Cold Case Solved: Two Men Charged with 1975 Murder of Indiana Teen Girl

More than 47 years after 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell went missing and was later found dead in northern Indiana, authorities have finally found the culprits responsible. Indiana State Police have announced the arrest of Fred Bandy Jr. and John Wayne Lehman, both 67 years old and residents of Goshen and Auburn, Indiana, respectively. The positive correlation of a recent DNA match and eyewitness accounts led to the arrest of the suspects, who are now charged with one count of murder.

Mitchell was reported missing by her parents on August 6, 1975, after she failed to return home from her job at the Epworth Forrest Church camp. The following morning, her body was found in the water 17 miles away from her home. Although her death was initially ruled as drowning, the autopsy report suggested that she “had fought for her life,” leading to a murder investigation by the police.

The initial investigation spent thousands of hours trying to solve Mitchell’s murder, with numerous detectives continuing to work on the case over the next five decades. The case changed course several months ago, when lab workers with the Indiana State Police were able to match a DNA sample taken from Mitchell’s clothing to one collected from Bandy. The positive correlation led authorities to Bandy and Lehman, who had previously admitted to committing a crime with Bandy in 1975, according to a tip shared with the Noble County Sheriff’s Department almost a decade ago.

Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith thanked the “many citizens” who came forward over the years to share tips and relevant information, which he said was “key to solving this case.” Smith also emphasized the importance of science in solving the case, as the DNA match finally gave the investigators the answers they needed to bring closure to the family and justice to the victim.

The suspects, Bandy and Lehman, were arrested at their homes on Monday without incident and are currently being held without bond at the Noble County Jail. The arrest brings an end to a decades-long investigation, finally giving the family of Laurel Jean Mitchell some much-needed closure and peace.