Pregnant Marine died of head injury

January 15, 2008 9:15:03 AM PST
A 20-year-old pregnant Marine who disappeared in December died from a head injury, authorities said Tuesday, formally rejecting the claims of the key suspect in her death that she committed suicide.Dr. Charles Garrett, the Onslow County medical examiner, said Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant when she vanished, died from "traumatic head injury due to blunt force trauma."

Authorities recovered her burned remains, along with those of her child, over the weekend from a fire pit in the backyard of Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, a fellow personnel clerk at Camp Lejeune whom she had accused of rape.

The autopsy did not answer all the questions about the circumstances of Lauterbach's death, said county prosecutor Dewey Hudson. Detectives are still not sure if she gave birth before her slaying, he said.

Laurean, 21, is believed to have fled Jacksonville early Friday morning, after leaving a note in which he admitted burying Lauterbach's body. But Tuesday, officials said they think he has gone into hiding and is no longer on the run.

"We believe it's certainly possible, based on him being out there for this long, and not having any sightings, that he is getting help," said Onslow County Sheriff's Capt. Rick Sutherland. "We think we have a handle on all his contacts, but there could be someone else out there helping."

In his note, Laurean alleged that Lauterbach committed suicide by cutting her own throat. Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown has consistently rejected that idea, citing blood spatters on the ceiling and a massive amount of blood on the wall found inside Laurean's home as signs of a violent confrontation.

Officials have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to Laurean's arrest and have posted or plan to post billboards with his picture in cities nationwide, including Columbus, Ohio, Tampa, Fla., and Las Vegas.

Authorities received reports from several witnesses Sunday who said they saw Laurean at a bus station in Shreveport, La., but Brown has said detectives have been unable to confirm their validity.