By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
The natural order of life is children burying their parents. But for Mary Lauterbach, that order changed when her daughter Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was murdered by Lance Cpl. Cesar Lauren in December 2007.
Losing a loved one is devastating but was compounded for Mary because Maria’s death at the hands of a fellow Marine was preventable.
Mary Lauterbach and Russell Strand, the chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division and a retired U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent, visited Fort Knox Friday and participated in leader engagement at Olive Theater. They were on hand to talk about the perils and dangers of sexual harassment and assault in the military.
Months before Maria’s murder she was raped by Lauren and many believed she wasn’t credible because she had stolen $30 the previous year.
“It ruined her reputation,” explained Mary.
In 2007, Mary learned Maria had been raped on April 10, while she was on night duty. She told Mary she was afraid, she was getting desperate and didn’t know what to do, Mary recalled.
The Inspector General report said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had concluded the rape didn’t happen because everyone said Lauren was a great Marine. They believed that Maria was making trouble and retaliating because of her previous troubles.
“NCIS spoke to (Lauren) and he denied anything had happened,” Maria said about the report. “He had two alibis and nobody checked the alibis.”
Although Maria was moved to a different office, she still had encounters with Lauren.
As this was happening Maria discovered she was pregnant and Lauren’s friends were pressuring her to drop the case. Maria also believed Lauren was terrorizing her because her car was keyed and she was physically assaulted.
Once again Maria reported these incidents to NCIS and was told they were unrelated to the sexual assault.
Mary wanted to get involved, but Maria told her to leave things alone; she would only make things worse. Things had deteriorated to the point of Maria asking for a base transfer.
On Dec. 14, Maria called her mother about a mandatory unit Christmas party; she didn’t want to go because Lauren would be there. Before hanging up, Maria told her mom, “I love you.”
“That was the last time I spoke to my daughter,” Mary said.
Later, after failing to reach Maria, Mary called her supervisor and got no help. When Mary asked about the open sexual assault case she was referred to the local police. After talking to them Mary was told they couldn’t release any more information about Maria because she was over 18 years old.
Things changed when a gentleman called Mary to say he found Maria’s cell phone.
“I finally had a clue. I knew something had happened because Maria would never leave her phone,” she said. Later that afternoon she was told ‘Unless your daughter turns up (her rape) case will be dropped.’
Mary knew something was wrong, but no one would listen. She even asked if the authorities had talked to Lauren and was told he was accounted for. Since there hadn’t been any sightings of Maria, the Marines told Mary they weren’t looking for her due to limited resources, infering Maria was absent without leave.
After running into the proverbial brick wall, Mary finally received the help she needed in a police detective, who was also a retired Marine. When the detective looked for Maria’s file he saw the file was empty: no notes or pictures of Maria. When Mary explained the circumstances of the rape and Maria’s disappearance, the detective said something didn’t smell right. He told Mary he was going to treat it as a possible homicide. Once Mary and the detective visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., they learned someone had used Maria’s ATM card Christmas Eve. After the ATM photo was pulled, Mary was informed a man attempted to use the card.
Mary knew then her daughter was gone. “It was a terrible drive home. My house was swarming with news people.”
Unbeknown to Mary, Lauren was preparing to flee to Mexico. He left a note with his wife which said Maria had commited suicide and he buried her in the backyard.
“I found out on CNN that Maria Lauterbach was dead,” said Mary. “He had buried my daughter and my granddaughter. He was a known deserter and still being referred to as a stellar Marine.”
“My daughter managed to turn herself into a perfect victim,” Mary said. “She stole that money and lost credibility. No one would believe her. Cesar Lauren (is the) poster child of sexual predator. When I saw him I couldn’t believe (someone so clean-cut) would do this.”
“When a complaint is made you (have) to separate people,” she said. “When a pregnancy is involved it can be much more volatile. If (there had been an) expedited base transfer my daughter would probably be alive today. Her leadership let her down.”
Mary said the best way to combat sexual assault is being proactive.
“Be careful about assumptions because looks can be very deceiving,” she said.
After Mary told her story about how sexual assault can fall through the cracks, Strand said every time he hears Mary’s story it’s troubling and unsettling.
“We use that IG report as training for (CID) agents,” said Strand. “Mary was watching CNN and a NCIS agent said, ‘We don’t know what’s going on (with) Maria, (she) is a known liar, and even her mother knows that.
“That burned in my mind and we have to do something different. A goal would be increased reports, decrease prevalence and (make the) military the last place an offender wants to be.”
Strand pointed out that in one year there was an 80 percent increase in reporting sexual assault in the Marines compared to 60 percent in the Army.
“We can eliminate sexual assault to some degree,” explained Strand. “Can we change the culture? I believe we can. The Army chief of staff and the sergeant major of the Army said, ‘There is nothing more damaging to the Army than sexual assault.’
Strand said what worries him the most is 35 percent of the suspects are leaders and leaders are supposed to protect Soldiers. He added that 95 percent of men will never commit sexual assault or tolerate anyone who does—it’s the 5 percent who create a lot of havoc, said Strand.
Strand pointed out that there is no specific profile that characterizes rapists. Many, he said, have sophisticated and smooth personality styles and since there is very little science to lying, most sex offenders are very good at hiding who they are. Strand also said they have three different personas—public, uninhibited and private.
“The public is what we want everyone to see (and) the private is (how) sex offenders thrive—(it’s the) most hidden persona,” said Strand.
Victims often blame themselves for being attacked. Strand concurs with Mary when talking about credibility. In a lot of cases credibility becomes the issue.
“We focus on the victim’s behavior, responsibility, character, social expectations, morals/ bias,” explained Strand. “We live in a rape prone culture. I have heard she was asking for it. What do you call a woman who likes to have a lot of sex? Promiscuous. What do we call men who have lots of sex? A stud—a playa’. We hold women responsible for sex.”
Strand stressed that one of the most effective ways of ridding sexual assault is bystander intervention. He said it begins when Soldiers are standing around talking about things such as “keeping score.” Instead of encouraging this behavior Strand said this is the time to say, “Let’s talk about Army Values and what’s respectful.”
Strand pointed out that sexual assaults also attack the person’s psyche which leads to women being five times and men 10 times more likely to commit suicide after a rape.
“Victims of sexual assault are casualties,” he said. “(We need to) stop treating (them) like victims and treat (them) like casualties.”
Sexual assault is personal to Strand—like Mary—because his daughter was sexually assaulted and she was afraid to report out of fear that no one would believe her. His son, a Special Forces Soldier, was also sexually assaulted.
“Fifty percent of my children are casualties of sexual assault,” he said. “The truth matters. I believe this is personal and should be personal to everybody or it’s not going to change. Heroes don’t rape and heroes don’t allow others to rape.”