Skip to comments.Police ID body of Marine, once thought AWOL, from 1974 East Long Beach murder
Posted on 03/20/2012 3:04:10 PM PDT by Hunton Peck
LONG BEACH For the past 37 years, Oral Alfred Stuart Jr. was classified as AWOL and a Marine Corps deserter.
But his family never believed it.
Even if Stuart had left his beloved Corps, which he voluntarily joined in 1974 and proudly tattooed on his arm, he never would have left his parents without so much as a goodbye.
"I always believed something must have happened to him. He loved the Marine Corps ... (and) he would have been in touch with our mother," insisted Carl Stuart, Stuart's older brother and one of only a few surviving family members.
Now, after all those years of uncertainty, Stuart's family Oral Alfred Stuart Jr. has been proven right through the work of the Long Beach Police Department's Cold Case Unit.
Stuart, who was from Des Moines and known to his friends and family as "Buddy," didn't desert the Marine Corps in 1974 - he was murdered.
His body was found on Nov. 10 of that year naked and dumped at The Lakes condominium complex on Spring Street, across from El Dorado Park and next to the San Gabriel (605) Freeway. He was classified as John Doe No. 155 until just last year, when they found strong evidence that the body was Stuart's.
Police officially confirmed his identity last week.
"We've notified the U.S. Navy's (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) ... that rather than being a deserter, he's a murder victim," said Advertisement Advertisement Long Beach Police Lt. Lloyd Cox.
"We never would have been able to identify him, and clear his record, without the National Institute of Justice Cold Case grant and (without) all of us - the coroner and NCIS - working together this last year."
Though DNA evidence was not available from the original case, it was one that came up for review by the Cold Case Unit, which has been funded by the national grant, Cox said.
Using that funding, police were able to work with Navy investigators to identify a missing Marine who was never found and who was near the Long Beach region at the time of the slaying.
Detectives then tracked the closest living relative, Carl Stuart, to his home in Phoenix, where detectives there showed the older brother an autopsy photo. They also used tattoos and other distinguishing features to identify the victim, Cox explained.
Long Beach Police Department detectives at the time of the murder also noted the close-cropped haircut and the tattoos on the 18-year-old victim indicated military service, Cox said.
The cause of death was initially classified undetermined, though the medical examiner who worked on the case in 1974 came out of retirement to help police and coroner's investigators rule the death a homicide last year with the cause listed as blunt force trauma, the lieutenant added.
The spot where Stuart was found, in public view, was processed for evidence at the time and it appeared as though the victim had been dumped there after being killed elsewhere. Detectives contacted military units in the region and looked for clues or some sort of connection to the body, but Stuart was never identified.
"Most of the coroner's files and our files from that time are missing," Cox said, explaining it isn't clear today why Stuart wasn't identified then, though Stuart had been reported AWOL by the Marine Corps on Nov. 22, 1974, "twelve days after we find the body." Killer's ID still unknown
Those answers don't sit well with Stuart's older brother, who concedes there was no DNA technology available in 1974, but who insists the military had his brother's fingerprints on file and that police and military investigators could have identified Buddy had they tried harder.
"My parents both went to their graves not knowing what had happened to him and knowing (the Marine Corps) listed him as a deserter," Carl Stuart said. "Now I know he didn't desert, he was taken from us. But I've known that all along."
And though his brother has finally been identified, Carl Stuart said, he doesn't believe police will ever find his killer.
The odds aren't good, Cox admitted, given the length of time that has passed since the killing. Still, Long Beach Homicide Detectives are hoping the release of Stuart's name might jog a memory or strike someone's conscience.
"The chances, I know, are small, but we're hoping maybe someone knew who (Stuart) was with or who has some information about him will come forward," Cox said. "I'm amazed sometimes what people can recall even after that many years."
Carl Stuart believes his brother fell victim to serial killer Randy Kraft. Kraft, who was sentenced to death in 1989 for 16 homicides, is suspected of killing more than 60 young men, many of them military members, in the 1970s and 1980s.
At least one body was found in the Long Beach Marina and many more were dumped along Southland highways, though victims were also found out-of-state. Kraft also preyed on hitchhikers and young men in gay bars.
Kraft himself was discharged from the United States Air Force in 1969 for medical reasons, the same year he told his family he was gay. His victims were often found sadistically tortured and drugged before they were killed. Many were found with missing items of clothing or missing body parts.
Stuart was found nude and his body showed signs of trauma, Cox said, refusing to release further details due to the on-going investigation.
Carl Stuart identified his brother's body after he was shown an autopsy photo and said the grisly condition of the remains seem to fit many of the methods described in Kraft's confirmed murder cases. An independent youth
It's a disturbing image to carry, Carl Stuart admits.
The ailing Phoenix resident, who has emphysema, was quite close to his younger brother when they were growing up, especially after they lost their only other brother in a deadly car crash in 1965. They have a younger sister, who is still alive, and a half-brother, who never knew Buddy.
Carl Stuart said he still remembers the FBI tapping his phone lines for a few months after Buddy was listed a deserter, in case he was lying about not knowing where his brother was located. Buddy had just graduated from boot camp and was given several weeks leave before being shipped out when he disappeared.
Carl Stuart said he could understand why the military wouldn't report his younger brother AWOL right away, because Buddy "did what we wanted. ... He didn't like sitting around and being bored."
Buddy once hitchhiked from the family's home in Des Moines, Iowa, to California, and both brothers had a drinking problem, Carl Stuart said. It wasn't too long before he disappeared that the brothers went drinking and, full of alcohol, squared off in a fight.
"When he came home from boot camp, well, he thought he was tough," Carl Stuart recalled with a laugh. "I guess he thought he could finally take me."
Some neighbors weren't amused, however, and called the police. Buddy Stuart was arrested for public intoxication with a blood alcohol measurement of .26. His recruiter bailed him out the next day and gave him about a week to report back to base at Camp Pendleton, in San Diego.
"So I can understand why they wouldn't list him missing right away," Carl Stuart said.
What Stuart had a harder time coping with was the lack of interest the Marine Corps had in finding his brother once he was listed AWOL.
"But you don't push the Marine Corps," Carl Stuart said.
At least now, with the identification and homicide ruling, the Marine Corps has changed Stuart's status from deserter to honorable discharge, according to Carl Stuart and the Long Beach Police Department. The military will hold a full honor guard funeral service at the unmarked grave where Stuart, and so many other Los Angeles County murder victims, are buried, and will provide the surviving family with death benefits, though the amount hasn't yet been determined.
"We'll have the John Doe place maker taken out and a headstone put in so the grave will at least have his name," Carl Stuart said. "We have a family graveyard back in Iowa. Later maybe, I'll go back to Iowa and have a plaque placed with mom and dad." twitter.com@tmanzer.
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Long Beach Police Department Cold Case Homicide Detectives are investigating the 1974 slaying of an 18-year-old Marine, whose body was found dumped at The Lakes condominium Complex in East Long Beach on Nov. 10 of that year. The victim, Oral Alfred Stuart Jr., was known to his friends and family as "Buddy." Until late last year, he was listed as a military deserter and his body was classified as a John Doe. A review by the Cold Case Unit has shown Stuart was killed and didn't desert. Now detectives want to catch his killer or killers. Anyone with information is urged to call the LBPD Homicide Detail at 562-570-7244. Anonymous tips can be sent via email or test at www.tipsoft.com.
The last 38 years must have been hell on this brave soldier’s family.
Those investigators from years back did a poor job.
I would be sure to put a marker next to my Mom and Dad’s were I him.I know they would appreciate it.
Good for his family to have some certainty and closure
He’s a Marine. The Army has soldiers.
November 10th is the Marine Corps birthday ... interesting.
One does not ever seem to hear of this prolific killer. Is a film being planned? Are celebrities discussing this case? No ... violence within the gay community goes unremarked.
“....Stuart’s older brother, who concedes there was no DNA technology available in 1974, but who insists the military had his brother’s fingerprints on file...”
OK, I’ll say this, back in those days (no computers, not really) you had to hand-compare finger prints, but still, this must have been a clean-cut young guy, and then he was reported missing....it seems strange no connection was made.
But still, the 70s, that was the bad old days. I bet there are a lot of unid’d bodies from that time that would be identified today.
The Marine Corps may not have pursued alternatives to desertion given Stuart’s arrest right after boot camp. They should have, but 1974 was a very tough time for ALL military, with VN wrapping up, anti-military sentiment high, anti-Americanism higher.
Since his body was found on the Marine Corps birthday, and he was a drinker, he may have over-celebrated and met this Kraft creep or someone like that, to meet his untimely end. Very sad.
I notice the article mentions his sentencing date... but I also notice the article does not mention an execution date.