Wheaton Plaza: a description
I would like to take some time to describe Wheaton Plaza - the place where Sheila and Katherine Lyon were seen on 25 March 1975, the day they disappeared. I think that these details might be helpful in trying to envision the case and in attempting to reconstruct possible scenarios.
I got my information by visiting Wheaton Plaza a number of times, by looking at maps and aerial views, and by reviewing video news coverage of the Lyon Sisters story. The first time that I was at Wheaton Plaza, however, was in 1984.
My most recent visit was two weeks ago, and at that time, I was accompanied by someone who has been familiar with the area, the mall, and with the Lyon case since 1975. I certainly welcome any comments or corrections by folks who have more intimate knowledge of Wheaton Plaza.
Wheaton Plaza is now called Westfield Shoppingtown of Wheaton. At least that is what the signs read. It is still referred to as Wheaton Plaza by most people. The shopping mall is now completely enclosed and there are two levels of stores.
The outside perimeter of the parking lot, however, is exactly as it was in 1975.
The Mall area is bordered by University Blvd on the north, by Viers Mill Road on the east, and by residential housing of Kensington on the south and west.
There are still four entrances to the Plaza parking area: two from University Blvd and two from Viers Mill Road. There is no access for vehicle traffic from the residential area, but there is at least one walking path, and that is from a road named Faulkner Place. This walking path existed in 1975 and exists today.
Wheaton Plaza in 1975 was an open air shopping center. It had two large End stores: Woodward and Lothrops (now a Pennys) to the east, and Montgomery Wards (now a Target) to the west.
Two continuous rows of stores facing each other extended between Woodies and Wards, with a long open courtyard passage way between them. These were one story tall.
About halfway between the end stores was a fountain. Forming a T with the main row of stores at this fountain was another row of shops which extended to the south. The fountain area was referred to as the "Center" and it was here that a large Easter Bunny display was set up in March 1975.
There were a number of entrances into the shopping center. You could enter the general corridor areas through doors from the parking lot, or you could enter through either of the End stores - Wards or Woodies. Although most stores in the rows had to be entered from the corridor area, it is possible that some of those stores had service doors leading to the parking area, and there was also a general delivery area for trucks to unload.
The closest Mall entrance to the path taken by the Lyon sisters was a back entrance to Montgomery Wards. This entrance (now just service doors and loading dock) was right in line with the end of Faulkner Place. The girls could have entered the Mall through Wards, or they could have walked on the sidewalk along the south side of Wards until they reached one of the general mall entrances by the front of Wards. Wards front entrance, of course opened into the long mall corridor previously described.
The Orange Bowl (pizza carryout) restaurant was located in the main row of shops between Wards and the Mall Center. At various intervals in the open court yard area were brick planters which had bushes planted in them. Shoppers could sit on the planter ledges to rest or eat. This area was exposed to the elements. It could be cold, wet, windy, or hot depending on the weather that day.
Mall Security likely consisted of minimum wage uniformed security guards. I have never heard of any mall surveillance cameras being consulted during the investigation into the girls' disappearance. Although it is possible that some individual stores may have had cameras, I do not believe that there was any extensive camera coverage in 1975, as there is today.