Cold case: 2 men charged in 1975 death of Indiana teen who went missing after leaving work

INDIANAPOLIS – Two men were arrested Monday and charged with murder in connection to a decades-old cold case involving the death of an Indiana teen, police said.

On Monday, members of the Indiana State Police and Noble County Sheriff’s Department arrested Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, in connection to the death of Laurel Mitchell of North Webster, who went missing after leaving work at a church camp in 1975.

According to a release from Indiana State Police, the body of Mitchell, 17, was found floating in the Elkhart River by two fishermen, according to an article that appeared in the Kendallville News-Sun dated Aug. 7, 1975. Authorities initially believed Mitchell's death to be a case of accidental drowning.

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An autopsy found Mitchell "showed signs that she had fought for her life," according to the release, prompting a criminal investigation.

“This case is a culmination of a decades long investigation… and science finally gave us the evidence we needed," said Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith. "Playing a significant role in charges being filed was the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division. We simply could not have filed these charges without them.”

Lab personnel were able to make a break in the case after finding "an evidentiary correlation" leading investigators to the two suspects.

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Bandy and Lehman were taken into custody at their respective homes Monday morning without incident, according to the release. The men were being held without bond in the Noble County Jail.

During a press conference held Monday, Smith also thanked the media, whose coverage over the years he said "led to many citizens coming forward with valuable information."

What happened to Laurel Jean Mitchell?

Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell left work at the Epworth Forrest Church camp on the north side of North Webster Lake in Kosciusko County. She never arrived home.

Mitchell's parents contacted police to report her missing. Around 10:30 a.m. the next day, Mitchell's body was found in the water, approximately 17 miles to the northeast of North Webster in Noble County, according to the release.

Investigators with the Indiana State Police began a murder investigation that would stretch decades and involve the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department, Noble County Sheriff’s Department and Noble County Coroner’s Office.

Bandy and Lehman are tentatively scheduled to have their first hearing Wednesday, in the Noble Circuit Court.

John Tufts covers evening breaking and trending news for the Indianapolis Star. Send him a news tip at

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana cold case: 2 charged with murder in Laurel Mitchell's death