Teen ‘fought for her life’ when she was killed in 1975, cops say. Now two are arrested

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A cold case investigation that spanned nearly a half-century has led to the arrests of two men accused of killing a 17-year-old girl, Indiana cops say.

Indiana State Police announced the arrests on Tuesday, Feb. 7, of Fred Bandy Jr. and John Wayne Lehman, both 67. They are charged with murder in the death of Laurel Jean Mitchell, whose body was found in North Webster Lake in Kosciusko County on Aug. 7, 1975.

Kosciusko County is in northern Indiana about 45 miles west of Fort Wayne.

The discovery of Mitchell’s body came a day after she did not arrive home from her job at Epworth Forest Church Camp in Kosciusko County, troopers said.

“Her cause of death was listed as drowning, and the autopsy report showed signs that she had fought for her life,” Indiana State Police said in a news release.

Investigators spent hundreds of hours on the case, but it became cold until recent DNA evidence corroborated various testimonies.

Mitchell’s clothing was submitted to an Indiana State Police laboratory for DNA testing in 2019, according to Ink Free News. Samples on her clothing matched DNA of Bandy, the online publication reported, citing an affidavit.

Bandy and Lehman had already been identified as potential suspects. In 2019, a man spoke to a Noble County Sheriff’s Department detective and said Bandy and Lehman had admitted to him at a party that they killed Mitchell together, WPTA reported.

Lehman also admitted he was involved in the crime to a woman he dated in 1975, the woman told investigators in 2013, according to WANE.

“Investigators believe Bandy and Lehman grabbed her, put her in Bandy’s 1971 Oldsmobile and took her to the Mallard Roost public access site on County Road 600 N in Noble County where they drowned her,” WANE reported.

Bandy and Lehman were arrested Monday, Feb. 6, and are being held in the Noble County Jail without bond, state police said.

“Science finally gave us the evidence we needed,” Indiana State Police Capt. Kevin Smith said.

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