Laurel Jean Mitchell had just left work at a church camp in North Webster, Ind., and started the walk to an amusement park to meet friends.
Her cause of death was listed as drowning, but the autopsy revealed “she had fought for her life,” authorities said. A newly filed affidavit in the case alleges that two men took Mitchell while she was walking and drove to the river before they “forcibly, deliberately drowned” her.
On Monday, nearly 50 years later, state police arrested Fred Bandy Jr. of Goshen, Ind., and John Wayne Lehman of Auburn, Ind., charging both with murder in Mitchell’s killing. The Indiana State Police said Tuesday that the breakthrough came over the past couple of months with DNA analysis that matched samples collected from the clothing Mitchell wore in 1975.
“Science finally gave us the evidence we needed,” State Police Capt. Kevin Smith said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that the organization’s laboratory division members were the “unsung heroes” of many cases, including Mitchell’s.
Bandy and Lehman, both 67, are being held in the Noble County Jail without bond. Attorneys for the men declined to comment Wednesday evening.
She was kidnapped as a baby in 1971. Her family just found her alive.
On Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell finished working at the snack bar at the Epworth Forest church camp around 10 p.m., and her co-worker offered her a ride home, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday.
She declined, saying she already had one.