JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) Authorities detailed gruesome evidence of a pregnant Marine's death Saturday as they excavated a fire pit where they believe a comrade she accused of rape burned and buried her body after a horrific attack.
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."
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 comment when asked if authorities thought Christina Laurean was involved or even aware of her husband's actions.
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."
In the backyard of Laurean's home, authorities found what "appeared to be burnt human remains" in the fire pit, District Attorney Dewey Hudson said. State investigators planned to use garden tools to slowly scrape dirt from the site, protected overnight by a tarp and two white tents.
"We think we have found what will (contain) the skeletal remains of Maria Lauterbach," Hudson said.
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.
In a brief interview Friday night with reporters outside the family's home in Vandalia, Ohio, Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Steiner, said the rapist was the father.
Authorities said they were not 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 was assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune. She joined the Marines in June 2006, and had not been sent to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Laurean worked in the same unit, where both were personnel clerks.
Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Raleigh, Jim Hannah in Vandalia, Ohio, and Dan Sewell in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.