JACKSONVILLE, N.C. A pregnant Marine missing for nearly a month is dead, and investigators were seeking a fellow Marine she had accused of raping her, authorities said Friday.
Authorities had not recovered the body of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Frances Lauterbach, but they believed she was buried in a shallow grave in a residential area of coastal Onslow County, Sheriff Ed Brown said.
Military and civilian investigators were seeking the key suspect in the death, Cpl. Cesar Armando Lauren, who had declined to meet with investigators and apparently left the area, Brown said.
"They don't know where he is," Brown said of Lauren's lawyers.
Lauterbach met with military prosecutors in December to discuss pursuing rape charges against Lauren, said Kevin Marks, the supervisory special agent for Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Lejeune. He said prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to argue that the case should go to a court martial, the military equivalent of a 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 by a senior military person."
Brown said Lauren refused to speak with detectives, on the advice of his attorneys. Authorities said they didn't consider Lauren a flight risk until Friday, because they had information the pair carried on a "friendly relationship" after she reported the assault to military authorities.
The sheriff hinted Friday morning that a positive outcome was still possible. But that was before detectives received news of Lauterbach's death from an unidentified female witness who is a former Marine, he said.
"I came out before y'all on cloud nine," Brown said. "Then I had my insides knocked out with this negative information. I was about to cry."
The State Bureau of Investigation and the Marine Corps are assisting in the search for Lauren. Brown said authorities believe he has left Onslow County, about 120 miles southeast of Raleigh, and is traveling in a black, two-door pickup truck.
The State Bureau of Investigation and the Marine Corps were assisting in the search for Lauren, who had not been charged with Lauterbach's death.
Lauterbach, originally from Dayton, Ohio, 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 scheduled Dec. 26 prenatal care appointment.
Authorities found her vehicle at a bus station near the base on the Atlantic coast, and an employee there has told investigators it has been there since about the time of her disappearance. Brown said Friday she had purchased a bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, the day after she spoke with her stepmother, but the ticket has not been used.
Marine officials said Lauterbach was assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune. She joined the Marine Corps in June 2006, trained as a personnel clerk and had not deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.