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.
I was wondering if Jay had ever walked to and from the mall with his sisters? I was thinking that Mr.and Mrs. Lyon may have had the girls walk to the mall with their older brother a few times before letting them go alone. That's the way my parents were. I was thinking that Jay probably has a good idea of their most likely exit path if he had gone the same way with them before.
But basically, the girls usually left their home on the corner of Plyers Mill and Jennings, headed east on Jennings for a way, and then turned left into a wooded, undeveloped area, following a foot path.
This Path ended near the intersection of McComas and Drumm Ave. At this point, they walked east down Drumm Ave and where Drumm made a turn north, the girls took a right onto Faulkner Place. Faulkner was a side street with no houses on it, which led directly to the Wheaton Plaza, but stopped short of the Mall parking lot's perimeter road.
Faulkner ended in a curbed turn-around area and you could not drive a car any further. However, another walking path, about 20 feet long, joined the end of Faulkner to the access road. It ended immediately opposite the back entrance to Wards. Faulkner Place may have been meant as an access road to the Mall origionally, but it was never connected, except by the walking path.
This was believed to be the route that the girls took, and their return would have been the same route in reverse.
Dogs were used by police and it was reported that the girls' scent was picked up along the above stated route. But that it was uncertain WHEN that scent was left, and whether it was made coming or going.
A possible alternative route would have been for them to have walked a short block north on Plyers Mill Road to Drumm Ave, and then taken that east Until reaching Faulkner Place. Drumm has a section which was (and still is) blocked off to vehicle traffic, so a car could not have driven the length of the street, but a walking path section joined the two vehicle accessable ends.
There were other entrances into the mall area besides the corridors and the Mall "ends". Farrell's Ice Cream Shop was located in Wheaton Plaza and you could enter Farrell's from the parking lot. You could also enter Farrell's from the mall. There were doors on each side of the resturant.
If I remember correctly there were also movie theaters at the end next to Montgomery Ward's. From the parking lot, you had to pass a bank and enter some glass doors to get into the movie theater area. The theaters may or may not have had an entrance into the mall. I think they may have. There was a lobby type area where you purchased tickets and I think there were doors that lead to the parking lot AND doors that lead to the mall area, right next to Montgomery Wards.
The movie theaters are now not in the mall, not even connected to the structure, and they are at the opposite end of the structure then they used to be.
Children don't stop dancing
More details about Wheaton Plaza - On the same wing of Wheaton Plaza as the Orange Bowl, and flanking it I believe, there were a Roy Rogers and a People's Pharmacy. Both of those stores had openings at their north and south ends and customers could enter them from either the north parking lot, or the interior of the mall. I don't remember Farrell's opening into the mall - I thought that we could only get into it from the parking lot, but maybe all of the sugar I consumed there got me confused.
Wheaton Plaza also had (has?) an underground tunnel that was used by trucks to deliver goods to the stores. Most, if not all, of the stores in that wing - I don't know about the other wings - had stairs at the back of the stores (the sides closest to the parking lots) for employees to go downstairs where the rest of the inventory was kept. You would technically walk in to a store from the mall, to the back of the store, down the stairs, back towards the front of the store, and you would be at a solid metal door with a metal bar (for security) across the frame. That door led onto the loading dock that lined the tunnel driveway - sort of like an elevated sidewalk along a road. The outside entrance to the tunnel was (is?) on the south side of the southwest wing of the mall, not too far from what was Montgomery Wards. That tunnel opening is near, but across the parking lot from, the path that Sheila and Kate apparently used. There is also an employees-only stairway from the area at what was then the center of the mall that (by the Easter Bunny). It was gated and seemed damp and dark, but I've never been down that stairway. There was a door at the bottom. I think that stairway leads to the loading dock tunnel, but I'm not sure.
If the child who thinks he saw Sheila and Kate on their way home was mistaken, it's possible that someone (tape recorder guy?) convinced/invited/forced them to go downstairs into the tunnel, either by the center stairs, through a store's interior stairs, or from the exterior ramp, and then took them back out in a vehicle.
Great info amh, the underground entrance/tunnel would definitely make it easier for someone to get away with 2 girls undetected. I wonder if all of the mall staff and security were questioned. I'd think you'd have to work there to have the knowledge of these tunnels. I frequented the mall and certainly didn't know they existed.
Does anyone know if the mall staff were questioned about their whereabouts when this crime happened?
Children don't stop dancing
SharetheLight, thanks for the info about Farrells opening into the interior corridor; my sister remembers that, too. That's another place that was popular with teens and that Sheila and Kate would have likely passed on their way back towards Wards, on the same side of the corridor as The Orange Bowl. It seems that someone would have noticed them if someone led them out through that ice cream parlor to the north parking lot, but it was always crowded and noisy so maybe not. Does anyone know if there were records kept for vehicles entering the loading dock? I don't know of any. I know that deliveries to one store were made by an elderly couple in their station wagon; it wasn't unusual for personal vehicles to be down there.
The loading dock tunnel that ran beneath Wheaton Plaza in 1975 has been converted to retail space. Here's a link to a bunch of posts regarding people's memories of various stores that have been at the mall since it opened, and what those stores/spaces were converted to since then:
Children don't stop dancing
I can only say this with 100%. I know for certain that TRM was not a myth, and I also believe he was Fred Coffey. If the Lyon Girls are a myth, then who was the TRM talking to on 25Mar75.
No, sorry I was unclear, the post in that article didn't state that the Lyon sisters themselves were a myth, but questioned rather or not their unsolved disappearance is a myth.
Children don't stop dancing
Many years prior to 1975, I had a hot rod Ford. One night me and a friend decided to roar through the Plaza Tunnel, & let those loud mufflers sound off. We made quite a racket, & at the exit, the LE was waiting. They just asked a lot of questions, & after that we left. But the impression left in my mind was that, the tunnel was well guarded 24/7.
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
~ Nelson Mandela
Sorry, when I indicated that 'LE' had the exit to the tunnel blocked, it was so long long ago that I don't recall if it was mall security, county cops' or whoever.
I basically only had time to skim this right now but did find it interesting. Notice that Katrina Blair's post almost halfway down the page states that her brother played the Easter bunny one year at the mall.
Also, a little farther down Stella's post mentions a report of a van in the 80s trolling the mall taking pictures of children.
I noticed the post which mentioned a bowling alley in the mall and the dad was worked a radio station. I had not known he worked in a radio station but find that interesting in reguards to TRM.
Not sure if this has been posted but I just happened upon this group on FB and it has over 200 photos of Wheaton from the 1970's.
The above post is as always MY OPINION ONLY!
Thanks for the link. There is some discussion of them on the group as well.
I was down at the mall Saturday. Well across the street at a music store. Boy has it changed in the last five years. They built a huge parking lot.
Heard Farrell's chain is coming back alive.
I grew up in that area, and spent a lot of time at Wheaton Plaza as a kid, before they enclosed it. The Lyon sisters' disappearance has haunted me since it happened.
They found the remains of some abducted people (adults/ children can;t remember) down in the Triangle, Va area awhile back and for a short period of time they were wondering if maybe it was the Lyon sisters, but it turned out to be two other unsolved missing people cases.
Rest in Peace, Robbi 1980-2012
You make a very good point concerning media coverage of this type of crime in 1975. Actually, the Lyon sisters case was quite well covered for weeks in the Washington Metropolitan area papers as well as on TV and radio. It was probably better covered than the end of the Vietnam war which was taking place at the same time.
That coverage, however, was not the norm for 1975. All you have to do is look for coverage on some of the other child disappearances of the same time frame to see how little news coverage and media attention was given them.
It is hard to say whether or not today there are more child abductions or if it is just covered more closely by the media and by Amber Alerts and such. Certainly public awareness of the problem is much higher today than it was in 1975.