By Caleigh Byrer
AUBURN — An affidavit of probable cause details what led to two local men being arrested for the suspected murder of Laurel Jean Mitchell, a case that has remained cold since 1975.
John Wayne Lehman, 67, 108 S. Clark St., Auburn; and Fred Bandy Jr., 67, 1014 N. Fifth St., Goshen, were taken into custody and each charged with one count of murder. Both men are currently being held in Noble County Jail with no bond.
On Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1975, 17-year-old Laurel J. Mitchell was dropped off at Epworth Forest church camp to work her shift at the snack bar. Around 10 p.m. that night, after her shift had ended, she was seen walking in Epworth Forest to meet her friends at Adventureland amusement park on the north side of North Webster. This was the last time Mitchell was seen alive.
Around 4:16 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, a missing person report was filed for Mitchell with the Indiana State Police. At 10:30 a.m. the same day, two fishermen discovered her body in the Elkhart River.
An autopsy was preformed on Mitchell later in the day on Aug. 7, which revealed she had made “a violent struggle to survive.” Her cause of death was ruled to be drowning.
All of the clothing and belongings found on Mitchell’s body at the time of her death were preserved for testing, including: shoes, a sweatshirt, bra, underwear, silver jewelry, and blue jeans that were inside out, unbuttoned and unzipped.
It was the recent testing of these items that led authorities to Lehman and Bandy, as well as years of testimony from those who know the men:
- In 2013, Noble County Sheriff’s Department was contacted by an individual who claimed Lehman admitted he and Bandy were involved in a crime together. The details provided in this testimony were consistent with the findings made by police in Mitchell’s case.
- On July 3, 2014, an individual reported that Bandy had claimed he committed the crime that took place at Mallard’s Roost, which was a public access site adjacent to the location Mitchell’s body was found at.
- On Sept. 25, 2019, Noble County Sheriff’s Department received a report that years ago, at a high school party, Bandy said he and Lehman committed the murder of Mitchell together.
Mitchell’s clothing was resubmitted for DNA testing in 2019. In February 2020, a Certificate of Analysis was generated by Indiana State Police Laboratory Division that showed a male DNA profile was developed from the clothing.
On Dec. 5, 2022, a voluntary DNA sample was collected from Bandy and was submitted to the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division.
Results were received by authorities on Jan. 13, 2023, in a Certificate of Analysis that revealed Bandy was 13 billion times more likely to be the contributor of the DNA found in Mitchell’s clothing than any other unknown person.
Review of Indiana State Police records also disclosed that Bandy was driving a 1971 “Olds” at the time, which is consistent with eyewitness statements from area residents on the night of the murder.
The initial hearing of the case will be held Wednesday, Feb. 8, in Noble County.