Goshen man arrested in 1975 murder case

Feb. 7—ALBION — Forty-seven years after the murder of a 17-year-old North Webster girl, two men have been arrested.

One of those men is from Goshen.

On Monday, Indiana State Police arrested Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen, and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn for the 1975 murder of Laurel Jean Mitchell.

According to Indiana State Police, which held a press conference at the Noble County Sheriff's Office Tuesday morning, on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1975, at approximately 10 p.m., Laurel Jean Mitchell, 17, of North Webster, 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, Aug. 7, at around 10:30 a.m., her body was found in the water of the Elkhart River, 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, police reported.

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 thousands of hours trying to solve her murder," police stated in a press release. "Over the next five decades numerous detectives would continue to work on her case, all the while her family would suffer with no answers."

Both Bandy and Lehman were taken into custody at their respective homes Monday morning without incident, police said. Both were charged with one count of murder, and both were incarcerated in the Noble County Jail, where they remain held without bond.

ISP said, "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 led investigators to the two suspects."

At Tuesday's press conference, 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's Department, the Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department, Noble County Prosecutor's Office, Kosciusko County Prosecutor's Office, and the Noble County Coroner's Office.

Bandy has previously been convicted of two counts of child solicitation on June 1, 2001, in Noble County, along with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was living in Ligonier at the time. Bandy was also convicted of child molestation on July 14, 2016, again in Noble County.