NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – Residents living in the small lake town of North Webster in Kosciusko County never thought the homicide of Laurel Mitchell would be solved.

She was found by fishermen in the Elkhart River the day after she disappeared Aug. 6, 1975. An autopsy showed she had drowned, but not without putting up a struggle. Her death was ruled a homicide, the homicide of a young girl described Tuesday as gentle and nice, a 17-year-old girl who worked at the concession stand at Webster Lake and left to meet some friends, never to be seen again.

She passed through the pillars of the Epworth Forest lake community and on to Epworth Forest Drive, far less populated than it is today, said Sheila Padilla, working at Sheila’s Sweet Treats on Main Street, a road with two stoplights and a nice mix of shops and places to eat.

Tom Conley, the town barber, also known as the town historian by many interviewed on Tuesday, said he recalled Laurel Mitchel walking along Main Street and passing by his shop.

“Her dad never talked about it,” said Conley, who cut his hair. “I knew her mother and her father.”

Steve Ward, owner of Sue’s Creations on Main Street, said he was two years older than the victim, and was one of those who hoped the homicide would be solved, but like many others, didn’t think it would ever come to pass.

“That was a terrible day in North Webster,” Ward said. “There’s no doubt and it was the biggest thing that ever hit our little town.

Steve Ward, a shop owner in North Webster, was a friend of the victim and said the town had almost given up hope the homicide would ever be solved.

“Everybody loved Laurel. She was just the sweetest, nice little gal in the Methodist Church, God’s Children. She worked out at the church camp, and everybody just absolutely loved her,” Ward continued.

“Nothing had ever really happened in North Webster. It was safe. You left your doors unlocked. And this happened and it just kind of changed the world in our area.

“I’ll give it to her sister, Sarah. She just kept pushing and pushing this and kept it alive and the cold cases and (now) it’s solved. That’s closure. I just wish her mom and dad would have been here because they’ve been gone a few years.” Her brother and her sister survive her.

“It’s been the talk all over town, it’s been Facebook, that it’s finally some closure for the family,” Ward said.

“They (the two suspects) weren’t from around here. I didn’t know them,” Ward said of Fred Bandy Jr., of Goshen and John Wayne Layman of Auburn, who were arrested at their homes Monday and will appear in court Wednesday.

Gary Dafforn (left) and Bill Signorelli said the arrests of two suspects was the talk of the town.

At Lucky’s Bar, the story was about the same as Ward’s when WANE 15 spoke with Bill Signorelli and Gary Dafforn.

“It’s amazing to find out the information based on the Laura Mitchell case. I was a small child that lived on the road. I later became the maintenance director of Epworth Forest where she apparently worked. We thought it would never be solved,” Signorelli said.

He called it “dumbfounding,” that the “murder was solved. “So many theories and people pointing fingers and ‘did you know’, just all speculation. I thought maybe I would recognize some of the names but I didn’t at all,” Signorelli said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that North Webster is located in Noble County