Montana "Cold Case" remains identified as an AF member

  • Published
  • By Linda J. Card
  • AFOSI Public Affairs

In 1974, Airman First Class Rudy Redd Victor, 20, from Shiprock, N.M., a power production specialist assigned to the 4449th Mobility Support Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., was on leave visiting family members in Arizona and Colorado when he disappeared. 

Victor was last seen near the Wolf Creek Rest Area, Lewis and Clark County, Mont. When he did not return to duty on June 21, 1974, he was placed into Absent Without Leave (AWOL) status. On July 21, 1974, he was still missing and was placed into Deserter status. 

On Sept. 4, 1982, a livestock inspector and his team were driving cattle when they found a human skull at the Wolf Creek Rest Area near southbound I-15. On June 22, 1984, the skull was turned into the Lewis and Clark County Coroner’s Office and sent to the Montana Crime Laboratory, Missoula, Mont., for analysis. On July 25, 1984, investigators conducted a search of the location where the skull was found and discovered additional unidentified remains.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office preliminary findings determined the cause of death was likely suicide.

In 1984, the remains were sent to the Montana Crime Lab for anthropologic analysis. The University of Montana Anthropology Department conducted the analysis and determined remains belonged to a male, approximately between 20 and 28 years of age, approximately 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall, and was likely of Native American descent.  But, at this point, no identification could be established.

“Unfortunately, some cases go cold due to a lack of investigative leads, so they remain unresolved for incredible lengths of time,” said Mr. John Fine, Investigations Collections and Operations Nexus Cold Case Desk, Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  “But thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the Airman was found, his family was able to get closure and his status was corrected by the Air Force.”

In 2016, AFOSI reviewed Victor’s deserter case and loaded his profile into the National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUs).  NamUs is a National Institute of Justice repository for information concerning missing and unidentified persons. This initiative seeks to match previously unidentified remains with missing person reports utilizing advanced DNA testing and dental comparisons.

On June 8, 2017, investigators received a dental match on the unknown skull found in Montana in 1982, A1C Rudy Redd Victor had been found. 

“OSI Cold Case Special Agents and Lewis and the Clark County Coroner's Office did an amazing job with this resolution. They fully embraced the resources provided by the system and pursued the system generated potential matches,” said Todd Matthews, Case Management and Communications (NamUs) Director. “This is a great example of how NamUs was intended to be utilized. We hope other agencies follow this example.”

According to the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), and the Lewis and Clark County Coroner, Airman Victor’s death was most likely a suicide.  Additionally, the coroner believes Victor most likely died in June of 1974.

“It's never easy to lose a loved one, it's even more difficult when that person's whereabouts are unknown,” said Sheriff Leo C. Dutton, LCSO.  “This is a case where the original investigation was conducted well, with technology available and our Coroner's Office was able to take advantage of this new technology to identify the unknown remains they’ve been holding for quite some time. Fortunately for all citizens, the U. S. Air Force does the same.”

Sheriff Dutton added, “I am proud of the U. S. Air Force to continue to look for the remains of missing or killed in action Airmen. The dedication you demonstrate in such a daunting task brings honor to a great organization. The Victor family appreciates your work and we do too.”

On June 14, 2017, the coroner produced a death certificate wherein he concluded Victor’s cause and manner of death was undetermined, but ruled that Victor died on or about June 15, 1974. 

“My thoughts regarding this whole case after all the paths crossed and we were able to ID this male was very heart-warming, not only for all involved but to know the family will finally have closure after 43 years of not knowing what happened, and that Mr. Victor will finally be laid to rest,” said Bryan Backeberg, Lewis and Clark County Coroner.  “It also makes me think and want to share with other families still searching for their loved ones to never to give up.  Continue to have hope and know that we will never stop trying.”

“I want to also thank the hard work by the U. S. Air Force and their continued efforts on investigating cold cases of missing airmen. I appreciate each and every one of them not only for their service to our country but to the families and their colleagues they are honoring by never giving up.  Their efforts do not go unnoticed. May God bless each and every one of you,” Backeberg added.

Investigators and the Coroner’s Office have concluded that the A1C Victor died while still on leave in an active duty status, so his military personnel record has been corrected by the Air Force Personnel Center. A1C Victor has been removed from Deserter status.

Mr. Fine, credited the conclusion of this 43-year-old Air Force investigation to the combined efforts of Sheriff Leo C. Dutton, Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office; Mr. Bryan Backeberg, Lewis and Clark County Coroner; Pamela Reed, NamUs; and AFOSI Special Agents Jason Allen and Elise Sokolowski.