Nearly half a century after a 17-year-old girl disappeared while working at a church camp and was later found dead in a river, Indiana state police revealed Tuesday that two men had been charged with murder.
Police have arrested Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, both on suspicion of murder in connection with the death of Laurel Jean Mitchell, Kevin Smith.
Bandy and Lehman are being held without bond at the Noble County Jail, and their first court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday. Based on publicly available court documents, neither man appears to have access to legal representation.
Over 47 years after the murder, Smith stated that “science finally given us the proof we needed,” but she refused to specify which scientific breakthroughs led to the arrests.
DNA evidence linked Bandy to the crime, and witnesses testified that the men admitted to killing Mitchell,
Smith, Mitchell was working the evening of August 6, 1975 at the snack bar at the Epworth Forest church camp on a lake in her hometown of North Webster, some 140 miles (225 kilometres) northeast of Indianapolis.
2 men arrested in 1975 slaying of Indiana girl, 17 https://t.co/fBle7NsYe1
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A search party located Mitchell’s body in the Elkhart River the morning after her parents reported her missing, some 17 miles northeast of North Webster. Smith claims that the autopsy showed “signs that she had fought for her life,” leading authorities to believe that she drowned.
Mitchell’s sister and brother have been in contact with police, he continued, and he is “hopeful” that the arrests would bring them some measure of relief.
At a press conference in Albion, Smith said, “I cannot image having to cope with that for 47 years, wondering what occurred.
“Bandy drove Mitchell to the Elkhart River in his 1971 Oldsmobile,” investigators believe Bandy and Lehman “forcefully, purposefully drowned.”
The letter also states that DNA testing was recently conducted on items of Mitchell’s clothing that had been stored with other evidence collected in 1975.
After voluntarily providing a DNA sample to state police in December, testing found that Bandy was 13 billion times “more likely to be the supplier of the DNA in Laurel J. Mitchell’s clothing than any other unknown individual.”
The affidavit states that testing was carried out after three juvenile witnesses linked the suspects to the murder due to their derogatory comments about the victim.
An individual who claimed to have known Bandy in high school said in 2014 that Bandy had confessed to him that he had murdered Mitchell and had also revealed the location where Mitchell’s remains had been found.
In 2019, another individual told police he and the first witness had attended the same high school party where Bandy, Lehman, and others discussed Mitchell’s murder. Bandy informed investigators that he and John Wayne Lehman were responsible for the crime.
And in June of 2013, a 16-year-old girl from Florida who was a resident of Noble County in 1975 called the local sheriff’s office to say that she had gone on a date with Lehman and that, while he was driving her home, Lehman had confessed to her about a crime he had committed with his friend Fred Bandy.
Lehman also gave the woman information that corroborated what the police had found when they came across the deceased, as well as the “anatomical results” from the autopsy.