2 men accused of drowning 17-year-old girl arrested 48 years later

NOBLE COUNTY, INDIANA — On Monday, February 6, Indiana State Police arrested two men alleged to be responsible for Laurel Jean Mitchell’s death in 1975, about 48 years since her passing.

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Mitchell, 17, of North Webster, left work at Epworth Forrest Church camp, in Kosciusko County, around 10 p.m. Wednesday, August 6, 1975, a spokesperson said in a press release. Her parents contacted police to report her missing when she never arrived home.

Her body was found the next day at around 10:30 a.m. in the water, approximately 17 miles northeast of her job site.

The cause of death was listed as drowning, the spokesperson said. An autopsy later showed signs that she “fought for her life.”

Indiana State Police Investigators initiated a murder investigation along with Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department, Noble County Sheriff’s Department, and Noble County Coroner’s Office. They spent “thousands of hours trying to solve her murder,” the spokesperson said.

“Over the next five decades, numerous detectives would continue to work on her case, all the while her family would suffer with no answers,” the spokesperson continued.

The break in the investigation came when Indiana State Police laboratory personnel were able to make an “evidentiary correlation” that led investigators to the two suspects.

Fred Bandy, Jr., 67, of Goshen, Indiana, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, Indiana, were arrested on one count of murder. Both were incarcerated in Noble County Jail, held without bond.

“This case is a culmination of a decades long investigation… and science finally gave us the answers we needed. Playing a significant role in charges being filed was the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division. We simply could not have solved this case without them,” Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith stated.

“The publics willingness to bring forward important information was key to solving this case and I thank them,” Smith continued.

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