Local News

Fugitive Marine Might Have Fled to Mexico

Posted January 16, 2008 12:57 p.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2008 10:01 a.m. EST

— A fellow Marine suspected of killing the pregnant woman told friends he would flee to Mexico to avoid being convicted of raping her, and investigators said Wednesday they are working with Mexican authorities to track him down.

A global manhunt has been ongoing since Friday for Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, 21, who has been charged with murder in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20.

Lauterbach, whose burned remains were found over the weekend in a fire pit in Laurean's back yard in Jacksonville, died of blunt force trauma to the head, authorities said.

Authorities have posted a $25,000 reward for Laurean's capture and have put his picture on billboards nationwide. The FBI posted an Internet notice describing Laurean and asked that anyone with information about him call 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

Court documents filed this week by the FBI state that Laurean, 21, told members of his Marine Corps unit he would flee to Mexico if it appeared he would be found guilty of rape. Laurean's wife also told authorities she believed he would head to Mexico if he was in trouble.

"We strongly suspect, but have not confirmed, that Laurean may be in Mexico," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said in Washington. "We have a strong working relationship with law enforcement partners in Mexico and we're working with them to locate and apprehend him."

Laurean, of Las Vegas, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico and still has some family there, authorities said.

Onslow County authorities said they have been in daily contact with Laurean's wife, Christina, to see if she has had any contact with her husband or might have leads on where he might go.

"Anytime a fugitive has a head start on you, there is going to be frustration that he is not caught right away," said Capt. Rick Sutherland, of the Onslow County Sheriff's Office.

Laurean's pickup truck was found Tuesday afternoon outside the Microtel Inn & Suites, off Airport Boulevard and Interstate 40 near Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The truck had been parked there for at least a day, hotel staff and guests said.

The pickup was taken to Onslow County late Tuesday so investigators could comb it for clues. Authorities also were reviewing surveillance video from the Morrisville hotel with Triangle authorities to determine how long Laurean's truck was parked there.

"There is forensic evidence that has been recovered from that truck. Its nature necessitates that it will have to go the (State Bureau of Investigation) lab to be tested further," Sutherland said, declining to elaborate.

The truck was the second piece of evidence linking Laurean with the Triangle.

A jogger passing by the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Durham found an ATM card belonging to Lauterbach on Saturday. Police said it was unlikely the card was used at the bus station because the card reader there has been out of operation for several days.

Witnesses claimed to see Laurean at a bus depot in Shreveport, La., on Saturday night, but investigators said they doubted the accuracy of those reports.

Lauterbach, who had accused Laurean of rape last spring, disappeared a month ago as she was preparing to testify against him in military court. Her cell phone and car were found in Jacksonville in subsequent weeks.

Camp Lejeune officials said Tuesday that they thought Lauterbach had left the area voluntarily, citing a note she left for a roommate, an ATM withdrawal she made and clothes and other items that were taken from her off-base house.

The officials also said they had no reason to believe Laurean posed a threat to Lauterbach or was a flight risk. Written orders were issued to keep the two apart, and Lauterbach was transferred to a different position on base.

"We've lost a Marine. We're going to look at this situation. We're going to see what we've done, and we're going to see if we can do it better," said Lt. Col. Curtis Hill, spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune.

Laurean most likely fled Jacksonville before dawn Friday, according to authorities. He left behind a note in which he said he buried Lauterbach after she had committed suicide by cutting her throat.

Authorities previously rejected the idea that Lauterbach had committed suicide, saying blood evidence found inside Laurean's home pointed to a violent crime.

The note from Laurean and the note Lauterbach left for her roommate have been sent to a handwriting expert for analysis, Sutherland said.

"We have received that (Lauterbach) note, and it's already been submitted to our crime lab. We don't have anyone here within our department that is an expert at analyzing handwriting," he said.