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'John Doe' found naked and murdered in 1974 ID'd after 37 years as Marine branded as deserter

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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 yesterday. (Long Beach Police Department)

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 yesterday.

The man known for more than 37 years as 'John Doe No. 155' is Oral Stuart Jr of Des Moines, Iowa, Long Beach police said in a statement.

His cause of death, previously listed as undetermined, has been reclassified as a homicide.

The body of Stuart, who was 18 when he disappeared, was found on November 10, 1974, in the carport area of an apartment 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 Marine Corps changed Stuart’s status from deserter to honorable discharge and will hold a full honor guard funeral service at the unmarked grave in Los Angeles, the Press-Telegram reported.

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.

Carl Stuart said: "I always believed something must have happened to him. He loved the Marine Corps."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Please click here for more from The Press-Telegram.

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