Remains of Adult Found; Marine Charged
Posted January 12, 2008 6:24 a.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2008 4:38 p.m. EST
Jacksonville, N.C. — A Marine corporal was charged Saturday with first-degree murder in the disappearance of a pregnant Marine.
Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, 21, of 103 Meadow Trail in Jacksonville, remains at large. He had used the victim's bank card at an ATM in a city in North Carolina since disappearing early Friday, but officials would not specify which one.
Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said the remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Frances Lauterbach and her unborn child were discovered Saturday in a fire pit in Laurean's backyard. Brown said they believe Laurean – whom she had accused of rape – burned and buried her body after a horrific attack.
"The fetus was developed enough that the little hand was about the size of my thumb," Brown said. "The little fingers were rolled up, and this is consistent with what we were looking for, a pregnant lady who is the victim, Maria Lauterbach, and her unborn child.
"As well as I could see, the body was much charred," Brown added. "The fetus was in the abdominal area of that adult. ... That is tragic, and it's disgusting."
North Carolina law does not allow for murder charges to be filed in the death of an unborn child.
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.
The remains found Laurean's backyard have not been positively identified as Lauterbach's, but Brown said he felt law enforcement had collected enough evidence to proceed with murder charges. The remains will be sent to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for a positive identification using dental records.
The charred remains were found buried roughly 6 inches to 1 foot underground, said Dr. Charles Garrett, the Onslow County medical examiner.
Investigators found blood spatters on the ceiling and a massive amount of blood on the wall of Laurean's home, Brown said.
"The blood patterns were even up into the ceiling," he said. "The blood splatters indicate a violent, violent attack."
Someone had tried to clean up the scene and even painted over some of the blood, Brown said.
Laurean had refused to meet with investigators and left the area without telling his lawyers where he was going, the sheriff said.
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, Brown said.
Before he fled, Laurean left a note claiming that he had buried Lauterbach in his yard after she committed suicide, Brown said. The note said Lauterbach had "come to his residence and cut her (own) throat," Brown said, adding that he doubted those claims.
Authorities said they received the note from Laurean's wife, Christina, around 8 a.m. Friday, four hours after the suspect fled. Christina Laurean continued to cooperate with the investigation.
Brown said he could not comment on the military proceedings for rape that Lauterbach had initiated against Laurean in April.
Lauterbach met again 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 evidentially 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.
Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Steiner, said she was frightened by the possible consequences if she reported the rape and pregnancy.
"Shortly after she became pregnant, she told us that she had been raped," Steiner said. "She did not report this to the Marines for approximately a month. She was scared and didn't know what was going to happen to her."
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.
Authorities said they did not 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.
Steiner denied that his niece had any kind of relationship with her attacker. Lauterbach had been forced to rent a room off base because of harassment at Camp Lejeune, he said.
"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.
Lauterbach had purchased a one-way bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 15, but she never used it, Brown said, and investigators and family members said they were unsure if she had run away.