NOBLE CO., Ind. (ADAMS) – Indiana State Police and local authorities say there has been a big break in a nearly 50-year-old cold case.
In 1975, Laurel Jean Mitchell, 17, was killed after leaving her work in Kosciusko County.
After her body was found and analyzed the coroner said it appeared she had “fought for her life” and that she had drowned.
For decades, answers in her death evaded police. Now, in 2023, Indiana State Police say that laboratory personnel was able to make an “evidentiary correlation” which led investigators to the two suspects.
Officials announced the arrests of Fred Bandy Jr. and John Lehman in connection to the murder on Tuesday.
Indiana State Police released the following:
On Monday February 6, 2023, 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.
(Synopsis of the overall case)
On Wednesday, August 6, 1975, at approximately 10:00 pm Laurel Jean Mitchell age 17, of North Webster Indiana left work at the Epworth Forrest 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 August 7th, at around 10:30 am, her body was found in the water, approximately 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 Department, Noble County Sheriff’s Department and Noble County Coroner’s office. The initial investigators spent hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to solve her murder. Over the next 6 decades numerous Detectives would continue to work on her case, all the while her family would suffer with no answers.
On Monday, February 6, 2023, forty-seven years and six months after her death, the Indiana State Police and the Noble County Sheriff’s Department arrested two individuals in Laurel Mitchell’s death.
Both men were taken into custody at their respective homes yesterday morning without incident. Both were charged with one (1) count of Murder, and both 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 Indiana State Police laboratory personnel were able to make an evidentiary correlation which lead investigators to the two suspects.
In a press conference held earlier today (Monday), Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith stated, “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 Indiana State Police 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 publics willingness to bring forward important information was key to solving this case and I thank them.”
The Indiana State Police has been assisted in this investigation by numerous detectives from both the Fort Wayne Post and Bremen Post, the Indiana State Police Laboratories in both Fort Wayne and Lowell, the Noble County Sheriff Department, the Kosciusko County Sheriff Department, Noble County Prosecutor’s Office, Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Noble County Coroner’s Office.
*As required by law, all suspects named in this release are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.