NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (TCD) -- Two 67-year-old men were arrested on suspicion of murder nearly 50 years after a missing 17-year-old woman was found dead in a waterway.
According to Indiana State Police, on Aug. 6, 1975, at approximately 10 p.m., Laurel Jean Mitchell left her job at the Epworth Forrest Church Camp on North Webster Lake and failed to return home. Mitchell’s parents reported her missing, and about 12 hours later, her body was found in the water at the Mallard Roost public access site, 17 miles from the camp.
Officials reportedly listed her cause of death as drowning, but the autopsy report said Mitchell "showed signs that she had fought for her life."
Law enforcement officials from the Indiana State Police, Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department, Noble County Sheriff’s Department, and Noble County Coroner’s Office launched a murder investigation, and for several decades could not find any answers.
Then, on Feb. 6, 47.5 years later, Indiana State Police Troopers and Noble County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrested Fred Bandy Jr. and John Wayne Lehman for murder.
According to the statement, "The much-needed break in the investigation came only within the last couple months, after Indiana State Police laboratory personnel were able to make an evidentiary correlation…leading investigators to the two suspects."
Indiana State Police Capt. Kevin Smith said science and technology "finally gave us the evidence we needed."
According to the affidavit cited by WANE-TV, Mitchell was heading to an amusement park about half a mile from the church camp on the night she disappeared. A man and woman reportedly told police they heard a loud car and what sounded like a trunk being slammed shut. When the man stepped outside, he reportedly saw two cars drive off.
Then, the wife reportedly heard the cars again and someone say, "Let’s get," or "Let’s get her."
Lehman allegedly told a girlfriend at the time in 1975 that he and Bandy were involved in a crime. Bandy reportedly also talked to someone about the crime that same year.
WANE reports investigators submitted Mitchell’s clothing to the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division to conduct additional DNA tests. They obtained a DNA sample from Bandy in 2022 and found the likelihood it wasn’t Bandy’s DNA on Mitchell’s clothing at just 1 in 13 billion.
Detectives reportedly suspect Bandy and Lehman abducted Mitchell, put her in the trunk of Bandy’s Oldsmobile, and drowned her.
The two men were booked into the Noble County Jail and are being held without bond.