2 Men Arrested in 1975 Murder of Indiana Teen

Laurel Jean Mitchell's body was found nearly 50 years ago, and the case had gone cold
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2023 9:45 AM CST
2 Men Arrested in 1975 Murder of Indiana Teen
John Wayne Lehman.   (Noble County Jail via AP)

Almost half a century ago, 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell was killed in Indiana. Her case had gone cold since, but now, thanks partially to a DNA match, two arrests have finally been made. At a Tuesday news conference, Indiana State Police announced that Fred Bandy Jr., 67, and John Wayne Lehman, also 67, were taken into custody without incident Monday at their homes in Goshen and Auburn, respectively, reports CBS News. "Science finally gave us the evidence we needed, playing a significant role in charges being filed," Indiana State Police Capt. Kevin Smith said at the presser, per NBC News.

On Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell didn't return home from her job at a church camp, located on the north side of Webster Lake in Kosciusko County. Her parents reported her missing, but by the next day, grim news: Her body had been found by fishermen in the Elkhart River, in Noble County, about 17 miles from the camp, reports WANE. The cause of death was deemed a drowning, but cops say Mitchell's autopsy noted she "had fought for her life," spurring a homicide probe, per CBS. Detectives never gave up on the case, though leads dried up; many of the original investigators have since died, reports the Washington Post.

Officials say multiple witnesses did come forward about a decade ago to reveal both Bandy and Lehman had confessed in the mid-'70s to being involved in a crime—Bandy specifically noting it was one tied to Mitchell. But police apparently still didn't have the physical evidence they needed to seal the case. In 2019, however, an interview with another witness prompted officials to resubmit the clothes and jewelry Mitchell was wearing on the night she was murdered to the ISP's lab, where they were reexamined and underwent DNA testing.

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Then, a break in the case: Late last year, a DNA sample taken from Bandy turned up as a match with that taken from Mitchell's clothes. Police now say they believe the men snatched Mitchell as she was walking home from the camp, threw her into Bandy's 1971 Oldsmobile, and then drowned her in the river. Bandy and Lehman are each charged with one count of murder and are being held in the Noble County Jail without bond, per state police. (More cold cases stories.)

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