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Will - Howard Hughes And The Mormon Will

dummar church holographic appeared

When billionaire recluse Howard Hughes died in 1976, it appeared that he had not left a will. Attorneys and executives of Hughes's corporations began an intensive search to find a will, while speculation grew that Hughes might have left a holographic (handwritten) will. One attorney publicly stated that Hughes had asked him about the legality of a holographic will.

Soon after the attorney made the statement, a holographic will allegedly written by Hughes appeared on a desk in the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the MORMON CHURCH. After a preliminary review, a document examiner concluded that the will might have been written by Hughes. The Mormon Church then filed the will in the county court in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Hughes's estate was being settled.

The will, which became known as the Mormon Will, drew national attention for a provision that gave one-sixteenth of the estate, valued at $156 million, to Melvin Dummar, the owner of a small gas station in Willard, Utah. Dummar told reporters that in 1975 he had picked up a man who claimed to be Howard Hughes and had dropped him off in Las Vegas.

Though Dummar first said he had no prior knowledge of the will or how it appeared at the church headquarters, he later claimed that a man drove to his service station and gave him the will with instructions to deliver it to Salt Lake City. Dummar said he had destroyed the instructions.

Investigators discovered that Dummar had checked out a library copy of a book called The Hoax, which recounted the story of Clifford Irving's forgery of an "autobiography" of Hughes. The book contained examples of Hughes's handwriting. Document examiners demonstrated that Hughes's handwriting had changed before the time the Mormon Will supposedly was written. In addition, the examiners concluded that the will was a crude forgery. Nevertheless, it took a seven-month trial and millions of dollars from the Hughes estate to prove that the will was a fake. In the end, the court ruled that the will was a forgery.

No valid will was ever found. Dummar's story later became the subject of the 1980 motion picture Melvin and Howard.


Freese, Paul L. 1986. "Howard Hughes and Melvin Dummar: Forensic Science Fact Versus Film Fiction." Journal of Forensic Sciences 31 (January).

Marks, Marlene Adler. 1981. "Where There's a Will … Rhoden Recoups after Howard Hughes Fiasco." National Law Journal (January 5).

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about 11 years ago

Now about the movie "The Aviator", Howard Hughes and the fake Mormon Will. It was 1970 - 72, I don't remember the exact year. I was driving out in the Utah desert, East of the Great Salt Lake, and about 100 miles East of Wendover, Utah. I swear to God this is true. I had my eight year old son Scott with me. I noticed a man dressed in a business suit hitch hiking. It was a remote area, and it was hot outside. I stopped and picked him up. Up close, he was rather unkept for the way he was dressed. He was tall and thin, and his hair was grey and almost shoulder length. His fingernails were long and dirty. The suit was dark blue pin stripped, and he had on a white shirt, which was open at the collar (no tie). He didn't speak at all, except to answer my question, "Where are you going", he replied "Up ahead". I continued south down the road which was paved, but just dirt on both sides, and no houses around. Now I'm not a Mormon, but some of the lore rubs off on you after awhile. I recalled the story about "be kind to old traveling strangers". I don't remember how far I drove with him in the car, maybe ten miles. As we approached a crossroad, he said stop here. As he was getting out of the car, I reached in my packet, and came up with a five dollar bill that I gave to him, that was a lot of money to me, but he looked like that he could use some help. He took the bill, with his long scrawny fingers, with the dirty fingernails, and he held it up in front of his eyes. He turned it over and looked at both sides as though he did not know what it was. As I drove off, I could see him in the rear view mirror. He was standing at the crossroad in the middle of nowhere, in that heat, with that suit on. I never gave the incident much more thought, until years later.

After I retired from the Air Force in 1975, I started to go to college, in Ogden Utah, on the GI Bill. Now the time line gets a bit fuzzy, but the newspapers were full of stories about the Howard Hughes will and especially the $1B it bequeathed to the Boy Scouts of America in Utah, (which is mostly controlled by the Mormon church), and this one other person, who owned a gas station in Willard Bay, Utah. I don't recall his name, and I really don't care.

I read the newspapers about the fake will and was just a little interested, because I had previously worked in the Scouting program in Utah. When pictures of Howard Hughes started to be shown in the papers, and some of his eccentric behavior was described, I recognized him as the hitch hiker that I had given the five dollars to, years earlier.

As it turned out, the man who was accused of writing the fake will, had the same physical description as me, further, we went to the same college at the same time, and took some of the same courses. I have wondered if Howard didn't get us mixed up, and left his money to the wrong person. When it was all over, I had a great job and the other guy was driving a beer truck, delivering beer.