LONG BEACH, Calif. — A body found naked in 1974 at a California condominium complex is a U.S. Marine from Iowa who had been listed as a deserter from Camp Pendleton, authorities said Monday.
The man known for more than 37 years as "John Doe (hash)155" is Oral Stuart Jr. of Des Moines, Long Beach police said in a statement.
His cause of death, previously listed as undetermined, has been reclassified as a homicide.
The body of Stewart, who was 18 when he disappeared, was found on Nov. 10, 1974, in the carport area of a complex near Interstate 605, police said. Twelve days later, Marine officials at Camp Pendleton some 50 miles to the south declared him a deserter.
Police looking into cold cases with a grant from the National Institute of Justice came to suspect the body may be a member of the military because of the man's tattoos and haircut.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service found that tattoos on the body matched those described in records on Stuart, and surviving family members confirmed his identity through photographs. Long Beach police detectives are investigating his death as a homicide.
Relatives told investigators that Stuart, who they knew as "Buddy," never would have voluntarily deserted.
"My parents both went to their graves not knowing what had happened to him and knowing they listed him as a deserter," Carl Stuart of Phoenix, the victim's older brother and one of his few surviving relatives, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "Now I know he didn't desert, he was taken from us. But I've known that all along."
The original autopsy report from 1974 showed blunt force trauma and other injuries, but coroner's investigators said it was not clear how Stuart received the injuries.
Police have not named any suspects or identified a possible motive for the killing. They are seeking the public's help.
Unlike many cold cases, where modern DNA technology is used to identify victims and criminals, Stuart was identified with techniques that were available at the time his body was found.
Police in 1974 also suspected the victim was from the military, but it was not clear why investigators were unable to identify him.
"Most of the coroner's files and our files from that time are missing," police Lt. Lloyd Cox told the Press-Telegram.
Stuart's brother wasn't satisfied with that answer.
"I always believed something must have happened to him. He loved the Marine Corps," Carl Stuart said.