Jacksonville, N.C. — A Marine sought in connection with the death of a comrade told authorities in a note that the pregnant Marine, who has been missing for nearly a month, had committed suicide.
A nationwide search was being conducted for Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, who authorities believe might be involved in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach.
Lauterbach, 20, a member of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Lejeune, was reported missing on Dec. 19. She was 8½ months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
A unidentified witness delivered a note to Onslow County authorities early Friday in which Laurean claimed that he had buried Lauterbach in his yard after she committed suicide, Onslow County Sheriff Brown said.
Brown said blood spatters were found several areas inside Laurean's home, including the garage. Someone had tried to clean up the scene and even painted over some of the blood, he said.
Investigators have not determined if the blood is that of Lauterbach, he said.
"Evidence now is showing that what he claimed happened didn't happen," Brown said.
Investigators also discovered a cavity in Laurean's back yard, which produced a "suspicious situation" that needed to be contained and protected until Saturday morning, when investigators would examine the area, Brown said.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Friday evening that investigators believe they have found Lauterbach's skeletal remains in the shallow grave.
Laurean, 21, of 103 Meadow Trail in Jacksonville, was not in custody and disappeared shortly after 4 a.m. Friday, Brown said.
"I would like to say to the suspect if he's listening ... it would be best for him to return," he said at a Friday night news conference.
The State Bureau of Investigation and the Marine Corps were assisting in the search for Laurean. He was described as a white man, 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He was believed to be driving a black 2004 Quad Cab Dodge pickup with North Carolina license plate TRR-1522, authorities said.
Laurean's note prompted an intense search Friday afternoon in a residential area off North Bryan Road in Onslow County that led to the discovery of the back-yard cavity shortly before 6 p.m.
"There's some strong indicators that there's some human remains there," Hudson said.
Brown said he believed the cavity "will eliminate moving any further in looking for the body."
Laurean's wife has been cooperating with authorities in the search of the home and the yard, he said.
Lauterbach met with military prosecutors in December to discuss pursuing rape charges against Laurean, said Kevin Marks, the supervisory special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Lejeune. Prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to argue that the case should go to a court martial, he said.
In a search warrant filed this week, prosecutors said the anticipated birth of the baby "might provide evidentiary credence to charges she lodged with military authorities that she was sexually assaulted by a senior military person."
As a corporal, Laurean was one enlisted grade higher than Lauterbach.
Military investigators said they started looking into the rape allegation last April.
Originally from Clark County, Nev., Laurean joined the Marine Corps in September 2004 and was promoted to corporal in September 2006. He was a decorated Marine whose honors included a good conduct medal.
Brown said Laurean refused to speak with detectives, on the advice of his attorneys. Authorities said they didn't consider Laurean a flight risk until Friday because they had information the pair carried on a "friendly relationship" after she reported the assault to military authorities.
Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Steiner, said his niece did not have any kind of relationship with her attacker and that Lauterbach had been forced to rent a room off base because of harassment at Camp Lejeune.
"She was raped," Steiner said. "The Marines, unfortunately, did not protect her, and now she's dead."
Lauterbach's attacker was the baby's father, Steiner said.
Melinda Artzur, a former Marine who was a close friend of Lauterbach, said the missing Marine was a free spirit who loved sports.
"She almost pretty much always had a smile on her face, very positive. She was a light," Artzur said.
After Lauterbach was reported missing, her cell phone was found on Dec. 20 along N.C. Highway 24, and her car was found Monday night at a bus station near Camp Lejeune.
Brown said the investigation had taken many ups and downs.
He had hinted Friday morning that a positive outcome was still possible. Lauterbach had purchased a one-way bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 15, but she never used it, he said, and investigators and family members said they were unsure if she had run away.
Finding out that the Lauterbach was dead "knocked the air out of my sail," he said Friday afternoon.
"I do think this case is going to be a bizarre ending, and when I say bizarre, I mean more than a death and burial," he said Friday night.