Suspect in Marine Death Believed in Mexico

Relative tells ABC News Laurean visited store in Mexico with two "friends."

ByABC News
January 22, 2008, 8:25 PM

Jan. 23, 2008 — -- The U.S. Marine sought in connection with the murder of a pregnant fellow Marine materialized out of nowhere in a liquor store just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico last week, and disappeared just as quickly, a relative told ABC News on Wednesday.

Corporal Cesar Laurean spent about 10 or 15 minutes inside the store, as two people he identified to his cousin as "friends" stood outside the store entrance facing the street.

"He seemed calm,'' Juan Antonio Ramos Ramirez, 31, told ABC News. "He didn't seem like he had [a] problem,'' Ramirez said. "We just exchanged greetings because it was a very quick visit.''

Ramirez said Laurean hadn't visited the small town of Zapopan, just outside of Guadalajara, in five or six years, despite having a number of relatives in the region.

"He's got a big problem, no?'' Ramirez asked an ABC News producer, seeming to wonder whether he and other relatives of Laurean would be dragged into the manhunt. "Until it clears up, affects the whole family, no?"

Ramirez said that he chatted amiably with his Laurean for several minutes and then turned to help a customer in the store.

"And when we were done, he was gone,'' Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, ABC News has learned that Laurean likely took a bus to Mexico.

Sources familiar with the probe say that Laurean, 21, who is wanted in connection with the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, got on a bus in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and then rode to Houston. In Houston, he allegedly boarded another bus and then traveled to San Luis Potosi, a state in central Mexico.

The bus driver on that trip -- in a recent interview with investigators -- has positively identified Laurean, telling investigators he had a lengthy conversation with the man, who was allegedly using the alias "Armando Ramirez."

The bus driver at the time did not know who Laurean was. The FBI has listed that alias on new pictures released today.

The FBI did not say how it came by the alias. Laurean allegedly arrived in Mexico a week ago Sunday, calmly traveling by bus as the police were in the early stages of launching a massive manhunt to find him.

Late tonight the Associated Press reported that a man claiming to be Laurean's cousin told the AP that Laurean visited relatives in Mexico last week.

The charred remains of Lauterbach and her unborn child were found buried in a fire pit in Laurean's backyard Saturday, Jan. 12. Police were investigating the scene after Laurean's wife, Christine, confided to authorities that Lauterbach, a missing, pregnant 20-year-old who had accused her husband of rape at the Camp Lejeune military base, was dead and buried in their North Carolina backyard. She was eight months pregnant when she died.

Police believe Lauterbach was murdered in the home's garage, "based on the blood and the interpretation of the blood spatters" on the walls.

A federal judge in Charlotte, N.C., issued an arrest warrant for Laurean, triggering a nationwide manhunt. But Laurean, who was born in Mexico and raised in Nevada, was already on the run.

Laurean, a naturalized U.S. citizen who may have retained his Mexican citizenship, reportedly told fellow Marines in his unit that he would run to Mexico if he were found guilty by the military of raping Lauterbach.

"That's definitely a viable place he could be," Capt. Rick Sutherland, the spokesman for the Onslow County Sheriff's Office, told ABC News. But Sutherland said that a high volume of tips have come in placing Laurean in the American Southwest and in states immediately surrounding North Carolina.