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Marine murder sets off 'earthwide' search

Van Zandt:  A corporal accused of killing a female Marine and her unborn child may be hiding out in some flop house motel, or the basement of a friend’s house, or even camping in the desert, but he can’t hide forever.
Image: Motorists drive near an electronic billboard with the picture of Cesar Laurean.
Motorists drive near an electronic billboard with the picture of Cesar Laurean, a Marine wanted in the slaying of a pregnant colleague, Monday, in Columbus, Ohio.Jay Laprete / AP

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown, the search for Corporal Cesar Armando Laurean, the prime suspect in the murder of fellow Marine Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child, has now gone “earthwide.”  While that may be a little stretch of the truth, Laurean’s face and description, thanks to the media and especially cable television, has been seen across the United States in efforts to find the fugitive.  The FBI has offered a $25,000 reward for Laurean’s capture.

Lauterbach was a young 20-year-old Marine who claimed to have been raped by Laurean, and was eight and a half months pregnant when she disappeared on Dec. 14 yet wasn’t reported missing until Dec. 19. According to Sheriff Brown, by that point she and her unborn child had already been murdered in a bloody assault in Laurean’s home, with her burned body buried in a shallow grave in Laurean’s backyard.

Complicating the search for the missing woman was information from her mother that she was bipolar, someone who lied, and someone her mother appeared to believe had simply run away. 
Investigation concerning Lauterbach's disappearance determined that in May she reported at least two prior sexual contacts with CPL Laurean, one in March and one in April, one of which she may have characterized as consensual, that she was believed to have conceived on or about May 14, and that in November she had reported that she no longer believed CPL Laurean to be the father of the child she was carrying.

On or about Dec 14 she withdrew $700 from her bank by use of her own ATM card, that she had purchased a one-way bus ticket to El Paso, TX (one never used, leaving her ATM card at the bus depot), that she had removed clothes from her residence, that she had left her roommate a note saying she was going away and that her cell phone had been found abandoned near the entrance to her military base.  Add to this the Christmas season when local United States Marine Corps (USMC) officials and the local sheriff’s office may have been off for vacation, and the trail grew initially cold concerning the whereabouts of the missing pregnant and troubled Marine.

Why had Laurean not been charged with the rape of Lauterbach and locked up, or at least why had the USMC not moved one or the other to another base until they completed the rape investigation? Lauterbach and Laurean allegedly maintained some kind of relationship after the alleged rape, so the Marines did not consider him a threat to her, nor, apparently, did they believe the victim’s story. In Lauterbach’s case, she had to remain strong to be both a Marine and a soon to be mother, while working on the same base as her alleged rapist and dealing with the rumors concerning her and her pregnancy.

Although at least 120 different Gulf War veterans have been implicated in murders since their return from combat, Cpl. Laurean, if he is found guilty, cannot blame Lauterbach’s death on anything other than anger and rage. Cpl. Laurean, who never saw combat, stands accused of the murder of Lauterbach and has become a fugitive.

On Tuesday, Laurean's truck was found outside a motel in Morrisville, N.C. Authorities confirmed the truck belonged to him, but are still searching for Laurean himself.

Means, motive and opportunity are important in any criminal investigation, and it appears that Lauterbach was probably stabbed or bludgeoned to death.  According to some reports, she was going to testify against her alleged assailant for her rape, while other reports suggest she had changed her mind about testifying.  Nonetheless, Cpl. Laurean surely had the opportunity to kill Lauterbach and in fact apparently attempted to put the blame on the victim for her own death, passing a note to his wife saying Lauterbach had cut her own throat and that he had buried the body afterwards.

Where does this leave Mrs. Christian Laurean thought?
Some reports indicated that CPL Laurean had borrowed a shovel, one possibly used to bury the victim in his back yard, a week or more before Lauderbach's death.  Another story suggests that he had borrowed charcoal from another neighbor for a future bar-ba-que in his back yard sincethe victim's body was burned in a charcoal fire prior to being buried.  Yet another story suggests quite a bit of blood, believed to be the victim's, was found in the Laurean's garage and in their home and that Mrs. Laurean had at least helped to clean up and/or paint over the blood in the now believed murder crime scene. 

One law enforcement official has indicated that a suspected murder weapon, Lauterbach died from blunt force trauma to her head, was recovered either from the Laurean residence or from CPL Laurean's truck.  Lastly, what did Mrs. Laurean know about her husband's relationship with Lauderbach, and could she have had something to do with the victim's murder, either as the killer herself, or as a accomplice in Lauderbach's murder, or at least a participant in the attempted cover up of the murder after the fact in her home?  Although authorities say they are in constant contact with Mrs. Laurean, they have yet to say she has been ruled out of any role in the murder or attempted cover up.  She has provided authorities with two letters written to her by her husband after he fled the local area, allegedly mailed from Houston, TX.

Sightings of Laurean later refuted
Sightings have been reported, and later refuted, that Laurean was seen at a bus station in Shreveport, La., perhaps boarding a bus to Texas where he had relatives, and where the U.S.-Mexican border might have been a target for the man on the run. Another report indicates that Lauterbach’s ATM card had been found at a bus station in Durham, N.C., and that Cpl. Laurean’s black Dodge pickup truck had been seen in the local area. Most investigators know that eye witness identifications are challenging at best.  People want to help find a suspected killer, and in their desire they sometime see the fugitive in the face of a totally different person.

Although fingerpointing will continue concerning the when, why, and how of the rape investigation and why Cpl. Laurean was allowed to slip away, what is of concern now is his capture. All of his friends and family should have been contacted by investigators by this time, and surveillances will be in place should he try to sneak into one of their homes.  His credit cards will be watched, his cell phone monitored, his vehicle sought after, and pictures will be made showing him wearing perhaps a wig, a cap, sunglasses, or other means to conceal his identity. It’s not easy to be a man on the run, looking over your shoulder every few seconds to see who is approaching, watching a police car pass and looking to see if it turned around and was coming after you.

Lauterbach and her unborn child, like so many pregnant women and children before her, has apparently become the victim of the person impregnating her, an unfortunate statistical probability when you consider crimes against pregnant women.  While Cpl. Laurean may be hiding out in some flop house motel, or the basement of a friend’s house, or even camping in the desert, he can’t hide forever.

Some may be motivated to turn him in for the reward money, while others will do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. It appears that few either believed Lauterbach or actually stood up for her in her many months of need before her brutal murder. Perhaps now, even in death, while over 800 mourned her death in her Ohio home town, her story may be proven to be true and the dead mother and fledging Marine will finally be vindicated. 

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His web site, provides readers with security-related information.