2 men arrested in 1975 murder of 17-year-old girl in Indiana – NBC Chicago
Two Indiana men have been charged with murder nearly half a century after a 17-year-old girl failed to return home from work at a religious camp and was found dead in a river, state police announced Tuesday.
Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, were arrested Monday on one count each of murder in the murder of Laurel Jean Mitchell, Capt. Kevin Smith said .
Bandy and Lehman were being held without bond at Noble County Jail and were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday. Online court documents did not mention a lawyer who could speak on behalf of either man.
Smith declined to comment on the specific developments that led to the arrests more than 47 years after the murder, but said “science finally gave us the evidence we needed.”
A probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday in Noble County Court said witnesses linked the men to Mitchell’s murder and DNA evidence linked Bandy to the crime.
Smith said that on the night of August 6, 1975, Mitchell failed to return from work at the Epworth Forest church camp snack bar near a lake in his hometown of North Webster, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Indianapolis.
Her parents reported her missing, and Mitchell’s body was discovered the next morning in the Elkhart River about 17 miles northeast of North Webster. Smith said investigators determined she had drowned and the autopsy found “signs she had been fighting for her life.”
Officers have spoken to Mitchell’s brother and sister, he added, saying he hopes the arrests can bring them “at least some peace”.
“I can’t imagine dealing with this for 47 years, wondering what happened,” Smith said at a news conference in Albion.
According to the probable cause affidavit, investigators believe Bandy and Lehman “forcefully and deliberately drowned” Mitchell after taking her to the Elkhart River in Bandy’s 1971 Oldsmobile.
Additionally, the affidavit states that a DNA profile was obtained through recent testing of Mitchell’s clothing, which was recorded along with other evidence collected in 1975.
Bandy voluntarily provided a DNA sample in December to state police, and testing determined he was 13 billion times “more likely to be the contributor of DNA from Laurel J. Mitchell’s clothing. than any other unknown person”.
This test came after three people who were teenagers at the time of the murder linked the men to the crime based on incriminating comments made about the death, according to the affidavit.
A man told police in 2014 that he socialized with Bandy while in high school and that Bandy told him after Mitchell’s murder that “he did the crime” and also provided the place where his body was found.
A second man told police in 2019 that he and the first witness attended a high school party with Bandy, Lehman and others when Mitchell’s murder occurred. Bandy “stated that he and John Wayne Lehman committed this crime together,” the man told investigators.
And a 16-year-old Florida woman living in Noble County in 1975 contacted the county sheriff’s department in June 2013 to say she had gone on a date with Lehman and while he was bringing her back at her home, he “admitted his involvement in a crime he committed with his friend, Fred Bandy.”
Lehman also gave the woman details consistent with police findings when the body was found and “anatomical findings” from the autopsy, according to the affidavit.