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2 men arrested 47 years after northern Indiana girl's death

The body of 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell, of North Webster, Indiana, was found in water on Aug. 7, 1975.

KOSCIUSKO COUNTY, Ind. — Indiana State Police arrested two men for their alleged roles in the death of a 17-year-old girlin northern Indiana more than 45 years ago.

On Aug. 6, 1975, 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell, of North Webster, Indiana, left work at the Epworth Forrest Church camp around 10 p.m. Police said she never returned home.

The next morning around 10:30 a.m., Mitchell's body was found in the water, approximately 17 miles northeast of North Webster.

Mitchell's cause of death was initially listed as drowning, but the autopsy report showed signs that she fought for her life.

Investigators with the Indiana State Police - Ligonier Post began a murder investigation, alongside the Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department, Noble County Sheriff's Department and Noble County Coroner's Office.

Credit: WPTA
The body of 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell, of North Webster, Indiana, was found in water on Aug. 7, 1975.

On Monday, Feb. 6 — 47 years and six months after Mitchell's death — State Police and the Noble County Sheriff's Department arrested 67-year-old Fred Bandy Jr., of Goshen, and 67-year-old John Wayne Lehman, of Auburn, for their alleged roles in Mitchell's death.

Police said both men were taken into custody without incident at their respective homes.

Bandy and Lehman have both been charged with one count of murder and are being held at the Noble County Jail without bond.

Credit: Indiana State Police
Fred Bandy and John Lehman

Police said the much-needed break in the investigation came within the last couple of months after a laboratory personnel made an evidentiary correlation to the two suspects.

"This case is a culmination of a decades long investigation … and science finally gave us the answers we needed," Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith said. "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."

Both defendants are scheduled to have their first hearing on Feb. 8 in the Noble Circuit Court.

"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," said Noble County Prosecutor Jim Mowery.

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