Some thought maybe he was a drug trafficker - something not unheard of in these parts. It was not until Friday when they saw Cpl. Cesar Laurean's photograph in the local newspaper that they learned he was a U.S. Marine suspected of killing a pregnant colleague.
Police arrested Laurean, 21, on Thursday as he was walking along the main street in San Juan de la Vina in the municipality of Tacambaro, ending a three-month manhunt. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, who had accused him of rape.
Lauterbach's burned remains were found in January in the backyard of his home near Camp Lejeune. Both were stationed at the coastal North Carolina base that is home to roughly 50,000 Marines.
FBI Public Affairs Specialist Amy Thoreson said FBI agents were present at Laurean's arrest in Mexico, but it was unclear what role they played.
Bearded and thin, Laurean told police he survived for months largely by eating avocados from the orchard in the mountains where he lived in Michoacan state.
After his arrest Thursday, a slightly disoriented Laurean spoke briefly with The Associated Press while being held by Mexican police.
"You know my name. You know who I am," Laurean said. Asked if he wanted to say anything, Laurean answered, "Proof," but would not explain.
Asked what he would do next, he replied, "Do I have a choice? ... I don't know."
Residents here said Laurean lived in a three-room wood cabin with a corrugated metal roof where he slept on a bed of crushed cardboard boxes. On Friday, there was a notebook on the cabin's floor showing that he kept a diary of his daily exercise routine, including push-ups, sit-ups and crunches. There were two shelves filled with canned tuna, instant soup and candy.
He walked to town daily, greeting those he passed, and spent hours at the local Internet cafe.
"He always seemed really happy to see us. He was serious, respectful," said Tomasa Boteyo, 78, who lived near his cabin.
CBS News correspondent Priya David reports that Laurean was communicating with his wife in the U.S. via the Web site MySpace. Prosecutors said, in these communications,.
Then on Thursday afternoon, state police officers drove through town looking for someone, residents say. They spotted Laurean walking toward the Internet cafe.
Lorenza Olayo, 96, who would greet Laurean daily from her front stoop, said he did not fight back when officers grabbed him.
She said she did not know why the young man was taken away until she saw his picture in the local newspaper the next day.
Lucio Tapia, 22, said before his arrest, Laurean told him he had just returned from Spain and that his parents were punishing him by making him live on an avocado orchard in Mexico.
Laurean was born in Guadalajara but reportedly moved to the U.S. more than 10 years ago.
"I thought he was a drug trafficker," Tapia said. "There's a lot of drugs here and drug traffickers hide out in the mountains here."
Although law enforcement officials are happy an alleged killer is in custody, Laurean remains a long way from home this morning.
Laurean fled his Marine base in North Carolina three months ago, just before investigators found the badly-burned body of his fellow Marine, Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, 20 years old and 8 months pregnant. Lauterbach had accused Laurean of raping her.
Born in Mexico, Laurean is a dual citizen and could choose to fight extradition, so it could take anywhere from two days to two years to bring him back to the U.S.
The district attorney in charge of the case said he reluctantly compromised to get the arrest. In order to receive a warrant for his arrest in Mexico, "I had to concede the death penalty because we had a treaty with Mexico that they would not extradite anyone back to the U.S. that faced a capital sentence," said Onslow County D.A. Dewey Hudson.
Now, the toughest penalty Laurean could face is life in prison without parole.
Appearing on CBS' The Early Show, Hudson said, "If he were to fight extradition, my understanding is it could be up to two years. Hopefully he will not fight extradition and it will be only a matter of a couple of months."
Hudson said he has seen many cases where fugitives have fled to Mexico in order to avoid the death penalty if they are extradited.
Hudson described Laurean's wife's state of mind as "Torn.
"When we seized her sister's computer, she also turned over to us her journal that she had been writing since the day that he left America. And if you read the journal, you will certainly realize that she's a very torn lady.
"On the one hand, she's very angry with him for many reasons. But on the other hand, then she'll vacillate and talk about how much she loves him and misses him. Even in the letter initially she was talking about she was so depressed over this whole situation that she was contemplating suicide and the only reason she didn't was because she had an 18-month-old daughter."