‘Sexually violent predator’ among two men charged with killing US teenager in 1975

Laurel Jean Mitchell was last seen leaving a church camp at 10pm on August 6, 1975, but was later discovered in a river, with autopsy results showing there was a ‘violent struggle’ to survive

Laurel Jean Mitchell’s body was found in a river shortly after she was reported missing by her parents on August 6, 1975 (Indiana State Police)

Two men have been charged with killing a 17-year-old girl in 1975 and one of them is a twice-convicted child molester.

John Wayne Lehman and Fred Bandy Jr, both 67, are accused of murdering Laurel Jean Mitchell nearly 48 years ago.

The young victim was last seen working at a church camp snack bar on August 6, 1975. She left at 10pm but never made it home.

Her parents Richard and Wilma Mitchell reported her as missing at 4.16am the same night. Hours later, the lifeless body of Laurel, of North Webster, Indiana, US, was found in the Elkhart River by a fisherman.

Fred Bandy Jr allegedly confessed to the crime while at a party (Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

A murder investigation was launched after autopsy results showed the victim was involved in a “violent struggle” to survive.

The Indiana State Police and Noble County prosecutors announced that there had been a breakthrough in the case in a press conference on Tuesday.

Indiana State Police Captain Kevin Smith said: “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.”

According to the probable cause affidavit dated 2 February, the victim decided to walk home after finishing work and refusing a lift from a friend.

The affidavit said she was “supposed to meet friends at the Adventureland amusement park” about half a mile away.

In 2013, a woman – who was 16 years old at the time of the victim’s murder – came forwards to claim that Lehman told her at a party that he and his pal Bandy committed the murder.

Both men have been charged with one count of murder (Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

The affidavit said Ranae Sexton’s account was “consistent with” police findings in the murder investigation.

In 2014, Bill McDonald – a high school student at the time – told the police that Fred Bandy Jr also confessed to the crime while at a party. Lehman also allegedly admitted to committing a crime with Bandy in 1975, according to a tip received by police.

Laurel’s clothes were “resubmitted” for DNA testing in 2019. After obtaining the DNA results, three possible suspects were eliminated from the investigation.

The police said their attention then shifted to Bandy and he voluntarily provided a DNA swab sample at his home on 5 December 2022.

Bandy and Lehman were arrested without incident at their respective homes in Goshen and Auburn, Indiana, on February 6.

Elkhart County Court records show Bandy is a twice-convicted child molester dubbed a “sexually violent predator”.

The defendants face one count of murder and are currently being held at Noble County Jail without bond.

The police thanked the “many citizens” who shared tips and relevant information over the years that proved “key to solving this case”.

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