The Strange Disappearance of the Lyon Sisters
by Robert A. Waters
“Hope springs eternal,” wrote the poet. For families of kidnapped victims, those words often bring solace. On the other hand, once a child is missing for more than a few days, cops look at the odds and are much more pessimistic.
Occasionally, a victim survives and returns home. Steven Staynor was held captive for seven years before escaping from a brutal sex predator. Elizabeth Smart was kept for nine months. Shawn Hornbeck was rescued after four years and Jaycee Lee Dugard came home eighteen years later.
There seems to be little hope, however, that the Lyon sisters will ever be seen again. After all, it’s been thirty-five years since they were snatched from the streets of Wheaton, Maryland.
On March 25, 1975, Sheila Mary Lyon, 12, and her sister, Katherine Mary Lyon, 10, left their home sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon. They planned to walk a half-mile to the Wheaton Plaza, a local mall, to buy a birthday gift for their mother.
Mary Lyon, the girls’ mother, told them to be home by 4:00. Their father, John Lyon, a well-known announcer for one of the most popular Bethesda radio stations, was working.
Sheila and Katherine were seen at the plaza by several friends as well as her brother. They ate pizza at a local restaurant and window-shopped. At some point, they were seen speaking into a microphone held by a middle-aged man. The sisters left the mall sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 and were last seen walking along Drumm Avenue toward their home.
Neither Sheila nor Katherine Lyon has been seen since. Despite a desperate door-to-door search and thousands of volunteers scouring the surrounding woodlands and fields, the girls were never found.
There have been few leads. Two men who lived in the area and were later convicted of crimes against children became suspects. Nothing was ever found to link either to the missing girls.
Perhaps the best lead is the man with the tape recorder. He was never identified, even though investigators requested that he come forward. If you lived in the area at the time, think back and try to remember someone you knew who would take a tape recorder in his briefcase and record young boys and girls at local malls.
Here’s what we know about him:
He was about six feet tall, middle-aged, and wore a brown suit. He carried a brown or tan briefcase. When he opened the briefcase, there was a portable cassette tape recorder inside. The recorder had a microphone attached to it.
Some reports say the Tape Recorder Man, as he was called, said he was recording women’s voices to be used in an answering machine. Some children thought he was a reporter and volunteered to be recorded so they could see themselves on television. An eyewitness who helped police sketch a likeness of the man said that he saw Sheila and Katherine speaking to him.
“Are any of you two involved in sports?” the man asked. The boy moved on and didn’t hear the response.
The boy added that “the man was holding a microphone in his hand between the girls, and asking questions. He had a tan briefcase on the ground. It was one of the those hard ones that sat up.”
Many people saw the Tape Recorder Man and helped police develop a sketch of him. In the weeks before the girls disappeared, he was also seen at the Iverson Mall and the Marlton Heights Shopping Center in nearby Prince George’s County.
Whether he had anything to do with the disappearance of the girls is unknown. But police, who have never let the case go cold, would still like to speak with him.
If you have any knowledge of this case, or of anyone in the area at the time who had a briefcase with a tape recorder in it, please call Montgomery County Police Department at 301-279-8000.
NOTE: This message came from Adam Klein. He has developed an intriguing theory about who the Tape Recorder Man (TRM) may have been. Thanks to Adam for letting me share it with my readers.
The Tape Recorder Man was, I believe, James Mitchell DeBardeleben the II. In my trauma as a 9 year old boy growing up in quiet Kemp Mill, I held on to the pain and gripping fear of the Lyon sisters.
Later in life I was reminded of their nightmare once again. In my extreme curiosity I studied the case with enthusiasm. I asked the question to myself over and over again - if a man was going to kidnap two middle class white girls out from under their family's and community's noses - why the hell would he be seen in public talking to the girls before he kidnapped them? Would the public display help him? If so I could not work out in my mind how it would help him?
I thought about this question. I meditated on many more like: Did he want to get sketched? If so why? Was he taunting the police? What was he doing for the weeks before the kidnapping acting as a Tape Recorder Man? How does a full-grown man, well-dressed man, get his face drawn in the paper and NO-ONE in the whole community recognizes him?
Then I went to sleep one night and I had a dream. The dream related to me seeing a group of bullies in a high school in the late 1950's attempting to stuff the head of another teenagers/classmates head into the opening of a vending machine. The sadism was over the top and the rage toward the one getting bullied was intense. They were enraged at him for his violence toward a female classmate.
When I awoke I saw exactly how the crime could have happened. I sat on the edge of my bed and had an experience I have never had in my life and never had since: I literally watched my mind show me how this crime very likely could have happened. It answered every question I had puzzled over and then many many more.
At the edge of my bed I watched a "movie" of sorts delivered from somewhere deep inside of my mind. Whoever kidnapped them impersonated a police office. He either was a cop or he had a police uniform. His whole tape recorder man routine was his way of either tormenting the community and or communicating to someone is some sick psycho-sexual drama.
If he had a police uniform then he could sit in a car near the most obscure point on the normal route of teenagers on their way from Kensington to Wheaton Plaza. Such a move would allow him to immediately gain the girl's trust. Once they saw him as a police officer they would be willing to "help" the officer by speaking into a microphone in the middle of the mall. A simple lie, like "the Police force has been seeking a criminal -well known to come up here to Wheaton Plaza - I will change to plain clothes and come up to the mall -if you girls would be willing to speak into this mic this would help decrease the criminal's suspicion that he is be followed by the police...."
Then he could kidnap them when they are walking home. He could tell the girls "this is top police work there is no danger to you, but if you could not talk about it, at least till you have dinner with your family tonight, that would help the police". He can simply lie in wait for the girls return and then ask them for further assistance. If they could just get in the car and go up to the station for about 10 minutes. And if they get in the car, which they did, that's it.
I sat on the edge of bed slack-jawed. I said to myself well great but if their has been no criminals in the DC area that impersonate police, and kidnap girls/women such a theory is worthless. Since it is so many years later if any such person existed then forget it. Furthermore, I would have to believe that such a criminal would NOT be a cop so Police uniforms would have had to have been stolen.
I googled police impersonator, Washington DC area. And there he was, one of the most dangerous serial rapists in the history of America was right here in the DC area - James Mitchell DeBardeleben. Between 1979 and 1983 he was named the "mall passer" because he loved to pass counterfeit money at shopping malls. He especially had a passion for committing crimes in crowded malls, and beyond that he liked crowded holiday malls. His counterfeit operation was a way of financing much darker and more sinister crimes - kidnapping, torturing and raping girls and women.
DeBardeleben was a sexual sadist. He was a murderer. He was a kidnapper. He was a highly sophisticated and extremely dangerous criminal.
He was all over the DC area - especially Wheaton. He robbed the bank that existed in the parking lot of Wheaton plaza. He followed the bank manager for weeks and watched his coming and going behavior. When he went to work one morning DeBardeleben went to his house and lied to his wife stating that he was a Federal Banking Official. When she opened the door he burst in put her at gun point, tied her up and gagged her. He called the bank and told the husband/manager that he would kill his wife if he did not leave $ 30,000 in the Wheaton Library bathroom. Again a highly sophisticated and extremely lethal criminal.
I wanted to know if Police uniforms had ever been documented as having been stolen. When I went into the Washington Post Archives I discovered 3 Maryland State Police uniforms went missing in a Robbery of A Baltimore Dry cleaning business in February of 1975. The article was published in Sept of 1975 when one of the stolen uniforms re-appeared in bizarre crime scene involving a police impersonator attempting to rape male truck drivers.
The February robbery of the dry cleaners coincided perfectly with the appearance of the Tape Recorder Man at area malls. This fits not only my crime theory but the profile DeBardeleben.
Further exploration of the crime brought me into another coincidental and highly compelling piece that I had never known before: A nearly identical crime took place at an outdoor mall in Fort Worth Texas on December 23,1974. 3 young girls went to a mall, very similar to Wheaton Plaza, and went missing, never to have been seen or heard of again.
I did more research on DeBardeleben. He lived in Fort Worth in 1974 - in the house his mother owned. She died in the Spring of 74 his wife (Carol Miller of Arlington Virginia) left him and went into hiding up in Arlington, VA in the Autumn of 1974. This reportedly enraged this well documented psychopath.
The sketch of the TRM is definitely an attempt at the schoolteacher face of one James Mitchell DeBardeleben - including the birth anomaly-related to his bizarre looking nose.
Furthermore, the sighting of Lyon Girls in Manassass fitsDe Bardeleben's crime profile as well. Arrogant, sadistic, seeking attention but only to a point. Well thought out escape routes, hoping to get spied, unlikely to get caught.
2 years ago I told the police my crime theory. They agreed that DeBardeleben was a very likely suspect. Politics likely prevent the Montgomery County Police from doing more. The Secret Service convicted DeBardeleben because of his counterfeiting crimes - and therefore they retained all evidence.
The family likely does not want tenuous or complicated legal matters to make their lives come back to the spotlight - they have been through WAY WAY TOO MUCH already.
The Fort Worth police blew there case as well but surviving family members and the Fort Worth police may be interested in helping.
The Secret Service is absolutely off limits to most mortals like me.
But Carol Miller may know something. I believe she may have known in real time who was doing this - so she may have extreme guilt. She has received immunity for her willingness to cooperate with police in previous criminal procedures related to James Mitchell DeBardeleben.
DeBardeleben is dead so she may be willing to talk more now.
The TRM had a very brief moment in public on March 25, 1975. He wore a brown leisure suit.
A brown leisure suit reminds me of a Maryland State Police uniform. An image of Maryland State Uniform from 1975 would be beneficial if produced for the sake of this exploration.
The Lyon girls were reported to have approached TRM almost immediately upon his appearance in public March 25, 1975 at the Wheaton Plaza.
They spoke to him immediately with seemingly no apprehension or in a more care free. Then the TRM left the plaza. Got what he needed and out.
Only in retrospect this "coincidence" was likely totally loaded. Boys, who were the same age as the Lyon girls looked on the strange TRM scene with cautious curiosity. If this made boys suspicious by all right and reason such a man would (AND DID) make most girls and women feel troubled. Why not the Lyon girls?
So some falsely induced trust makes maximal sense - if the girls thought that TRM was a police officer in plain clothes speaking into his microphone would make perfect sense.