Authorities said witnesses spotted a key suspect in the death of a 20-year-old pregnant fellow Marine at a Greyhound bus station in Louisiana, and he could have been heading to Texas.
Witnesses said they saw Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean on Saturday night at a bus depot in Shreveport, La., Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said. Police don't know if the man believed to be Laurean boarded a bus that was headed to Texas, or left the station.
Brown cautioned late Sunday that his detectives were still working to confirm the sightings, backing away from earlier assurances that the witness accounts were genuine. But he was confident Laurean would soon be in custody.
"It will be a short trip — a short vacation — for Mr. Laurean," Brown said. "His vacation may be short, his travel may be long, but I hope we'll be there to help him return."
The potential sightings came a day after authorities said they recovered what they believe to be the burned remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child from a fire pit in Laurean's backyard, where they suspect he burned and buried her body.
Lauterbach disappeared sometime after Dec. 14, not long after she met with military prosecutors to talk about her April allegation that Laurean raped her. Naval investigators said Saturday the rape case was progressing, and that Laurean had been under a protective order to stay away from Lauterbach.
State authorities issued an arrest warrant on murder charges for Laurean, 21, of the Las Vegas area. They believe he fled Jacksonville before dawn Friday, and said he left behind a note in which he admitted burying her body but claimed she cut her own throat in a suicide.
Evidence of a violent confrontation
Brown has challenged Laurean's assertion that Lauterbach killed herself, citing what he described as evidence of a violent confrontation inside Laurean's home — blood spatters on the ceiling and a massive amount of blood on the wall.
Brown has said Lauterbach purchased a bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, around the time of her disappearance, but said Sunday authorities do not have the ticket. Shreveport is roughly 950 miles southwest of Jacksonville, and is about two dozen miles from the Texas state line and more than 800 miles east of El Paso.
Shreveport police Chief Henry Whitehorn Sr. told The Associated Press his department is working with the U.S. Marshal's Service and other law enforcement agencies to locate Laurean. "We don't know if he is still in the area," Whitehorn said. "We believe it may have just been a pass-through."
The FBI said Sunday that Laurean also was wanted on a federal warrant charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Bureau spokesman Newsom Summerlin said investigators have no reason to believe he's fled the country, but that it is possible.
Authorities received Laurean's note about the purported suicide from Laurean's wife, whom Brown has said is cooperating with authorities. Her family has described her as "heartbroken."
Lauterbach's mother reported her daughter missing Dec. 19. She had been placed on "unauthorized absence" status by the Marine Corps and was listed that day in a national law enforcement database as a "missing person at risk."
Naval investigators said authorities didn't consider Laurean a threat to Lauterbach, or later a flight risk, because they had indications the pair were on friendly terms. Laurean later refused to meet with investigators and left town without telling his lawyers where he was going.