Rudy Redd Victor, 20, was an Air Force Airman who vanished in 1974. He was recently identified thanks to dental records and use of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. (Image: Courtesy of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations)

An Air Force Airman First Class who was listed as a deserter for 43 years has been located.

Rudy Redd Victor, 20, likely died the very night his girlfriend left him at the Wolf Creek Rest Area, off I-15 Southbound in Montana, amid a drunken argument on June 15, 1974, according to authorities.

His skull was found in 1982, a short distance from where he was last seen—but his ultimate fate was only determined through a breakthrough dental match made just two weeks ago through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), according to multiple agencies.

“It’s an outstanding system,” said Bryan Backeberg, the Lewis and Clark County, Montana coroner.

“Air Force Office of Special Investigations cold case special agents, and the Lewis and Clark County coroner’s office did an amazing job with this resolution,” said Todd Matthews, NamUs’ case management and communications director. “They fully embraced the resources provided by the system and pursued the system—generated potential matches. This is a great example of how NamUs was intended to be utilized.”


Victor was from Shiprock, New Mexico, a community in the Navajo reservation. In 1974 he was stationed as a power production specialist assigned to the 449th Mobility Support Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He went on leave, traveling northward with his civilian girlfriend to visit family, according to authorities.

After a stop to visit Victor’s sister in Colorado, the couple turned northward intending to visit Canada. But they were stopped at the border and turned away, due to lack of identification, Backeberg said.

The trip quickly turned to tragedy.

On the way south, there was a fight in which both were intoxicated. Victor left the car at the Wolf Creek Rest Area. The girlfriend drove on, according to Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the AFOSI, which tracks the service’s AWOL and deserted members.

Later, the girlfriend returned to the rest area to look for Victor. But he was nowhere to be seen. She drove back home alone. The Air Force classified him as AWOL a week later. A month later, he was officially deemed a deserter.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation held a missing persons case open on Victor for four years, but eventually closed it in the late 1970s, without a resolution.

A cattle-driving livestock inspector found a human skull near the Wolf Creek Rest Area on Sept. 4, 1982. It took two years until it was turned over to the Lewis and Clark County coroner.

Investigators visited the site where it was found, found more remains—and determined the unnamed and unknown person likely died of suicide. Backeberg told Forensic Magazine the 1984 investigators found, in a hillside area that was relatively inaccessible, a noose was still tied to a tree near the other remains.

The University of Montana anthropology department determined that the skull belonged to a Native American male, between 20 and 28 years old, standing 5 feet 6 inches or 5 feet 7 inches.

Backeberg took over as coroner last year, after the longtime coroner of 42 years died in September. Backeberg has inherited many cases that were still in the files and property room—including a number of unidentified remains that had been shelved.

But it was the new coroner’s visit in April to the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course at Saint Louis University School of Medicine that reaffirmed the importance of NamUs. Backeberg returned to Montana, and began accelerating the uploads into NamUs. 

“The ball started rolling,” said Backeberg.

AFOSI had loaded Victor’s profile into NamUs from the other side of the system, last year, said Card. The coroner requested a dental comparison between the two profiles in May, Matthews said. Together, they produced the hit on June 8.

And now, Rudy Redd Victor is no longer a deserter—and his final fate is known. 

Cause and manner of death remain undetermined, officially. But the investigators in 2017, like their counterparts in the 1970s and 1980s, believe it likely that Victor killed himself, soon after the drunken fight.

“It was an interesting case,” said Backeberg.