Local News

Stepmother: Missing Marine Assaulted by Officer

Posted January 10, 2008 11:49 a.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 5:05 p.m. EST

— A pregnant Marine who disappeared three weeks ago from Camp Lejeune was assaulted by a superior officer, her stepmother told investigators.

Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach 20, was reported missing on Dec. 19, authorities said. Her car was found Monday night at a bus station near base, and investigators found her cell phone along N.C. Highway 24.

Lauterbach's debit card was used on Christmas Eve to withdraw money from an automated teller machine, according to an affidavit attached to a search warrant in the case. The white man who used the card tried to cover the ATM camera with a rag, the affidavit said.

The location of the ATM wasn't disclosed in court documents, and Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown declined to identify the location on Thursday.

Authorities have been trying to determine if Lauterbach disappeared on her own or was abducted.

"You investigate a missing person just as you investigate a criminal case, and that is full-speed ahead," Brown said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

An intensive investigation by the Onslow County Sheriff's Office, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over the past day has developed "a more detailed picture" of Lauterbach and her disappearance, Brown said, adding that he feels better about the case than he did earlier in the week.

He declined to specify the evidence that has led him to become more positive about a resolution to the case.

"We pray that she's alive. We don't just hope; we pray that she's alive," he said.

According to an incident report attached to the search warrant, Lauterbach's stepmother told investigators that Lauterbach had been assaulted by a superior officer. Mary Lauterbach also told investigators that the officer threatened her stepdaughter's career with the Marines.

Brown said previously that Lauterbach had been the victim of an on-base crime and was scheduled to testify in the case, but he has declined to provide details of the case, saying it's being investigated by the military.

Camp Lejeune officials also declined to comment on the alleged on-base incident. They declined to say whether Maria Lauterbach is considered absent without leave.

NCIS investigators cited evidence that called into question Maria Lauterbach's credibility, according to the incident report.

Lauterbach, a member of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, was 8½ months pregnant when she was last seen and could already be past her due date, authorities said.

Mary Lauterbach said she had a heated exchange with her stepdaughter the last time they spoke on the phone on Dec. 14, according to the search warrant. Mary Lauterbach wanted her stepdaughter to give the baby up for adoption, saying she wouldn't be able to care for it, the documents stated.

"I just want to see her again. I hope to see her, and I hope the baby is healthy. I am very concerned for both of them," Mary Lauterbach said from her Ohio home.

If Maria Lauterbach fled because of her pregnancy, Brown said she needed to come forward and get help from her family and friends.

"You can't run from those things in life," he said. "Regardless of the circumstances, this has got to stop."

Maria Lauterbach lives in the Midway Park housing area, which isn't on Camp Lejeune but is reserved for Marines. Deputies have searched the home and questioned some roommates.

One roommate, Sgt. Daniel Durham, had been deployed to California for training but was being brought back to North Carolina so authorities could question him in the case. Brown said Durham possibly was the last person to speak with Maria Lauterbach before her disappearance.

"We do feel like he has some answers, and the importance of having him back here is detrimental to the investigation," Brown said.

Durham is considered a "person of interest" in the case and not a suspect, he said.

Authorities also are searching Lauterbach's cell phone records, some financial transactions through Western Union and Durham's computer for possible evidence in the case, according to court documents.