BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. -- A man has pleaded guilty to the murders of two young sisters from Maryland more than 40 years after the two girls vanished from a shopping center.
Lloyd Lee Welch pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to the murders of 12-year-old Sheila and 10-year-old Katherine Lyon.
The girls vanished in 1975 from Wheaton Plaza Mall in Maryland to see an Easter exhibit and grab a slice of pizza.
The girls’ bodies, which were believed to be dumped in Bedford County, have never been located.
A judge sentenced Welch to 48 years in prison for the crime. The sentenced is to be served once he completes serving time in Delaware for an unrelated sexual assault.
The sisters were supposed to come home by 4 p.m. When they didn't, their mother called authorities and a major search ensued, according to the Charley Project, a website that profiles thousands of missing people, mainly from the United States.
Authorities acquired more than 2,000 leads throughout the decades, never leading to any physical evidence.
The most promising lead was a witness in Virginia who reported seeing two girls resembling the victims, bound and gagged in the back of station wagon. Unable to get the entire license plate number, police later deemed the report "questionable."
The case turned a corner in 2014, when authorities named Lloyd Welch Jr. and his uncle Richard Allen Welch Sr. prime suspects in the case.
A convicted sex offender who molested young girls in South Carolina, Delaware and Virginia, Lloyd Welch was at the Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center the same day as the Lyon sisters. He told authorities he left the mall with the girls and later saw his uncle molesting them. Lloyd Welch says he never saw the girls again.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report.