After 37 years, Long Beach murder victim ID'd as Marine thought AWOL
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 #155 gathered dust on the shelves of the Long Beach Police Department, hidden among the dozens of unsolved mysteries. His death was 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," said Lt. Lloyd Cox.
Detectives contacted the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Cold Case Homicide Unit at Camp Pendleton and provided the date and physical description.
It turned out that a dozen days after the body of John Doe #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 #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 it was Stuart, authorities said.
The family never believed Stuart would have deserted the Marine Corps. He was so proud of his service that he had a Marine-related insignia tattooed on his arm.
After the Los Angeles County coroner's office reviewed its file again, the death was reclassified as a homicide due to blunt force trauma, Cox said.
"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."
Stuart's deserter status will now be changed to an honorable discharge. The U.S. Marine Corps is planning a full honor guard funeral at his grave site. His John Doe marker will be replaced with a headstone.
Anyone with information is urged to call Long Beach Police Department homicide detectives Bryan McMahon and Steve Dougan at (562) 570-7244. Anonymous tips may be submitted via Web and text by visiting www.tipsoft.com.
-- Richard Winton