Fugitives sometimes disappear

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Cesar Laurean

Erasmo Tamayo.jpg
Robert McWilliams

Staff Writer

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Coffee and chores: William Manning began his Saturday like any other. The Spring Hope farmer planned to cook slop for his hogs. But at 82 years old, Manning needed help with chopping and hauling firewood.

Manning spotted a young man walking along a rural road, pulled over his pickup and offered to pay him cash to help. But the man wanted the money for nothing, took a log from Manning's truck bed and swung it at Manning's head like a baseball bat.

A short time later a motorist found Manning's dead body laying next to his truck. That was April 25, 1970. This is the part in the story where I usually tell you authorities are looking for the killer. No this time: The murderer was arrested decades ago. Actually, he was picked up soon after Manning's body was discovered.

Robert McWilliams was stopped by a Nash County deputy walking along N.C. 58 near Denton's Store. The 22-year-old migrant farmer had Manning's wallet and $60 cash.

Convicted of robbery and second-degree murder, McWilliams was sentenced to 40 years in prison. By late 1977, he had been moved to a medium security prison in Hendersonville, where he walked away from an outside work detail.

If he's alive, McWilliams is 70. Even at that age, authorities say he's dangerous. He's been on the lam for four decades.

Some fugitives are never found.

Erasmo Tamayo escaped from the horticulture house of a medium security prison in 1993. He was serving an 83-year sentence for second-degree murder and trafficking cocaine in the 1987 death of a cartel-connected drug supplier.

I wrote about Tamayo about a decade ago. After the story was published, a federal agent contacted me to say Tamayo would never be found — at least in one piece. Tamayo had killed a cartel man and had to pay. Tamayo would be 58 now if he's alive, but the federal agent is pretty sure Tamayo ended up chum for sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some fugitives get pretty far, but still don't escape justice.

In 2007, U.S. Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean had it all: A loving wife, a young child, a promising career and a mistress. But then his workplace lover got pregnant and accused him of rape. Laurean's military career was on the line. The Corps still disciplines Marines for adultery, so investigators were simply waiting for the baby to be born to conduct a DNA test. Whether the sex was forced or consensual, if Laurean was the father then he faced court martial.

But then pregnant Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach vanished and all of Laurean's problems disappeared along with her.

For three weeks, Maria's family couldn't convince military officials she wasn't AWOL. The family finally contacted me. A series of stories led to national media attention as local civilian authorities closed in on Laurean as a suspect.

Worried, Laurean and his wife met with three civilian lawyers who told them he was facing the death penalty. They went home and argued. At 2 a.m. Laurean read the online version of my article about Maria having accused a fellow — but yet unnamed Marine — of rape in the months prior to her disappearance.

The next day, authorities dug up Maria's body in Laurean's backyard. But Laurean was nowhere to be found: 20 minutes after reading the news, he left town in his pickup.

The international manhunt lasted three months before Laurean was captured in Mexico. He was down to his last peso and living off stolen avocados.

In 2010, Laurean was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. Last year, the 31-year-old inmate was moved to a medium security prison in Tabor City.