AUBURN — On Monday, Feb. 6, the Indiana State Police arrested two men alleged to be responsible for the death of Laurel Jean Mitchell in 1975, an investigation which has spanned the course of nearly a half century.
Fred Bandy Jr., 67, Goshen; and John Wayne Lehman, 67, Auburn, were both taken into custody at their respective homes without incident. Both were charged with one count of murder and were incarcerated in the Noble County Jail, where they remain held without bond.
The much-needed break in the investigation came only within the last couple months, after ISP laboratory personnel were able to make an evidentiary correlation which lead investigators to the two suspects.
In a press conference held earlier today, ISP Captain Kevin Smith said, “This case is a culmination of a decades-long investigation…and science finally gave us the answers we needed. Playing a significant role in charges being filed was the ISP Laboratory Division. We simply could not have solved this case without them.”
Smith also thanked “…the news media who gave this case coverage, which kept the public informed over the years and led to many citizens coming forward with valuable information. The public’s willingness to bring forward important information was key to solving this case and I thank them.”
ISP has been assisted in this investigation by numerous detectives from both the Fort Wayne Post and Bremen Post, the ISP Laboratories in both Fort Wayne and Lowell, the Noble County Sheriff Department, the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office, Noble County Prosecutor’s Office, Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Noble County Coroner’s Office.
Background on Case
Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell, 17, North Webster, left work at the Epworth Forest Church camp on the north side of North Webster Lake in Kosciusko County. She did not arrive home. Her parents contacted police to report her missing. The next day, around 10:30 a.m. Aug. 7, 1975, her body was found in the water, about 17 miles to the northeast of North Webster at the Mallard Roost public access site in western Noble County. Her cause of death was listed as drowning, and the autopsy report showed signs that she had fought for her life.
Investigators with the Indiana State Police Ligonier Post initiated a murder investigation along with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office, Noble County Sheriff’s Department and Noble County Coroner’s Office. The initial investigators spent thousands of hours trying to solve her murder. Over the next five decades, numerous detectives would continue to work on her case, all the while her family would suffer with no answers.