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‘WHEN MELVIN DUMMAR CAME TO MOAB’ (and his Howard Hughes Story) —Stiles (from the 2006 archives)

(From the 2006 archives)


A few months ago, I was listening to KUER’s excellent “Radio West” with Doug Fabrizio. He and his producer Elaine Clark manage to offer one of the most consistently informative and entertaining programs on public radio. I’m grateful that they haven’t moved on to bigger markets. We need “Radio West.”

The program that struck a personal chord with me was Fabrizio’s interview with Gary Magneson, a former FBI agent who recently wrote a book called “The Investigation.” The book is about Utahn Melvin Dummar and an incredible story that few believe. But I do (I think).

Dummar claimed that in 1967, while driving a lonely dirt road in the Nevada desert, he came across an old man lying semi-conscious and incoherent in the middle of the gravel. Dummar helped the man into his truck and drove him to Las Vegas. The old man identified himself as Howard Hughes. Hughes asked for money, Melvin gave him all the change in his pocket and left him behind the Sands Hotel. He never gave the encounter another thought.


Years later, after Hughes’ death, a will was discovered on a receptionist’s desk at Mormon Church headquarters in Salt lake City. In it, Hughes left $156 million to his desert savior, Melvin Dummar. Later, Dummar’s story was ridiculed and dismissed by the courts and the public. Hollywood made a movie called “Howard and Melvin” but Dummar faded into obscurity.

Now, Magneson has found evidence that supports Dummar’s claim. He says that old Desert Inn records, the hotel where Hughes stayed, prove Hughes was away on precisely the day Dummar claims to have encountered Hughes. And he has the testimony of Robert Deiro, a Las Vegas businessman and pilot who says that on four occasions in the late 60s, he flew Hughes to a brothel north of Vegas called the Cottontail Ranch. Hughes apparently had an ongoing interest in a prostitute named Sunny. On one of those visits, Deiro fell asleep waiting for Hughes to return from a Sunny visit, but when he awoke, Hughes was gone. It was the same night Dummar found Hughes. Deiro flew back alone, but never made the connection to the Dummar story until just a couple years ago.

Recently the media asked Dummar if he felt vindicated after all these years. He said, “I’ve got a lot of hope but not much faith.”

The reason this story interests me is a tiny anecdote I can add to the discussion. In 1982, when I was still a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park, my buddy Mike Salamacha and I were at a place called Plateau Supply, near a vacant lot next to the old Miller Shopping Center. We were loading cedar posts into the bed of a Park Service pickup truck to do some fence repairs in Salt Valley.

On that vacant lot, someone had pitched a small version of a circus tent and one man stood there with what appeared to be an inventory of used or blemished furniture. I gave the man a glance and went back to the cedar posts.

But a moment later, I heard a friendly voice over my shoulder.

“What are you fellers doing?”

The face looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I recalled a photo I’d seen in Newsweek a year or so earlier. Why it registered with me, I’ll never know.

I stood up in the truck and said, “Say…aren’t you Melvin Dummar?”

He grinned a bit sheepishly and nodded, “Yes I am. How did you know that?”

“For some reason I remembered your face from a magazine,” I replied. He nodded again and smiled. I could tell he enjoyed being recognized but also seemed to be bracing himself for more doubt and derision. Still I couldn’t help but ask.

“So Melvin,” I asked as I sat down on the tailgate. “Is the story really true?”

He sighed and sat next to me.

“It’s all true,” he said wearily. “Just like I said. All I was trying to do was help an old man. I never believed he was Howard Hughes at all until years later when the will showed up.” He shook his head. “Now I’m selling used furniture and everybody thinks I’m crazy. But I’m not.”

We talked a bit about the movie and he confided to me that the actress Mary Steenburgin, who won an Oscar for her role in the film was “sort of snooty.”

“I had a bit part in the film,” he told us, ” but didn’t get paid much.”

Melvin helped us load the cedar posts and when we were done, Mike and I shook hands with Dummar and drove back to the park. “I don’t know,” said Mike. “It’s a wild story but I almost believe the guy.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said. “He really wanted us to believe him. I got the feeling that was more important than the money.” The next day I heard the city had denied Melvin’s application for a temporary vendor’s license to sell his furniture. Dummar’s luck continued to hold—all bad. He had to move on. But I never forgot the conversation. When I read that vindication at this late date might still be a possibility, I can only hope that it’s true. Melvin Dummar deserves some good news.



The Feb/Mar Z (click the cover)

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6 Responses

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  1. barbara dale said

    I believe…I see Mr Melvin Dummar every 2 weeks here in Eureka, Nevada. He sells quality meats, seafood and pie. Yes, he could deffinately use some good news. He is a very nice man.

  2. Ana Sofia Santos said

    I can only admire Melvin Dummar. I truly believe his story and it makes me feel so hopeless for how the justice system betrayed him because its all about money at the end. Before the eyes of the law he is a liar but i think that anyone on his position would have done what he did and said what he said if a stranger would have left an envelope stating Howard Hughes left you 150 million dollars. I admire his perseverance despite his luck and truly wish him the best

  3. Howard Hughes said


    What in the hell does your post have to do with Melvin Dummar?

    you must be flying high on some good shit…. toke toke the smokee dope

  4. Daniel said

    On the evening of 10-1-13, I came to the Gabbs, NV turnoff on HWY 50, on my bicycle trip across country. Stopped and thought of Melvin and Howard. Thought off going there, decide he probably not there anymore. I said “I have no problem believing it”, And rode of to the shoe tree and slept near by.

  5. Melvin Dummar said

    No I was not driving a “Truck” when I picked up Howard Hughes, I was driving a 1966 Caprice Car, only in the movie was it a truck. I was in Moab selling NEW Water Beds in 1982. I went to court In Moab over Business License practices and WON, Charging the City of RACKETEERING< EXTORTION< DISCRIMINATION, and going against what the Free Enterprise System is all about, I WON the case, I Also went to court with other towns same reason , AND WON, The UNITED STATES WAS BUILT ON THE RIGHT OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESSES to Compete with one another with little or no influence of Government, Yet most municipalities in the USA do not abide by it . Back to HUGHES, I was only helping someone that was in trouble and I did not ask , nor did I expect to be rewarded for helping him. One Of the best books that is the most accurate is "STOLEN JUSTICE" by Gary Magnesen.

  6. Lee Gonella said

    Melvin- thank you for responding, I wish you well. Things don’t always work out but people just want to be believed. Your story will never be forgotten though. Howard Hughes supposedly took a lot of codeine & valium due to plane crashes, so spelling mistakes are acceptable, but leaving money to your church, which he had nothing to do with, is not acceptable. Were you also a boy scout?Howard would also be able to spell his cousin’s name. I believe you forged that will, like many did. Did you maybe pick him up in the desert? Doubtful to me – I would think it was a bum who jokingly had you drop him off there, knowing it was HH’s home, and hits you up for change. Just too many holes in the whole thing- especially the will- whoever forged that should have done their homework way better and maybe had a dictionary. So although I do not believe your story, I ‘ll defend to the death your right to tell it.

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