Investigators on Sunday pursued the reported sighting in Louisiana of the prime suspect in the grisly killing of a pregnant North Carolina-based Marine, saying they were only hours behind the fellow Marine charged in her murder.
Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said officers were hot on the trail of Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, 21, after Louisiana authorities said the suspect was seen at a Shreveport, La., bus terminal, possibly headed to nearby Texas.
Laurean, who is originally from Nevada but was stationed at Camp Lejeune, faces a first-degree murder charge in the December death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Ohio.
Authorities think he killed Lauterbach, who had accused him of rape and was about eight months pregnant, then burned and buried her in his backyard. Lauterbach's family has said authorities did not aggressively investigate her rape allegation against Laurean.
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Brown said he expects an imminent arrest.
"I do feel comfortable it will be a short trip, a short vacation for Mr. Laurean," the sheriff told reporters outside his office.
Brown said three or four passengers saw a man they thought was Laurean stepping off a bus in Shreveport, just across the Red River from Texas.
At the same time, investigators in Jacksonville conducted follow up interviews with Laurean's neighbors.
They also took Laurean's wife, Christina, back to the couple's home in the Half Moon community near Jacksonville, where investigators had found evidence of a bloody incident. That included bloodstains in the house and the charred remains of a woman authorities think is Lauterbach and her unborn baby, its tiny hand clasped in death.
Brown declined Sunday to answer questions about whether Laurean's wife was involved in the death or its aftermath. He said several days ago that she turned over a letter in which her husband claimed that he buried Lauterbach after the pregnant Marine killed herself.
Wanda Alander, who lives next door to the Laureans, said officers escorted Christina Laurean into the house around 1 p.m. Sunday. They left shortly afterward.
"When I saw her in the police car, she kept her face down," Alander said in an interview at the Onslow Sheriff's department.
Richard Alander, Wanda's husband, said the two of them had discussed additional recollections about the Laureans with investigators Sunday.
Earlier this week, the Alanders said Cesar Laurean had borrowed a shovel several weeks ago. They said Laurean used to tie his small, poodle-like dog to a tree in the backyard but in recent weeks had been tying the dog to a stake in the front yard.
The tree in back was near a burn pit where authorities Saturday removed human remains they think are those of Lauterbach and her unborn child. Dr. Charles Garrett, Onslow County medical examiner, said the remains would be taken to the Chief Medical Examiner's office in Chapel Hill for further examination to determine identity and cause of death.
The macabre findings at the scene, especially the baby's tiny burned hand, were disturbing, said Brown. It also indicated that Laurean was dangerous. "He would be dangerous if you got him in a bind," the sheriff said.