Advertisement

Questions swirl in Marine death

Times Staff Writer

On May 11, Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach told her officer in charge that she had been raped by a fellow Marine. The accused, Cpl. Cesar A. Laurean, denied it but was ordered to stay away from Lauterbach while the case was investigated.

The two continued to work as personnel clerks at nearby Camp Lejeune but were sent to different buildings.

Lauterbach, 20, became pregnant in May.

Laurean, 21, was served with a military protective order barring him from contacting Lauterbach, but he was not detained or charged.

Advertisement

Eight months later, on Jan. 11, police found the burned remains of Lauterbach and her child in a fire pit in the backyard of Laurean’s home. An autopsy did not determine whether she gave birth before her death.

Laurean has been charged with murder. Authorities have mounted an “earthwide” manhunt, the local sheriff says. The FBI said Wednesday that Laurean, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, may have fled there.

Laurean disappeared Jan. 11. Police said his wife, Christina, gave them a note in which he wrote that he buried Lauterbach after she committed suicide by slitting her throat.

Police said there were blood splatters in Laurean’s home. The autopsy found Lauterbach died of “traumatic head injury due to blunt-force trauma.”

Advertisement

Lauterbach’s family has criticized military and civilian authorities, saying they failed to protect her and did not adequately investigate her claims. But Lauterbach’s mother described her to investigators as “a compulsive liar,” and the pregnant young Marine’s shifting statements and erratic behavior appear to have complicated the investigation.

At the same time, according to military investigators, poor communications with local police contributed to a sense among authorities that Lauterbach was not in any danger. And a plaintive note that authorities said Lauterbach left just before she disappeared last month convinced authorities that she was seeking time away by herself.

Lauterbach, while continuing to insist that Laurean raped her in March and again in April, also described a consensual sexual encounter with him, authorities said. She first said that Laurean was the father of her baby, conceived in mid-May, but later said he was not.

“At no time did she indicate that she was threatened by Cpl. Laurean,” said Col. Gary Sokoloski, the judge advocate general officer for the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Advertisement

Marine officials said the sheriff’s office did not contact the Marine command until Dec. 27, nearly two weeks after Lauterbach’s Dec. 14 disappearance. They said police waited until Jan. 9 to inform the command of several key developments.

These included a $700 withdrawal from an ATM machine by Lauterbach on Dec. 14; the discovery of her cellphone on a highway outside the base gate; the discovery of Lauterbach’s car at a Jacksonville bus station; and the ATM withdrawal of $400 from her account Dec. 24 by an unidentified man who covered his face with a rag.

The Marine command believed Lauterbach was voluntarily “UA,” on an unauthorized absence, base officials said.

Her roommate turned over a note from Lauterbach: “I could not take this Marine Corps life anymore. So I am going away. Sorry for the inconvenience. Maria.” She took clothing and toiletry items, the roommate told police.

Advertisement

“We all thought, all of us, that she had left on her own free will and was going to be found,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Hill, a Marine spokesman.

Even so, Hill said, Lauterbach’s supervisors began looking for her after she failed to appear for duty Dec. 17, taking the unusual step of declaring Lauterbach a deserter in order to secure help from federal authorities in locating her.

There was “elevated concern for her welfare because of the advanced stage of pregnancy,” the Marine statement said.

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said neither he, the local district attorney, nor the base commander was told of the protective order served on Laurean.

Advertisement

Paul Ciccarelli, who is in charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Lejeune, said he was unaware of the order until police found it in Lauterbach’s abandoned car last week. The NCIS said Lauterbach was “under considerable stress” and “was facing a possible discharge from the Marine Corps,” a sheriff’s detective wrote in a search warrant filed by police Jan. 7.

He said her mother, Mary S. Lauterbach, expressed concern that her daughter was not capable of raising a baby. He also wrote: “NCIS confirmed the history of compulsive lying” by Maria Lauterbach.

The Marine statement said Laurean was considered “a stellar Marine.” On Oct. 18, with the NCIS investigation into Lauterbach’s rape allegations still underway, the NCIS recommended no disciplinary action against Laurean until DNA tests could be performed on Lauterbach’s child, due in February.

Laurean’s denial that he had raped Lauterbach “was believed to be significant evidence,” the Marine statement said. Even so, on Oct. 22, a regimental commander asked military prosecutors to consider an Article 32 investigation, which would allow witnesses to testify under oath and be subjected to cross-examination.

Advertisement

On Jan. 8, 25 days after Lauterbach disappeared, the sheriff’s office questioned Laurean “as a possible witness, not a suspect,” the statement said.

“There’s no information provided to command to implicate Cpl. Laurean in Cpl. Lauterbach’s absence,” the statement said of events that day.

Laurean was given time off to meet with his civilian lawyers, but he kept in touch by phone with his officer in charge.

Three days later, Laurean failed to report for duty. That night, police detectives began digging in his backyard fire pit.

Advertisement

--

david.zucchino@latimes.com


Advertisement