description and the police called all the kids who were friends of my daughters'."

Still no luck.

That night, Jay Lyon went upstairs to his sisters' bedroom where Sheila kept her money in a metal tea can. Jay counted the money in it and there was $17 and some odd cents.

"We go to Myrtle Beach every year," Mrs. Lyon said. "And we encourage the children to save their money for that. I remember Sheila said the day before, 'Hey Mom, I have $20 already.'"

"Kate had some money but she didn't have near what Sheila did."


The telephone rings frequently in the Lyon home these days, and a number of people are there. Family, friends, and neighbors. All waiting.

The other day, as Mrs. Lyon sits on the living-room flowered couch, the phone in the kitchen rings again. Someone answers it. She looks up. They away.

John's mother sits patiently, knitting. Mary's mother is there, too, as well as two sisters who arrived from out of town. Mrs. Lyon's sisters leave for a brief time and return with a pocketbook plant for her. They bought it at the 7-11 - the last one there.

Jay arrives home from school. He gets engrossed in a chess game with this cousin, half-kneeling, half-sitting on the green rug.

Joe comes in from school in his overalls, shirt sleeves rolled up. He puts his arms around his mother's waist and buries his head in her chest.

They go into her bedroom where he gives her a home-made cupcake which a neighbor up the street had prepared for him. Joe wants his mother to have it.

Then he opens a folder he had left on the bed. Inside is a color photograph of Kate and her class. He shows his mother a picture of his class.

Mother and son walk out into the living room. There's no place to sit. She stands in the middle of the room, fussing with Joe's shirt, unrolling his sleeves, straightening his overalls.

Photographers, cameraman, an anchorman, a reporter are among the new faces. A photogtrapher wants to take a picture of Mary and John Lyon. They sit down at the kitchen table and talk. The camera click, clicks. The photographer leaves.

Then out to the front stoop where WMAL has a cameraman ready to roll and an anchorman to do an interview. And then back inside the house again because another photographer wants to shoot pictures.

This time, upstairs. In the girls bedroom with the dainty vanity and the pink flowered vanity skirt and the ruffled white curtains. A poster of rock star John Denver hangs over Sheila's bed -- over Kate's one of Loggins and Messina.

Mary Lyon hurriedly straightened the pink blanket on Kate's bed before the camera clicks. She says to no one in particular that she is going to let her sisters sleep in the girls' room tonight because last night one of the cots broke.

The photographer snaps a few pictures of the stuffed animals piled high on Sheila's pink sheets and blue flowered blanket. He does the same for Kate's.

Mrs. Lyon stands over by the bookcse in a corner of the room pointing out Kate's Bobbsey Twins books. "Kate likes to read," said her mother. " She likes very sad, sentimental stories about orphans and poor little girls. She takes after me that way."

Neighbors and friends have been wonderful, said Mrs. Lyon, bringing in hams and turkeys and cakes. Friends stop by continually to chat and to help out. Women in the community are busily collecting money, going from house to house, to increase the reward money initiated by WMAL. Even children chip in from dimes to dollars. Nearly $600 was handed over at the end of the week from that source. The Oakland Terrace school where Kate is a pupil gave $100 and the school's PTA donated $50. At St. John the Evangelist Church in Silver Spring, the 9 a.m. Mass was said yesterday for the Lyon sisters - for their safe return.


It's April 6 and the wait is still on. Mrs. Lyon has changed her mind about a lot of things. "When they come home, Kate can get her ears pierced. And Sheila can wear eye shadow."

Melanie has two transistor radios wrapped up and waiting as birthday presents for Sheila and Kate, both of whom had birthdays last weekend. There will be a promised birthday dinner out. They'll get their Easter baskets that have been sitting by the fireplace.

And Kate will have her little brother Joe to walk to school again.

Comments (3)

1. Tracey bell said on 9/17/13 - 04:27AM
What I lovely piece you wrote
2. Melanie Ganas Pantazopoulos said on 2/4/14 - 08:02AM
Who wrote and republished this I would like to speak with them. I just saw this article about me for the very first time since age 11. I would like to know how they know so much about me and my horrific situation in this tragic matter. Melanie Ganas Pantazopoulos
3. Amy said on 2/11/14 - 11:00AM
Did you see that just today they have a person of interest in this case? I remembered reading the story on your blog when I saw it on the news today. all these years later. Amazing

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