Wanted Marine's truck found abandoned

January 15, 2008 7:19:50 PM PST
A 20-year-old pregnant Marine who disappeared in December told victims' advocates at Camp Lejeune that she didn't feel unsafe in the presence of the colleague now wanted in her death, Marine Corps officials said Tuesday.

Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean never violated the military protective order directing him to stay away from Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, continued to report for work on time in the weeks after her disappearance and denied having any kind of sexual contact with her, said Col. Gary Sokoloski, the judge advocate general officer for the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

"At no time did she indicate that she was threatened by Cpl. Laurean," Sokoloski said. "When she was asked if she felt threatened by Cpl. Laurean, she said she did not feel threatened."

Authorities confirmed Tuesday that remains found over the weekend in a fire pit in Laurean's backyard were those of Lauterbach and her child. Dr. Charles Garrett, the Onslow County medical examiner, said Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant when she vanished, died of "traumatic head injury due to blunt force trauma."

The autopsy did not answer all the questions about the circumstances of Lauterbach's death, said county prosecutor Dewey Hudson. Detectives are still unsure whether she gave birth before her death and of the identity of the father, he said.

Marine officials said Tuesday that Lauterbach met with prosecutors in November and said she no longer believed Laurean was the father.

A pregnancy test performed in May, when she alleged that Laurean had raped her in March and April, was negative. A test done in June was positive, and doctors estimated the date of conception was May 14.

Naval investigators concluded the sexual encounter in March was not criminal, said Paul Ciccarelli, an agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The pair had a second sexual encounter about two weeks later that didn't include any threats, force, violence or coercion, Ciccarelli said.

"She asked him to stop, and he did stop," Ciccarelli said, saying that was the account Lauterbach gave to officials.

He said that she still considered both to be incidents of rape, and that Lauterbach's regimental commander treated her allegations seriously. Her commander was intent on taking the case to an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

Authorities believe Laurean fled Jacksonville early Friday after leaving a note in which he admitted burying Lauterbach's body. But Tuesday, they said he is believed to be hiding and no longer needs to travel quickly or far to avoid capture.

"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."

Authorities towed Laurean's pickup truck on Tuesday after finding it abandoned at a motel parking lot in Morrisville, not far from where it was seen by witnesses in Durham, about 150 miles northwest of Jacksonville. It will be taken back to Onslow County to be processed by the State Bureau of Investigation, Ciccarelli said.

It was unclear how long the truck had been at the Microtel Inn. Sherrie Joyner, who works the front desk, said Laurean never checked in.

Lauterbach's ATM card was found at a bus station in Durham, and authorities received reports from several witnesses Sunday who said they saw Laurean at a bus station in Shreveport, La. Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown has said detectives have been unable to confirm the validity of the Louisiana sightings.

In his note, Laurean alleged that Lauterbach committed suicide by cutting her own throat. Brown rejected that idea even before the medical examiner weighed in, citing blood spatters on the ceiling and a large amount of blood on a wall in Laurean's home as signs of a violent confrontation.

Authorities believe Lauterbach was slain around Dec. 15. 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.