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Howard Hughes And The Mormon Will

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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