ALBION, Ind. (WANE) — On Tuesday, Indiana State Police investigators and the Noble County Prosecutor announced during a news conference in Albion that they think they have solved the killing of a 17-year-old North Webster girl.
On Aug. 6, 1975, Laurel Jean Mitchell disappeared, and her body was found the next day in the Elkhart River by some fishermen. An autopsy showed that she had drowned, but had struggled and her death was ruled a homicide.
On Monday, police arrested two men for the crime, Fred Bandy Jr. of Goshen and John Wayne Lehman of Auburn. The two will make their first court appearances on Wednesday.
Their arrests were made possible by advancements in lab technology that allowed investigators to link Mitchell’s death to Bandy and Lehman.
Mitchell disappeared after leaving her job in Epworth Forest church camp snack bar around 10 p.m., according to details in the probable cause affidavit released during the press conference. She was supposed to meet friends at an amusement park located about a half-mile away. A person told police he had seen Mitchell walking and had waved to her shortly after when she would have left work.
Two other people who lived near the road Mitchell would have been walking on provided valuable information to police. A man and his wife said they heard a loud car go by and then it turned around and stopped near their home. The husband said he heard what sounded like someone slamming the trunk of a car shut. When he stepped outside, he saw two cars leaving the area.
The other resident told police that at around 10 p.m. or a bit later, a car turned around in the drive next door and as it came back by her house she heard several voices say, “Let’s get,” or “Let’s get her.” She said the car was very loud and dark in color.
Then in 2013, a detective with the Noble County Sheriff’s Department was contacted by a woman in Florida who told him that in 1975 when she was 16, she dated a man named John Wayne Lehman. The two had gone to a party and when driving her home, Lehman admitted his involvement in a crime he had committed with his friend Fred Bandy.
In 2014, investigators interviewed a man who said that when he was a sophomore at West Noble High School in 1975, Fred Bandy had told him that he had committed the crime. Another person also came forward to say Bandy had admitted to the crime at a party.
In 2019, Mitchell’s clothing was resubmitted to the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division for examination and DNA testing. A DNA sample was taken from Bandy in late 2022 and it showed he was 13 billion times more likely to be the contributor of DNA in Mitchell’s clothing than any other unknown person.
Investigators believe Bandy and Lehman grabbed Laurel Jean Mitchell, put her in Bandy’s 1971 Oldsmobile and took her to the Mallard Roost public access site on County Road 600 N in Noble County where they drowned her.
“While the arrest of these two individuals is a very important step, this isn’t the end. The investigation of this crime is still ongoing and the prosecution of these defendants has just begun,” stated Noble County Prosecutor Jim Mowery.
The Indiana State Police has been assisted in this investigation by numerous detectives from both the Fort Wayne Post and Bremen Post, the Indiana State Police Laboratories in both Fort Wayne and Lowell, the Noble County Sheriff Department, the Kosciusko County Sheriff Department, Noble County Prosecutor’s Office, Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Noble County Coroner’s Office.