'Melvin' Still After Hughes' Fortune

ByABC News via logo
June 15, 2006, 9:10 AM

June 15, 2006 — -- After billionaire Howard Hughes died in 1976, a gas station owner, Melvin Dummar, claimed Hughes had left him $156 million in a handwritten will. But he's never seen any of that money.

Nearly 30 years later, 61-year-old Dummar is back in court this week, claiming he was cheated out of his inheritance and that Hughes' estate hid evidence from him. Dummar's new lawsuit does not contend that the alleged will was authentic. Instead, the suit argues that two of the major figures in the Hughes estate -- Frank Gay and William Lummis -- used fraud to prevent Dummar's claims from getting a fair hearing.

The lawsuit implies that some witnesses in the case were bribed to change their testimony.

"I tried to treat other people with respect and dignity," Dummar says. "And for the last 30 years, that's all I really wanted for myself, for my family."

Dummar says he was willed the money for saving the billionaire's life, when he found Hughes dazed and alone in the Nevada desert. A Las Vegas jury ruled against him, and he was labeled a fraud by newspapers across the country. An Oscar-winning movie, "Melvin and Howard," depicted the story.

Now, as a new witness, Robert Deiro, Hughes' former pilot, steps forward, there's a chance that Dummar could get some of what he believes he's due.

"I think Melvin Dummar was diddled," Deiro says.

Dummar, who worked at a gas station in Utah at the time of the original incident, claimed that while driving on a desert road in rural Nevada in late 1967, he pulled over to help a disheveled old man. That man claimed to be Howard Hughes, one of the richest men in the world.

He says he never believed it was really Hughes but agreed to drive the old man to Las Vegas as requested and even lent him a quarter before saying goodbye. A few years later -- after Hughes' death -- Dummar says a handwritten will was delivered to him, purporting to leave him one-sixteenth of Hughes' massive fortune.

Dummar claims he is pursuing the case not for the money but to clear his name.

"No, it's not just about the money," he says. "It's more to do with the truth. I'm grateful that I've met a man that has looked into that and we have discovered a lot of new evidence and new witnesses, that now, hopefully, the truth will be told."