Two Men Charged In 47-Year Old-Murder Case of Teen Who "Fought for Her Life"
Science and citizens helped led police to the suspects.
The murder case had been cold for 47 years. But this week, two Indiana men were arrested and charged with killing a local teenager who "fought for her life." "The initial investigators spent thousands of hours trying to solve her murder," said a spokesperson for the Indiana State Police in a news release last week.
"Over the next five decades numerous detectives would continue to work on her case, all the while her family would suffer with no answers." Read on to find out what happened that day in August 1975, and how investigators finally tracked down the suspects.
Vanished After Church Camp
On August 6, 1975, 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell vanished after leaving her summer job at the Epworth Forrest Church camp around 10 p.m. She was supposed to meet friends at an amusement park about a half-mile away. When Mitchell didn't come home, her parents reported her missing.
The next morning, Laurel's body was found in water about 17 miles from her home. The cause of death was established as drowning. But the autopsy report suggested she "had fought for her life," so police opened a murder investigation.
"This Isn't the End"
Investigators pursued numerous leads over the next five decades, with no arrest. Until this week: Police arrested Fred Bandy, Jr., 67, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Goshen and Auburn, Indiana, respectively. Both men have been charged with one count of murder and are being held without bond at the Noble County Jail. Investigators believe Bandy and Lehman grabbed Mitchell, put her in Bandy's 1971 Oldsmobile, and took her to the Mallard Roost public access site, where they drowned her, WANE reported.
"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.
DNA Provides Possible Answers
The investigation into Mitchell's death took a turn several months ago when lab workers with the Indiana State Police were able to match a DNA sample taken from Mitchell's clothing to one collected from Bandy at the end of last year, CBS News reported. That DNA match led police to Lehman as well.
In 2013, the Noble County Sheriff's Department received a tip from a woman who dated in 1975. The two had gone to a party, and as they were driving home, Lehman told her he had committed a crime with Bandy, WANE reported. At least two people told investigators Bandy had admitted to the crime.
Science, Citizens Solved Case
"This case is a culmination of a decades-long investigation," said Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith at a Tuesday news conference. "Science finally gave us the answers we needed." Smith thanked the "many citizens" who came forward over the years to share tips and other relevant information, which he said, "was key to solving this case."
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Life Sentences Possible
Bandy and Lehman appeared in court on Wednesday, where a judge told the pair they could face life in prison if convicted of the murder, WNDU reported. Both men pleaded not guilty. Under current Indiana law, a murder conviction carries a potential sentence of 45 to 65 years in prison; the recommended sentence is 55 years. But because Mitchell's death occurred in 1975, both men could be sentenced to life in prison, which was the maximum potential prison sentence that year.