Judge takes up man’s claim to Hughes fortune

Melvin Dummar smiles as he leaves federal court Thursday in Salt Lake City. Dummar is the truck driver who insists he rescued the legendary Howard Hughes from a roadside ditch 39 years ago and was cheated out of a share of his estate. The judge will decide on Dummar's claim soon. Douglas C. Pizac / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge will decide whether to let a Utah man renew his legal battle for a share of late billionaire Howard Hughes' fortune.

Melvin Dummar, a 61-year-old frozen-meat delivery man, insists he rescued a bloodied Hughes from a roadside ditch in the Nevada desert 39 years ago.

Dummar says Hughes returned the favor by leaving him $156 million in a handwritten will, which was ruled a fake by a Las Vegas jury in 1978.

Dummar got another day in court Thursday, trying to reopen the case based on new evidence and a compelling new witness: A pilot who says he routinely flew Hughes to brothels in rural Nevada and confirmed parts of Dummar's improbable story, which provided the basis for the fictionalized 1980 movie “Melvin and Howard.”

"I feel better now than I did 30 years ago," Dummar said outside federal court Thursday. "I think I was left out on a limb 30 years ago. Now I know not only the pilot but numerous other people in support of what's going on here."

Dummar is suing Hughes cousin William Lummis, a major beneficiary of the Hughes estate, and Frank Gay, who was chief operating officer of Summa Corp., which controlled Hughes' major assets. Both are retired and living in Texas.

His lawyer, Stuart Stein, asserted the pair orchestrated the "perfect fraud" by getting witnesses to testify Hughes never left the Desert Inn between 1966 and 1970. Witnesses said Hughes couldn't have been in the desert when Dummar says he saved the tycoon's life.

Noticeably missing from Dummar's pleadings, however, is any specific act of fraud the two men are alleged to have committed. He is suing them for $156 million, the share of Hughes estate he says he was denied.

Judge remains skeptical
U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins expressed skepticism after three hours of arguments about whether Dummar had any right to pursue his new claims.

Jenkins said he would decide the case on its merits within days, however, after Lummis' attorney withdrew jurisdictional venue challenges.

"It's a lot too late, and a little too little," said Randy Dryer, Lummis' attorney, who said Dummar "has this theory, this story, that really is not factually based. It's already been rejected twice before, once by a Nevada jury and once in Texas, and now he wants a third bite of the apple."

"It's just a bunch of speculation. There's no new evidence," Dryer said.

During the Las Vegas trial, a Texas court decided the so-called "Mormon will" that left money to the church, Dummar and others — including the Boy Scouts of America — also was a forgery.

Claimant supported by pilot
Dummar has a new ally in Guido Roberto Deiro, a pilot who says he flew Hughes to the Cottontail Ranch, a rural Nevada brothel, during the same holiday week in 1967 that Dummar says he found Hughes face-down in a ditch six miles away.

Deiro, a 68-year-old Las Vegas businessman, came forward little more than three years ago with his account, chronicled in a book by retired FBI agent Gary Magnesen.

Deiro, who wasn't in court Thursday, told The Associated Press he was a trusted aide who routinely piloted Hughes in a Cessna four-seater for secret trysts with his favorite prostitute. He also took Hughes on scouting flights for a location for a supersonic airport that Hughes wanted to build.

Deiro said he fell asleep at the brothel while waiting for Hughes, then woke up to find a maid giving him the "bum's rush" out the door. The maid told him that Hughes had left hours earlier, he said.

Deiro flew the 150 miles back to Las Vegas on his own.

He believes Hughes accepted a ride from another customer and got "trick-rolled" six miles away. Dummar says he found Hughes while stopping his car to relieve himself.

"It means a great deal to get justice," Dummar said Thursday. "I hope we get it, but we don't know."