Jan. 13, 2008 — -- The key suspect in the apparent murder of a pregnant Marine and her unborn child in North Carolina was seen in Shreveport, La., according to police there.
Shreveport police Chief Henry Whitehorn Sr. told The Associated Press that Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean was seen there, but it was believed he had already left the area.
"We're working with the U.S. Marshal's Service and other law enforcement agencies trying to locate him," Whitehorn said. "We don't know if he is still in the area. We believe it may have just been a pass-through. We received information he may be headed into Texas."
Earlier today, Onslow County, N.C., Sheriff Ed Brown said Laurean had been sighted "in transit" outside North Carolina around midnight, but declined to give specifics on the location or circumstances, citing an ongoing investigation.
Brown said a witness spent time with Laurean, who is suspected to have a connection to 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach's December disappearance and possible homicide.
A separate law enforcement agency verified the sighting, but was unable to capture Laurean, Brown said.
"He did not stay where he was at in this sighting," Brown said. "He wasn't spotted by a cop. He wasn't spotted by law enforcement."
Brown said it was good the witness didn't try to take on Laurean.
"He could be a dangerous and violent person ... put in a corner," Brown said.
"I do feel comfortable Mr. Laurean will be located," he added, but Brown refused to give specific timeline. "The sense of urgency to apprehend him is there."
Police also are eager to get the full picture of what may have occurred between Lauterbach and Laurean, Brown added.
On Saturday, investigators began unearthing what they said were burnt human remains from a fire pit behind Laurean's Jacksonville, N.C., home, but have yet to officially identify the remains as Lauterbach's.
"The fetus was developed enough that the little hand was about the size of my thumb," Brown said. "The little fingers were rolled up and this is consistent with what we were looking for -- a pregnant lady who is the victim, Maria Lauterbach, and her unborn child."
"One of the things that will probably stick with me for a long time and forever is that little hand," Brown said. "That is bizarre; it is tragic and it's disgusting."
After finding the remains on Saturday, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Laurean, who they said fled early Friday after leaving his wife a note in which he admitted burying Lauterbach's body.
The charred human remains, found buried about six inches to one foot deep, will need to be checked against dental records to make a positive identification, Onslow County medical examiner Dr. Charles Garrett said Saturday.
Laurean's neighbor Richard Alander said Saturday that "about 16 days ago he [Laurean] asked to borrow a shovel from me," and afterwards Alander remembered seeing a "mysterious burn pile" in the yard.
The case took a dramatic turn Friday when an undisclosed witness gave police evidence that Lauterbach had been killed and dumped into a shallow grave. Investigators focused their search on Laurean's property, and late Friday said they had made a discovery.
"We think we have found what will [contain] the skeletal remains of Maria Lauterbach," Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson told The Associated Press on Friday, when the remains were first discovered. He said that what they had unearthed before darness fell Friday evening "appeared to be burnt human remains."
Laurean left behind a note insisting that Lauterbach had slit her own throat before he fled the area around 4 a.m. on Friday, according to police. However, Brown said that what they found at Laurean's home made them believe something different happened.
"Inside the house, police found evidence of violence and traces of blood on the walls, all of which has turned what had been a missing person case into a murder investigation," Brown said.
Lauterbach vanished just days after she met with military investigators at Camp LeJeune to discuss rape charges against Laurean. She was expected to give birth next month.
Her uncle Peter Steiner said Saturday on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" that his niece "was being harassed by the general environment [at Camp LeJeune] to drop the case, which she did a week before her disappearance."
"We became aware this summer that she was pregnant due to a rape, and she did not have any relationship with this man as has been reported," Steiner said.
"This young woman was trying to survive. The Marines did not separate these people ... so she was trying to make the best of a very bad situation," he said.
Steiner claimed that until Monday, "nothing was being done by the local authorities or the Marines."
"They [the Sheriff's office] said that flyovers were occurring and that they had evidence that she was coming back... but we came to find out that absolutely nothing was happening," he said.
Steiner also dismissed the idea that the investigation had been delayed because of court documents stating that her mother described Lauterbach as having a history of lying.
"She was not a compulsive liar, Maria. She was a person that when pressed tended to exaggerate," he said.
Steiner said it was never his sister's intention to make her sound like a bad person, but more importantly those comments were made on Monday after weeks of delay had already passed.
Lauterbach was last seen Dec. 14 and was reported missing by her mother Dec. 19. Since Lauterbach's disappearance, police have found her cell phone and car at a bus stop. They determined that Dec. 15 she had bought a bus ticket to El Paso, Texas. An unidentified man used her ATM card at a Marine credit union on Christmas Eve while trying to cover the surveillance camera. Authorities could not confirm the man's identity.
Brown and Naval Criminal Investigative Services spokesman Paul Ciccarelli both confirmed that Laurean was the Marine previously accused by Lauterbach of raping her. That military probe was ongoing, but Ciccarelli said that Laurean had not been considered a flight risk in that case.
Ciccarelli indicated there was reason to believe Lauterbach and Laurean had some type of relationship after she filed the report accusing him of rape, perhaps even as recently as last month, but her uncle disputes that claim, though he said today that Laurean is the father of the child his neice was carrying.
Ciccarelli also said that he received information about Lauterbach's death and burial in the last 24 hours from a former Marine. That information was passed on to the sheriff's office.
Police had tried to contact Laurean earlier, Brown said Friday, but claimed that the Marine's attorneys shielded him from questioning.
"I've talked to his attorneys," Brown said. "His attorneys won't let us talk to him."
Authorities faced tough questions about why so much time had elapsed between the missing person's report and the revelation that Lauterbach was dead without Laurean being questioned about her disappearance. Brown said that authorities had contacted Laurean and that the Marine said he would come to the sheriff's office, but then canceled.
"I won't be coming down because my lawyers said you can't go down to talk to them," Brown said, quoting Laurean.
Laurean, a Nevada native, has not been charged in Lauterbach's death. He is believed to be driving a black 2004 extended Dodge pickup truck with North Carolina license plates.
Laurean, who has never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, joined the Marines in 2004 and was trained as a personnel clerk, according to a Marine Corps release. That is the same position Lauterbach reportedly held. He was promoted to his current position in 2006 and has received various commendations. His military status now is considered "Unauthorized Absence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.