I’m reading The Last Stone, by the journalist behind Blackhawk Down.
The book concerns an extended family of degenerates and criminals and their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon back in 1975. This was a cold case that was reopened in 2013.
[one suspect] would often hitchhike out to Hyattsville, another edge city northeast of Washington, in the district’s other Maryland suburban county, Prince Georges. His father, Lee, and stepmother, Edna, and many other members of Lloyd’s large extended family lived there, clustered around his grandmother’s house. They were part of what has become known as the Hillbilly Highway, the migration of largely Scotch Irish Appalachian families to northern cities after World War II. Many of these families retained the insularity, habits, and dialect of their native region.
Parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the suspect were all themselves suspected. Few of them were upstanding citizens:
Teddy Welch made little sense as the kidnapper, but his story afforded a glimpse into the curious Welch family. What the detectives found shocked them. The abuse that Lloyd had suffered in his father’s house and Teddy had suffered in his was not an aberration. It was the norm. Few family members had escaped it. Fathers beat and raped their children, brothers terrorized and raped their sisters and cousins. Alcohol, drugs, and violence colored every relationship. It was not much of a stretch to see teenage Lloyd and perhaps even Teddy as pawns enlisted by the older, more practiced predators in their family. The clan had two branches, one in Hyattsville, Maryland, and the other five hours south on a secluded hilltop in Thaxton, Virginia, a place the locals called Taylor’s Mountain. Here the family’s Appalachian roots were extant, even though some of its members had gradually moved into more modern communities in and around Bedford, the nearest town.
The Welch family, with its country ways, lived shoulder to shoulder with city dwellers seeking affordable housing close to jobs inside the beltway. The clan had sunk its roots here wide and deep, with enough Welches, Overstreets, Dooleys, Esteps, and Parkers to fill Magruder Park when they gathered for a reunion. If they had a look, it was generally pale and blue-eyed, with small pinched features in a broad face. Their men were scrawny and their women wide.
Taylor’s Mountain and Hyattsville may have been radically different places, but the family was the same in both. Its mountain-hollow ways—suspicion of outsiders, an unruly contempt for authority of any kind, stubborn poverty, a knee-jerk resort to violence—set it perpetually at odds with mainstream suburbia. Most shocking were its sexual practices. Incest was notorious in the families of the hollers (hollows) of Appalachia, where social isolation and privation eroded social taboos. The practice came north with the family to Hyattsville. Here, where suburban families had turned child-rearing into a fetish, some adults in Lloyd’s immediate family exploited their offspring and ignored barriers to incest. It was not uncommon for Welch children to experiment sexually with siblings and cousins.
Criminal behavior rarely warranted family censure, much less a report to the police. Indeed, the more shocking the conduct, the stronger the impulse to hide it. Protecting the family from outsiders was more important than protecting its members, including children, from each other. And the Welch women, often victims, were its fiercest guardians.
The police used phone taps, but also got into Facebook Messenger.
Otherwise, Connie seemed uninterested. She offered this single memory and that was it. She repeated that she had little or nothing to do with Lloyd or any of the other members of his immediate family. But the squad found something different on her Facebook account. Connie was conferring frequently with her Maryland cousins about the case. Soon after she was questioned, she wrote to Teddy’s wife, Stacy, about what she had been asked and what she had said. She also phoned Pat and Dick’s daughter Patricia Ann. She later wrote on Facebook to another cousin, Patricia Ann’s daughter, Amy Johnson, and explained that her story was, in part, meant to absolve her uncle Dick. “I called Pat last night to let her know I talked to police,” she wrote. “I know Dick did not bring him [Lloyd] down. He walked down with his pregnant girlfriend. That’s for having our back.”
In one of her Facebook exchanges with her cousin Amy, Connie confided, “My biggest fear is that my last family member Henry was part of it on the mountain.” She had told the grand jury that her brother often hung out with Lloyd when the latter visited. When asked how Henry might have been involved, she said, “Henry wouldn’t murder the child. He wasn’t in Maryland. I meant help bury it. If he helped bury the bodies on the mountain.” “Why do you think Henry would bury the bodies on the mountain?” “Because his momma would tell him to do it. We always did what Momma told us to do.”
If the family had used an encrypted messaging system, they might have escaped justice!
[Separately, the book provides support for the idea that criminality is heritable. It didn’t matter that this family ended up in the D.C. suburbs, surrounded by good-hearted social welfare policies and a fountain of tax dollars collected from folks in the Midwest, Florida, Texas, and California. If this family is anything to go by, the 3rd and 4th generation descendants of the Central Americans who come to the U.S. because of their involvement in violent criminal gangs will themselves be involved in violent criminal gangs.]