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 church camp and was found dead in a river, state police said Tuesday.
Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, were arrested Monday on one count of first-degree murder in the slaying of Laurel Jean Mitchell, Capt. Kevin Smith said.
Bandy and Lehman are being held without bond in the Noble County Jail and are scheduled for initial court hearings Wednesday. Online court documents do not list an attorney who could speak for either man.
Smith declined to comment on the specific events that led to the arrest 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 District 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 Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell did not return home from her job at the snack bar at the church’s Epworth Forest Campground near a lake in her 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 an autopsy found “signs she was fighting for her life.”
Officers spoke with Mitchell’s brother and sister, he added, saying he hoped the arrests would bring them “at least some peace.”
“I can’t imagine dealing with it for 47 years, wondering what happened,” Smith told a news conference in Albion.
According to the probable cause affidavit, investigators believe Bandy and Lehman “forcefully, deliberately drowned” Mitchell after driving her to the Elkhart River in Bandy’s 1971 Oldsmobile.
In addition, the affidavit said the DNA profile was obtained through recent testing of Mitchell’s clothing, which was preserved along with other evidence collected in 1975.
Bandy voluntarily provided a DNA sample to state police in December, and testing determined he was 13 billion times more likely to provide DNA on Laurel J. Mitchell’s clothing than any other unknown person.
That testing came after three people who were teenagers at the time of the killing linked the men to the crime based on incriminating comments about the death, according to the affidavit.
A man told police in 2014 that he was friends with Bandy when he was in high school and that after Mitchell’s murder, Bandy told him he had “committed a crime” and provided the location where her body was found.
Another man told police in 2019 that he and the first witness were attending a high school party with Bandy, Lehman and others when Mitchell’s murder came up. Bandy “stated that he and John Wayne Lehman committed the crime together,” the man told investigators.
And a 16-year-old Florida woman who lived in Noble County in 1975 contacted the county sheriff in June 2013 and said she went on a date with Lehman and while he was driving her home, he “admitted his involvement in the crime. which he committed with his friend Fred Bundy.”
Lehman also told the woman details that were consistent with police findings when the body was found and “anatomical findings” from the autopsy, according to the affidavit.