More than 47 years after Laurel Jean Mitchell went missing and was later found dead in northern Indiana, authorities say they have arrested and charged two men in connection with the crime thanks in part to a recent DNA match.
The suspects, identified as Fred Bandy Jr, 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67 of Auburn were arrested Monday at their homes in Indiana, state police said.
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Laurel Jean Mitchell, 17, of North Webster, was last seen late on August 6, 1975, when she left work at a church camp in Kosciusko County at about 10 pm, Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith said at a press conference. When the girl didn’t come home later that night, her parents reported her missing to the police.
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The next morning Mitchell’s body was found in the Elkhart River by a fisherman. Initially, investigators suspected that the teen had drowned in the river, but an autopsy showed signs of a struggle, and her death was ruled a homicide.
The suspects faced one count each of murder and were being held in Noble County Jail, without bond, state police said in a statement. Modern lab technology led to the arrest of both men, according to Smith.
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When Mitchell’s clothing was resubmitted to the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division for examination and DNA testing in 2019, investigators were able to link her death to Bandy. The information earlier shared with police by the public helped investigators find Lehman.
“Science finally gave us the evidence we needed, playing a significant role in charges being filed,” Smith said at the press conference.
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Mitchell was working at a church camp near North Webster Lake when she went missing, said authorities. The cause of death was determined to be drowning, but a medical examiner said at the time that her body showed signs of a struggle.
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Both suspects will have a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Noble County Circuit Court, where Mitchell’s body was discovered. No defense attorneys of record were listed in court documents on the case.