Goshen man arrested in connection with 1975 cold case

Fred Bandy Jr. John Wayne Lehman
NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. - Indiana State Police have arrested two men in connection with the death of a teenager in 1975.

Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn, Indiana, were arrested in their respective homes on Monday.

At 10 p.m. on August 6, 1975, 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell of North Webster left her job at Epworth Forrest Church camp on North Webster Lake but did not arrive home.

Her parents reported her missing at 4:16 a.m. on August 7 and around 10:30 a.m. that same day, her body was found in the water at the Mallard Roost public access site in Noble County, about 17 miles northeast of North Webster.

Her cause of death was listed as drowning but autopsy results showed Mitchell made a struggle before she died, according to reports.

When Mitchell left work on August 6, she planned to meet up with friends at the Adventureland amusement park on the north side of North Webster, about a half-mile away from Epworth. 

Mitchell is believed to have walked on Epworth Forest Road to get to the amusement park. 

A woman who lived on Epworth Forest Road said that around 10 p.m. on August 6, an old car turned into a driveway next door and then passed her house. As it passed, the woman said she heard several voices say, "let's get" or "let's get her," according to reports. 

No arrests were made, and the case stayed open for several years.

In 2013, a woman living in Florida contact the Noble County Sheriff's Department and said she was 16 years old and lived in Noble County in 1975. The woman said she went on a date with a man named John Wayne Lehman and he admitted to her that he was involved in a crime with his friend, Fred Bandy, according to reports. 

Lehman allegedly told the woman details about the crime that corroborated with what police found at the crime scene. 

In 2014, a man went to the Ligonier Police Department and told police that in 1975 he socialized with a man named Fred Bandy, Jr., and after Mitchell's death, Bandy told him he committed the crime at Mallard's Roost, reports said.

In 2019, a man who was friends with the second witness said he was at a party with him, Bandy and Lehman when Mitchell's murder was brought up. During the conversation, Bandy allegedly said he and Lehman committed that crime together. 

Investigators resubmitted items of Mitchell's clothing for analysis in 2019 and in 2020, the analysis found male DNA profile.

At the time, investigators had five suspects in mind, but DNA analysis eliminated all suspects but Bandy and Lehman, according to reports. 

Police obtained a DNA sample directly from Bandy in late 2022 and on January 13, 2023, analysis found Bandy was thirteen billion times more likely to be a contributor of the DNA found on Mitchell's clothing than any other unknown person. 

“This case is a culmination of a decades long investigation… and science finally gave us the answers 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 solved this case without them.”

Bandy and Lehman were both charged with one count of murder, reports said.

They're being held at the Noble County Jail on no bond.

Indiana State Police were assisted by the Fort Wayne and Bremen ISP posts, the Indiana State Police Laboratories in 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.

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