Hughes estate contested again

Melvin Dummar, who you might remember as the guy who reportedly picked up Howard Hughes in the middle of the desert and, in return, was named in the “Mormon will,” has filed a lawsuit seeking his rightful share of the Hughes estate. From the WSJ:

Melvin Dummar had long since given up on getting a share of the late billionaire Howard Hughes’s fortune. And for good reason: In 1978, Mr. Dummar became a national joke when a Las Vegas jury ruled that the basis for his claim — a handwritten will that surfaced mysteriously — was fake.

“I’ve never really gotten over it,” Mr. Dummar says. “For 30 years, everybody just laughed at me and treated me like some kind of criminal, a forger. Until a few months ago, I thought it was a lost cause.”

But now Mr. Dummar is back, seeking another day in court and what he considers his rightful share of Mr. Hughes’s estate. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Mr. Dummar claims to have new evidence and a compelling new witness: a pilot who says he flew the late Mr. Hughes to a brothel near where Mr. Dummar claims he happened on to him.

With the suit filed yesterday in federal district court in Salt Lake City, Mr. Dummar began another chapter in one of the wildest estate battles in U.S. history.

When the eccentric billionaire died in 1976, Mr. Dummar (pronounced Doo-MAR) emerged as an improbable heir. He said a will delivered to a gas station he ran in Utah entitled him to $156 million, a reward for the night in 1967 when he said he had found a dazed man face down on a desert road and drove him to Las Vegas. That man, Mr. Dummar claimed, told him he was Howard Hughes.

But Mr. Dummar’s tale fell apart at trial. And he got nothing but a dubious place in history, folklore and Hollywood, thanks to the Oscar-winning 1980 film “Melvin and Howard.”

Now 61 years old and eking out a living delivering meat along those same desolate Nevada roads, Mr. Dummar is hoping for a real-life sequel. His co-stars this time include an author who once was a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent; a former Hughes pilot who is breaking his silence; a prostitute with a diamond-encrusted tooth; and a lawyer who has a weekly radio show about estate planning.
Then a man named Robert Deiro — once a Hughes Tool Co. pilot — surfaced with a sexier explanation. Mr. Deiro had long dismissed Mr. Dummar as a charlatan. But in 2004, Mr. Deiro, a Las Vegas businessman, read a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that sent him bounding for the telephone to contact Mr. Dummar. A detail in the article, in which Mr. Dummar was interviewed, made him think: “Jesus Christ, this guy’s telling the truth!”

That clue was Mr. Dummar’s stray reference to finding Mr. Hughes near the Cottontail Ranch brothel. In 1967, Mr. Deiro was managing a North Las Vegas airport owned by Mr. Hughes and occasionally flying the boss on discreet missions. One night between Christmas and New Year’s, Mr. Deiro says, he flew Mr. Hughes to the holiday-festooned Cottontail for a regular tryst with Sunny, a redhead who had a diamond in an upper incisor. “You couldn’t see it unless she smiled broadly,” he recalls. “She was the class of the field.”

By Mr. Deiro’s account, he fell asleep on a banquette in the brothel’s kitchen, waking up around 4 a.m. to be told that his “friend,” Mr. Hughes, had left. Mr. Deiro flew back to Las Vegas. No one mentioned the incident, and he never again saw Mr. Hughes or the aide who had arranged the secret flights. – Mr. Dummar Is Back, Taking Another Shot At the Hughes Estate

I know Robert Deiro, and two years or so ago I wrote an article about his claims to have flown Hughes around. I couldn’t find any takers. Maybe with the lawsuit, that’ll change. It’s a great story that I think more people should hear.

So if you are a magazine editor and want to talk, let me know.

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