Melvin and Howard: The saga of a billionaire’s missing will

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Did billionaire Howard Hughes leave his fortune to delivery driver Melvin Dummar? The strange saga of the "Mormon Will" played out in court after Hughes' death 45 years ago.

Howard Hughes seated in an automobile.

MYSTERY WIRE — When eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes died 45 years ago this week, he set off a frenzied scramble for control of his estate. A lengthy court battle was about to begin because most people believed Hughes did not leave a will.

However, a likable delivery driver from rural Nevada named Melvin Dummar claimed he was named in Hughes’ will – which he hand delivered to the Mormon church.

Dummar says he was on his way to Los Angeles in December 1967. As he was driving across the Nevada desert, just past the Cottontail Ranch brothel east of Death Valley, Dummar says he spotted a disheveled old man on a dirt road just off the highway.

Claimant to Howard Hughes’ will, Melvin Dummar.

“I was going down through Vegas and then on down to Cypress, California and just passed the Cottontail Ranch,” Dummar said during a 2006 interview.

“I decided to, you know, pull off and relieve myself and I pulled off onto a little dirt road. And that’s where I found Hughes. And I wanted to, you know, at first I thought he was dead because you’re just laying in this little dirt road and one of the ruts of the road. And so, but then you know, it didn’t take very long I seen him start to move. And I said well, whoever it is least if they’re not dead, they’re in pretty bad shape, but they’re not dead. And so I got out and helped him up and brought him over, put him in the car, and asked if I could take him to a hospital or doctor and asked him if I could take him to the police. And he didn’t want nothing to do with hospitals or doctors or police or anything. He just wanted to go to Vegas and I said well, okay, I’m going down through there anyway, so I’ll take you to Vegas.”

Dummar says while he was driving to Las Vegas the man told him he was Howard Hughes. Dummar didn’t believe him and dropped him off at the Sands Hotel.

The story of that fateful drive was told later in an Oscar winning film “Melvin and Howard.”

During the drive, Dummar says he told the man he had tried but failed to get a job at Hughes Aviation. “He told me he knew something about Hughes Aircraft [Company] because he owned it,” Dummar said. “He says, ‘I’m familiar with that because I own it.’ And I thought, yeah, right. sure you do. You look like a bum from skid row. That was my impression of him.”

It was nine years later, on April 5th 1976, when Howard Hughes died, and no one could find a will.

With his vast fortune up for grabs, a mysterious document surfaced, naming Dummar and the Mormon church as beneficiaries. The so-called ‘Mormon Will’ nearly destroyed Dummar’s life.

Dummar claimed an anonymous man dropped off the “Mormon Will” at his gas station in Utah one day. The will stated Dummar was left one-sixteenth of the Hughes estate.

In a highly publicized hearing in Las Vegas in 1977, Dummar was raked over the coals and the will rejected as a forgery. He did admit to opening the envelope at the gas station, reading the will, resealing the envelope before delivering it to the church, and then lying about being the person who delivered the will to the church.

Later in life, Dummar was able to laugh about his ordeal in a song he wrote.

Some of the lyrics in the song are Dummar telling people to “hear my warning if you’re driving through the desert, never stop and give anyone a ride. Because if they’re rich and they leave you in their will, it’s guaranteed to screw up your life, like mine.”

Former FBI agent Gary Magnesen also wrote a book about the legal battle over the will titled “The Investigation: A Former FBI Agent Uncovers the Truth Behind Howard Hughes, Melvin Dummar, and the Most Contested Will in American History”.

Magnesen, according to Dummar was skeptical of his story until he did his own research. “So he decided to do it and do a little checking,” Dummar said. “And I guess, from listening to him, you know, that things started checking out and one thing led to another. He said, ‘Wait a minute, you know, this is like a big puzzle.’ And he started putting it back together, saying, man … I think, totally changed his mind.”

Dummar was also the focus of a monologue by Johnny Carson on his late-night talk show and appeared on several game shows. He was on Let’s Make a Deal, Hollywood Squares and The Price Is Right.

Melvin Dummar passed away in Pahrump, NV on December 9, 2018. He was 74 years old.


Below you can watch an entire interview by George Knapp with Melvin Dummar and watch several reports that originally aired in 1977 and 1978 on KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, NV.

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