On Monday February 6, 2023, investigators with the Indiana State Police made two arrests associated with 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.
- Fred Bandy Jr. (67), of Goshen Indiana, and
- John Wayne Lehman (67), of Auburn Indiana
Both men were taken into custody at their respective homes Monday (2/6/23) morning without incident. Both were charged with (1) count of Murder. Both are 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 leading investigators to the two suspects.
In a press conference held earlier today, Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith stated, “This case is a culmination of a decades long investigation… and science finally gave us the evidence we needed. 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.” 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.”
*Also during the press conference, Noble County Prosecutor Jim Mowery commented, “While the arrest of these two individuals is a very important step, this isn’t the end. The investigation of this crime is still ongoing and the prosecution of these defendants has just begun.” Both defendants are scheduled to have their first hearing on Wednesday, (2/8/23) in the Noble Circuit Court.
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