Anatomy of an FBI Manhunt

Feds investigating the possibility that wanted Marine has fled to Mexico.


Jan. 16, 2008— -- FBI agents and officials say they have leads indicating that a "stellar" Marine corporal accused of murdering a pregnant fellow Marine might have fled to Mexico.

The bureau is working several leads and has notified the FBI legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, but investigators are not ruling out the possibility that Cpl. Cesar Laurean could still be in the United States.

Laurean, 21, is wanted in the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, another Marine at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The charred remains of Lauterbach and her unborn son were found buried in a fire pit in Laurean's backyard.

A warrant for Laurean's arrest issued last weekend charges Laurean with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for murder -- a move that set off a nationwide manhunt.

For a full description of the suspect, see the FBI's wanted poster for Laurean HERE.

Laurean was born in Mexico, but became a naturalized U.S. citizen. It's not known whether he retained his Mexican citizenship, although investigators said that he has family in Mexico.

The sheriff's office in Onslow County, N.C., which is spearheading the manhunt, said earlier this week they feared that Laurean had enough time to escape to some place where he would have help staying hidden.

"We believe it's certainly possible, based on him being out there for this long, and not having any sightings, that he is getting help," Onslow County Sheriff's Capt. Rick Sutherland said Tuesday.

Laurean joined the Marines in Las Vegas in 2004 and within two years was promoted to corporal.

"His record indicates he was a stellar Marine," Lt. Col. Curtis Hill said Tuesday.

Laurean had been Lauterbach's senior officer until she accused him of raping her. The Marines said Laurean was never taken into custody because he had denied the charge and there was no evidence to support the accusation.

With the manhunt officially under way, Laurean's photograph, name and details of the case were provided to the FBI's information clearinghouse in Clarksburg, W.V., within minutes.

The center's job is simple: Get specifics about Laurean online so they're available to every law enforcement agency in the country.

"I'd say this system is absolutely mission critical," Tom Bush, the FBI's assistant director for Criminal Justice Information Services, told ABC News. "I don't know of any other law enforcement information sharing system that is more critical to the officer on the street."

That is principally done through two databases: the state-to-state National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, and the FBI's National Crime Information Center, or NCIC.

Most police have the information in their cruisers at their fingertips while on patrol. Once the information is in the patrol officer's computer, the FBI and local police are automatically notified of a possible break in the case.

According to the FBI, Laurean became a U.S. citizen in 2003 but was previously a Mexican national and still has family in that country. Because of his ties to Mexico, and the possibility that he has crossed the border, it is critical for police in southern border states -- as well as border patrol agents, port and customs officials and the Transportation Security Administration -- to have the information.

The FBI and U.S. Marshals are working closely with police in North Carolina, trying to develop a profile of Laurean, looking for any hint of what steps he might take next.

"The evidence in the crimes are very important to us, but the demeanor and habits of the individual are just as important during our investigation to try and find the fugitive," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Sorukas.

But while police are on the hunt, they also hope the public will play a decisive role in the dragnet.

"The goal is to get as many people as we can, as many eyes and ears out there, looking for an individual that we want to apprehend," said Ken Kaiser, assistant director for the FBI's Criminal Division. "And the more people we get out there, the more chances we have of someone seeing him, and giving us a call."

Laurean's picture is posted on the FBI's Web site, already viewed by 55,000 potential tipsters. Huge electronic billboards -- soon to be in 20 cities -- are being set up around the country.

A media blitz is under way, from morning television shows to press conferences to a partnership with the crime show "America's Most Wanted."

The plan is in place. Now they wait.

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