JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Authorities issued an arrest warrant Saturday for a Marine corporal wanted in the death of a pregnant colleague, whose body they excavated from a fire pit in his backyard.
Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said authorities also recovered the remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Frances Lauterbach's unborn child.
Authorities said they found evidence inside the house that suggested Lauterbach had been killed, even though the prime suspect left a note insisting she committed suicide, Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said.
Lauterbach, 20, vanished three weeks ago, days after she talked to military prosecutors about a rape case against Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, who remains at large. Authorities said Friday that information from another woman, a former Marine, left them certain that she is dead.
Before fleeing Jacksonville on Friday, Laurean left a note that said Lauterbach had "come to his residence and cut her (own) throat," Brown said.
But crime scene investigators found blood stains and obvious signs that a cleanup had taken place inside the home, Brown said late Friday.
"Evidence now is showing that what he claimed happened didn't happen," Brown said.
Authorities learned about the note from Laurean's wife, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. In the note, the person said, Laurean wrote that he had nothing to do with Lauterbach's suicide, but that he had buried her body.
Suspect's wife 'heartbroken'
Laurean's wife, Christina, is "heartbroken," said her mother, Debbie Sue Shifflet.
"I feel sorry for the other family," Shifflet said. "It's horrible what they're going through. My heart goes out to them."
Lauterbach met with military prosecutors in December to discuss pursuing rape charges against Laurean, said Kevin Marks, supervisory agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Lejeune. He said military prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to argue that the case should go to trial.
In court papers 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." Lauterbach reported the rape in April and was due to give birth in mid-February, authorities said.
In a brief interview with reporters outside the family's home in Vandalia, Ohio, Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Steiner, said the rapist was the father.
'Friendly relationship' after assault
Authorities said they were not concerned that Laurean would flee because they had information the pair carried on a "friendly relationship" even after she reported the assault to military authorities. There is no indication Lauterbach asked the military to protect her after she leveled the rape allegations, investigators said.
Steiner, however, said his niece didn't 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 was reported missing Dec. 19 by her mother, who last spoke with her daughter on Dec. 14, authorities said. Her cell phone was found Dec. 20 near the main gate at Camp Lejeune, and she missed a Dec. 26 prenatal care appointment.
Lauterbach was assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune. She joined the Marines in June 2006, and had not been sent to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Laurean worked in the same unit, where both were personnel clerks.
Family grateful for 'outpouring of love'
According to court documents filed this week, Lauterbach's mother told investigators that her daughter was bipolar and had a history of compulsive lying. Steiner said the family wanted to give authorities a fair and accurate impression, but that while Lauterbach tended to stretch the truth in stressful situations, "she was not a compulsive liar."
"We're all going to miss Maria horribly," Steiner said. "She was a big part of our lives. What I personally hope comes out of this is that victims of sexual assault in the armed services will be taken more seriously and this will be handled differently in the future."
Earlier Friday, the family released a statement through Dayton's WDTN-TV.
"We would like to thank everyone for their prayers in this time of grieving. Maria has been a gift for her family and friends. The outpouring of love from family, friends, neighbors and the general community has been very touching.
"Please understand that the family needs time alone to deal with this tragedy. We wish to thank everyone for their love and concern."
There were flower deliveries at the family home, and a steady stream of people came to visit, many bringing food.
Earlier, Brown, the Onslow County sheriff, spoke to TODAY co-host Matt Lauer and expressed the likelihood of a positive outcome. But that was before detectives received news of Lauterbach's death from the anonymous source, he said.
“I came out before y’all on cloud nine,” Brown said. “Then I had my insides knocked out with this negative information. I was about to cry.”
The Associated Press and TODAY show writer Mike Celizic contributed to this report.