Pregnant Marine's grave apparently found

Jacksonville NC (AP) -- Authorities detailed gruesome evidence of a pregnant Marine's death Saturday as they excavated human remains from a fire pit where they believe a comrade she accused of rape burned and buried her body.

Investigators have found blood spatters on the ceiling and a massive amount of blood on the wall of the home of Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said. It appeared that someone had tried to wash and paint over the blood, he said.

"I believe this is going to be a bizarre discovery today," Brown said. "The blood splatters indicate a violent, violent attack."

In a fire pit in the backyard of Laurean's home, authorities found burnt human remains buried up to a foot in ashes and dirt, said Dr. Charles Garrett, the county medical examiner. Once state investigators finish slowly scraping dirt from the site, protected by a tarp and two white tents, the remains will be sent to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for identification using dental records.

Garrett did not provide any other details, including whether the remains included those of a child.

A nationwide search for Laurean continued Saturday, a day after Brown identified him as the key suspect in the death of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Frances Lauterbach. She disappeared in December, just days after meeting with military prosecutors to talk about her allegation that Laurean raped her.

Before fleeing Jacksonville early Friday, Brown said, Laurean left a note that said Lauterbach had "come to his residence and cut her (own) throat." Brown confirmed Saturday that authorities received the note from Laurean's wife, Christina, around 8 a.m. Friday, about four hours after they suspect he fled.

Laurean wrote in the note that he had nothing to do with Lauterbach's suicide, but that he had buried her body, the sheriff said.

Authorities have dismissed the idea that Lauterbach killed herself, pointing to the blood stains and the obvious signs of a cleanup inside Laurean's one-story, brown brick ranch home. Brown challenged Laurean, who has not been charged with a crime, to come forward and defend his claims of innocence.

Brown declined to say whether authorities thought Christina Laurean had a hand in Lauterbach's disappearance.

She 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."

Brown said Saturday there had been no sightings of Laurean, 21, of the Las Vegas area. He had refused to meet with investigators and left without telling his lawyers where he was going, the sheriff said.

Lauterbach met with military prosecutors last month 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.

Outside the family's home in Vandalia, Ohio, on Friday night, Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Steiner, said the rapist was the father.

Authorities said they had not been concerned that Laurean would flee because they had information he and Lauterbach 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."

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, 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, who joined the Marines in 2006, and Laurean were personnel clerks in the 2nd Marine Logistics Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune. Neither had been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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