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After 37 years, Long Beach slaying victim ID'd as Marine

Police use military records to track down the identity of a man found dead in a carport in 1974. The man, Oral Alfred Stuart Jr., was reported absent without authorization from Camp Pendleton 12 days after his body was found.

March 20, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Marine Oral Alfred Stuart Jr. was classified as a deserter when he failed to report back to Camp Pendleton. The Long Beach Police Department cold case detectives have identified him as the victim in a 1974 slaying.
Marine Oral Alfred Stuart Jr. was classified as a deserter when he failed…

For 37 years, the identity of a young man beaten to death in an carport in Long Beach remained a mystery.

Not only did detectives not know who the assailant was, but they were never able to identify the victim, found naked and dead on Spring Street near the 605 Freeway on Nov. 10, 1974.

The case of John Doe No. 155 gathered dust on the shelves of the Long Beach Police Department, hidden among the dozens of unsolved mysteries. His death was ruled undetermined.

Last year, Long Beach cold-case detectives scoured the files for cases to reopen and stumbled upon the mystery man dumped at the Lakes apartment complex. They knew he had tattoos but had little else to go on.

"After looking at the evidence and physical description, it suggested he was a military man, so we began pursuing that," Lt. Lloyd Cox said.

Detectives contacted the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service Cold Case Homicide Unit at Camp Pendleton and provided the date of the death and the victim's physical description.

It turned out that a dozen days after the body of John Doe No. 155 was discovered, Marine Oral Alfred Stuart Jr., 18, was classified as a deserter when he failed to report back to Camp Pendleton.

The Des Moines native, who went by the name Buddy, had not been seen since leaving Camp Pendleton in early November 1974.

"The last time anyone saw him was when he left the base. He asked his family for some money for his leave, and that's the last they ever heard of him," Cox said.

Stuart's military history listed specific tattoos on his arms, which matched those described in John Doe No.155's autopsy. Believing their mysterious dead man was probably Stuart, investigators contacted the missing Marine's surviving brother in Phoenix and showed him the autopsy images of the tattoos and body.

Last week, they confirmed that it was Stuart, authorities said.

Carl Stuart, the Marine's older brother, said the family never believed Oral Stuart deserted. He was so proud that he had a Marine-related insignia tattooed on his arm.

"He was murdered," Stuart said. "I never believed he just disappeared. He loved his family and the Marines too much."

His brother had been in the Marine Corps only a few months and had completed basic training. He was on a short leave, then "we never heard from him again," Carl Stuart said.

"The Marine Corps, after he went missing, just put him down as a deserter, and the police in California back then kind of dropped the ball," Stuart said.

He said that when Long Beach police detectives showed him some autopsy-related images, they left no doubt that it was his brother.

"He had Bud tattooed on his knuckles because his nickname was Buddy because he was a junior," Carl Stuart said.

After the L.A. County coroner's office reviewed its file again, the death was reclassified as a homicide from blunt-force trauma, Cox said.

Stuart's deserter status will now be changed to an honorable discharge. The Marine Corps is planning a full honor guard funeral at his grave. His John Doe marker will be replaced with a headstone.

"It is tragic news … but it brings closure to his family and answers to what happened all those years ago," Cox said. "With his identity, we hope someone out there remembers speaking to him or saw him back then and can help us identify a suspect in this case."

Anyone with information is asked to call Long Beach Police Department homicide Dets. Bryan McMahon and Steve Dougan at (562) 570-7244. Anonymous tips may be submitted by visiting http://www.tipsoft.com.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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