On a late night along an empty Utah highway, Melvin Dummar says he came across a bloodied man lying by the road. It’s cliched to say this, but it’s really true: the story of that discovery would profoundly alter the course of his life forever.
Produced by Ben Bombard and Nick van der Kolk. Edited by Nick van der Kolk and Rehman Tungekar, and special help from John Barth, Brendan Baker, Melba Lara, and Robin Amer.
Originally broadcast May 26, 2011.PLAYLIST
Artist – Title – Album
Caural – Safety Cone – Initial Experiments in 3-D
A Setting Sun – 33 (JDSY Remix) – Views from the Real World
Ducktails – Deck Observatory – Landscapes
Brian Grainger – Open Jaws Lined With Jagged Glass Teeth – Diamond Tears on Slate
Sun Araw – The Stakeout – On Patrol
Camryn Rothenbury – Racing Across the Void – New Weird Australia, We Are After All Here
The Ballad Of Soap. Und: Die GEMA Nimmt Kontakt Auf – Jan Jelinek – Tierbeobachtungen
Aim Low – Duodenum – Foulards
Barn Owl – Into the Red Horizon – The Conjurer
Ducktails – Seagull’s Flight – Landscapes
Shinobu Nemoto – 18:56 28 Nov 2009 – Improvisation Air 1
Asfandyar Khan – Tatentum – Snow Makes Things Perfect
Electrostim – Frost Tones – Optimist Parking Lot
I like television game shows. To me, that’s kind of gambling, because you don’t have to pay money to get in to see it, the tickets are free.[Now let me tell you, as we start the show I want to let you know that we have available to be won this evening over 39,000 dollars in cash and prizes.]
You know, Let’s Make a Deal, The Price is Right, The Dating Game, before I got married to Bonnie.[- Right. I’m going to give you what I have in my pocket here, for your shoes.
– One hundred, two hundred, three hundred… Four hundred dollars.]
What’s the secret? How do you get on a game show?
Well, they look for three things: personality, originality and color. But if you’re quite outgoing, which I can be, if you are a little over the top… You have to really put your personality right out front, always smile, make it look like you’re having a good time. That’s the trick.
In December of ’67, on the 29th December I left Gab’s in the evening time. I think I must have left there somewhere around 11 o’clock. That was a payday and, like most of the miners, I lived from payday to payday. I was driving South toward Las Vegas, went through Goldfield, past Linda Junction where the notorious Cottontail Ranch is located. I was about five or six miles South of Cottontail Ranch and I had to stop and relieve myself. I was just going to pull off the highway, but then I’d seen a little dirt road that went off the highway. There, in the dirt road, was a man lying. I thought I’d found a dead body.[I hope it’s the other way…]
How old am I? I’m 66 years old. Born in Cedar City, Utah, raised in Nevada. I live now in Brigham City, Utah. What else did you ask…?
Oh, my name. [laughs] My name’s Melvin Dummar. My name, yeah. I forgot. [laughs]
Fallon, where’s that?
It’s about 70 miles East of Reno.
On Highway 50…
It comes right through the middle of the state, loneliest road in the nation. We had a little farm outside of town and we raised horses, cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits… You name it, we had quite a menagerie.
Bonnie… We’ve been married 37 years now. She hasn’t run off yet.
I thought I’d found a dead body. It appeared to me like somebody had dumped him there. He had blood on his face and on his shirt. Real baggy pants, looked like they were about four sizes too big for him. He had a kind of a beige-colored, long-sleeve shirt on. No coat, no hat, nothing. Being the 29th December, it was quite cold out.
I stopped the car. I was contemplating whether I should go get the sheriff or something, but then I’d seen him moving, so I got out, I helped him out and put him in the car. I wanted to take him to a hospital and he said no, he didn’t want anything to do with doctors or hospitals or police, or anything; he wanted to go to Vegas. I said, “Well, I’m going down through Las Vegas.”
For the first while in the car he just kind of trembled quite violently, he was shaking and everything. He was curious about who I was and what I was doing, and I told him about being in the air force and that I wanted to be a pilot and all that, but they wouldn’t let me be a pilot because I didn’t have a college degree, but I’d tried to get a job at Hughes Aircraft, and that’s when he told me that he owned it. He was Howard Hughes.
What do you know about Howard Hughes?
A totally unusual, strange guy, but really, really, really rich. He was born relatively poor; he made his reputation in Hollywood not only as somebody who was pioneering in the movie business, but also in aircraft. He eventually became the controlling power behind RKO Pictures, which was one of the largest movie studios. Then he made a tremendous amount of money creating something called the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Most of us know that he became this utter, strange recluse surrounded by a lot of bodyguards and this is a guy who wouldn’t shake hands with people unless he and they wore gloves. He became totally a germophobe. There are all these stories about him that he would collect his own bodily fluids. He built this Spruce Goose. The whole plane was pretty much built of balsa wood, but it was the largest plane that had yet been made. So he gathers everybody there in the harbor to see him take it off, and he gets behind the controls…[We were airborne for just a moment, and we were really up in the air… Really up in the air. I don’t know whether… Howard, did you expect that?]
It never took flight, so that was a really big failure. Of course, the other thing he’s known for is discovering Jane Russell.[A kiss on the hand may be quite continental/But diamonds are a girl’s best friend…]
She was a very buxom movie actress; he wanted to take advantage of her physical attributes, so he put her in this cowboy movie called The Outlaw, and the rumor is that he brought in some aircraft engineers to design a bra for her that would show off her cleavage and yet at the same time do it in a way that would not cross the moral code for something being shown in the ’30s and ’40s.
I thought he was a little weird, a little strange, because he looked like a bum to me. I dropped him off, I took him to the Sands Hotel. It was probably somewhere around three o’clock in the morning. I had no clue that he owned it at the time. I pulled in the front; the old man kind of panicked, and he wanted me to take him around back, so I took him around back. Before I dropped him off he asked me if I had any money, so I just gave him some change because I thought he wanted to buy another bottle of wine, or a cup of coffee, or make a phone call, who knows what he wanted it for. So I gave him some change that I had in my pocket and just told him goodbye and then I left, and I never heard from him again, until…
Here’s something I just found on the web that I have never heard, and this is so strange, I just love this: apparently, he became obsessed with the 1968 film Ice Station Zebra…[You went 300 ft. below the surface of the North Atlantic, onboard the American nuclear submarine Tiger Fish III.]
If you haven’t’ seen it, it’s one of the worst disaster military movies ever made.[Your destination – a secret outpost at the top of the world, Ice Station Zebra. Take her up!]
Apparently, he had this movie running on a continuous loop in his home. They say here he watched it 150 times. This movie is so bad… Wow. Boy, this must’ve sent him into a whole other level of craziness.
Now, I have to be upfront about this – there are a lot of stories about Howard Hughes, and as much as he was a public person, there’s a huge enigma quality to him. I do have to say it’s really hard to tell which Howard Hughes stories are true and which are not.[Just go check it out, and you’ll find out that I’m not lying to you. From my perspective, this is what happened.]
I never heard from him again until 1976. I had a little gas station and a little mini-market in Willard, Utah. A guy came into the station. I didn’t know who he was or where he came from. I had some school books open and he just kind of almost snuck up on me. He started talking to me, asking me about Hughes, and who I was, and if I had ever met him. I thought that was strange because it was only a couple of weeks after he died. I told him that I picked up some bum a few years before that that said he was Hughes, but I didn’t know if it was him or not.
A lady came into the station, and so I excused myself to go wait on the lady. After I got finished with her, he was gone. I didn’t even see him leave. After everybody was gone I went back and was going to do the schoolwork I was working on, and there was an envelope laying right on my books. I picked it up and I thought “What the heck is this?” I knew this guy was the only one that was in there so he had to have left it, but he didn’t tell me why or anything. It was addressed to David O. McKay, who was the president of the church, but at that particular time I don’t think he was the president any more, I think he’d passed away and there was somebody else. Even though I was raised Mormon, I wasn’t that active so I wasn’t even sure who the president of the church was at that time. My curiosity is I wanted to see what it was all about, and why it ended up with me. So I went and opened the envelope, steamed it open and read it, and it scared me to death.
“I, Howard R. Hughes, being of sound mind and disposing mind and memory, not acting under duress, fraud or undue influence from any person whomsoever, and being a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, declare this to be my last will…”
It was a three-page will of Howard Hughes, written on yellow, legal paper.
“After my death, my estate is to be divided as follows: first, one-fourth of all my assets to go to the Hughes Medical Institute of Miami. Second, one-eighth…”
I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Third, one-sixteenth to go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, David O. McKay…”
I put it back in the envelope, and I took it out several times and re-read it; I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
“Eight, one-sixteenth to go to Melvin Dummar of Gabbs, Nevada.”
And your name was spelled…
It was spelled wrong. They estimated to be somewhere in excess of a 150 million dollars.
* * *
Did it feel kind of like winning the lottery?
I don’t know, I think I was more concerned that if it were true, I was concerned about my family, about what would happen. You just hear all these horror stories about people trying to kidnap your children and all that. If people think you’ve got money, they’re trying to rip you off in every way they can. It genuinely scared the devil out of me.
I thought somebody was pulling the joke on me; I didn’t think it was real. But then I read it several times and I thought, “Who would even know that I picked up Hughes?” Most of the people I’d told were related to me, and this guy that brought that, I had no clue who he was or where he was from.
I actually thought about throwing it away, and then I thought if this is real, it would be very unfair to everybody else that’s named in there to throw it away, so that’s why I decided to take it to the church.
I resealed the envelope, took it to Salt Lake, looking for the president of the church. Some little guy in there cornered me and started telling me all about the founding of the church and everything, and I just was wanting to find out where I could find the president, and this little guy hardly let me go. He said “Do you see the big, tall building right there? That’s the world headquarters for the Mormon Church”, and I didn’t even know of it. I went there and asked to see the president of the church, and they told me no.
I had the will with me, and it was like being handed a hot potato – I didn’t want to hold it, and didn’t want to be responsible for it, or anything. I just laid it on the desk and walked out. I went back and went to school.
A couple of days later I heard on the radio that a mysterious woman had delivered a will, purportedly Howard Hughes’ to the Mormon Church office building. I just thought, “Well, if they think a woman delivered it, I’m just gonna go with it”, because I thought at that particular time that somebody was trying to pull a joke on me. I didn’t know if it was real or if it was fake, or what the heck was going on, and I didn’t know who the guy was that brought it to me. There was just a lot of unanswered questions, so I felt that it would be easier for me if I just went along with the notion that a mysterious woman delivered it. It was mainly because I was scared to death and I didn’t want to be responsible. I didn’t want to be accused of writing it, which I knew I would.[The vast wealth of Howard Hughes, who’s bizarre life has spawned in a state battle almost as unusual, finally moves toward distribution Monday, with a scheduled trial in Las Vegas on the authenticity of the so-called ‘Mormon Will’]
Who were your main opponents in the trial? Who was trying to keep you out of the will?
What evidence did you have, at the time, that validated your interest in the will?
I think one of the best things we had going for us was the FBI, the crime labs and stuff, that compared the ink. They knew exactly what type of ink that the will was written with, and it was the ink that was taken off the market four years before Hughes died, and it was the exact same ink they matched up the will was written with, as was written with other memos and things that Hughes had written.
When we got into court, it just depended on who was paying the handwriting experts. The judge told each side that they’re going to have five handwriting experts testify. So when we got into court, it was five handwriting experts – or supposed handwriting experts – said that it was authentic, and there was five of them that said it wasn’t. It just depended on who was paying the bill, I guess. They gave me polygraph tests, several of them, and they would ask me the identical questions and one polygraph expert would say that I was lying, and another one would say I was telling the truth, so who do you believe? It’s a tough situation.
What were some of the other evidence against your case?
I don’t know. [laughs] Other than his aides saying that he never left. That, they used against us.
I had a western band and I was playing at a church singles dance down here in Riverdale, Utah the night they came back with the verdict. I think it was one of the guys from KSL Channel 5 that told me that the verdict was in, and that they’d found against the will, and said that they felt that someone other than Hughes had written it. The jury said that why they went against this is because there wasn’t any evidence at that time to show that he was out. I was kind of expecting it, but I was really hurt and devastated, and I know I just left the dance; I left and went home.
What did you do?[Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. I just kind of beat up on the wall a little bit. [laughs] I was upset, but I don’t know, I just tried to get away.
* * *
Everybody was making fun of me before, and accused me of writing it. When they said that they felt it was a fake, then I knew that it would be all the worse, which it was.
You had knives and guns pulled on you, can you tell me about that?
One guy there in Ogden and pulled a switchblade and said he was gonna cut my heart out if I didn’t give him 50,000 dollars. I didn’t have 50,000 and I would never give it to anybody like that anyway, so I just, in no uncertain terms told him to start cutting because I just wasn’t gonna go for it. I also told him that I would do physically harm to his body if he even tried. I just told him I was gonna kick his ass up between his shoulder blades.
Not long after that, the band that we had, they kind of wanted me to get out of the band; these guys didn’t want to even be associated with me. As a direct result of it, I had lost the job that I was working. It hasn’t really been easy, because through the years I’ve been denied business opportunities, and I’ve been denied credit and job opportunities and everything else.
The problem was right from the very beginning. When I first read that will I thought, “I’ll never see anything of this, even if it’s real.” I said they’ll either drag it through court for years, or they’ll accuse me of writing it. I didn’t know about it, but they were threatening to throw me in prison too, which the judge in Nevada did in the original trial. Right from the very beginning I just thought there’s too much money involved and I’ll never see a dime of this, which I am absolutely correct.
I would have been better off if I’d have never picked up Hughes up at all; I mean, financially anyway. But there has been a few things that have come of it that I probably never would have experienced had it not have been for this experience. Like I’ve had opportunities to travel around the country and be on Good Morning America and the David Letterman show.
If somebody told you a story similar to this, how would you respond?
Well, knowing what I’ve been through I may be skeptical, but I wouldn’t come out and tell them they’re a liar. I think I would try to check the facts and everything before I made up my mind.
Where does this story stand now, Melvin?
I guess it’s just gone, dead. The attorney has tried to re-open it, but the court of appeals, they just treated it like it was a big joke and they just laughed about it and they said it’s too late.
* * *
I wanted to be a pilot, but I also love to entertain and I love to sing, and I write songs. I even wrote a song about Howard Hughes, that I did in shows in Reno, called ‘Thank you, Howard’.
Could you play it for me?
Oh, come on Melvin! Really? Oh![laughs] I might sing a part of it for you, but…
Could you? Could you sing some?
Thank you, Howard
For leaving me something
But all I got was frustration
And I’ll never leave it down
Oh, how I wished you were still around
No, I don’t care what the papers say
I didn’t do anything wrong
I’ll never see the millions you left me
But I know you sang my song
So thank you, Howard
For leaving something
But all I got was frustration
And I’ll never be the same
But I thank you just the same.
* * *
In 2006 a pilot who worked for Hughes said he routinely flew him to the Cottontail Ranch brothel, down the road from where this story began. Based in part on that pilot’s testimony and other new evidence, Melvin petitioned to reopen the case in a Utah court. It was denied.