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Utah Man Still Fighting for Share of Hughes Fortune

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TINTIC, Utah (AP) -- Is Melvin Dummar the man who saved billionaire Howard Hughes' life or a liar?

"I've been called everything from a crook to a forger," shrugs Dummar, a frozen-meat deliveryman at the wheel of his pickup, on rounds that can take him to the place where he says he rescued Hughes from the desert. "I don't care what people say -- as long as they get the facts straight."

The question has come up again as Dummar fights another apparently futile court battle -- 30 years after a Nevada trial jury and a Texas court rejected as an apparent hoax a handwritten will leaving him 1/16th of the Hughes estate.

Dummar, now 62 and battling cancer, is on his last lap for justice, trying to show with new evidence and witnesses that Hughes had a reason to leave him a rich reward -- $156 million, to be exact -- and that he was cheated out of the share.

A federal judge in Salt Lake City threw out Dummar's new case in January, but his lawyers are appealing. For good measure, they filed another federal lawsuit in Nevada, where lawyers for two Hughes aides named as defendants have countered with motions for dismissal and sanctions.

"Mr. Dummar just won't take 'no' for an answer," said Randy Dryer, a Salt Lake City lawyer for a Hughes cousin who is the only surviving target of the lawsuit. "He was told no in Texas, Nevada and Utah courts. Now he's appealing. He keeps filing suits to different courts trying to get a 'yes.' It's nonsense."

Dummar is trying to hold the two Hughes associates accountable for what he says was false testimony by a wider circle of Hughes aides at the Las Vegas probate trial in 1977-78, the main arena of litigation over the disputed will.

The Hughes aides, for the most part, testified their boss was holed up at a Las Vegas hotel and couldn't have been in the desert -- and therefore, the will naming Dummar had to be a forgery.

But Hughes' reputation as a shut-in may have had its exceptions. Dummar's most important new witness is the billionaire's pilot, who says he routinely delivered Hughes on secret nighttime flights in a single-engine plane to rural Nevada brothels -- and can place a once-missing Hughes in the desert for a rescue by Dummar.

Other witnesses say they can vouch that Hughes favored a certain diamond-toothed prostitute at a brothel in Lida Junction, Nev., near where Dummar says he found him. Still others claim to have heard secondhand that Hughes acknowledged writing a will that included Dummar.

But if the courts' evident reluctance to take up a tired old case is any indication, Dummar could find defeat again, capping a lifetime of hard luck.

"No, I'm not making this up," insists Dummar, driving in Utah's west desert recently with two chest freezers in the long bed of his Chevy pickup, still running after more than 191,000 miles. "I've been asked that a million times."

He could have been rich, living on a large ranch and dabbling in real estate, he said. Instead Dummar makes barely enough to pay taxes, he said, living in a triple-wide mobile home set on a few acres outside of Brigham City, farm country north of Salt Lake City.

He says the trial decades ago in Las Vegas left him irrevocably broke; many employers around that time figured he wasn't trustworthy or he wouldn't be long for a job. "Either way, they wouldn't hire me," said Dummar, an aspiring songwriter and Glen Campbell-lookalike with brown hair thinning from chemotherapy.

Dummar bounced around: milk man, beer-truck driver, real estate investor (he lost money on a landlocked parcel.)

He was 22 and filling bags of magnesium ore in Gabbs, Nev., around the time he says he stumbled across Hughes. Dummar eventually settled in Brigham City, where he took over a gas station that tanked when a new interstate diverted traffic.

About 15 years ago, he started Dummar's Premium Food, going on multi-day trips into rural Utah and Nevada loaded with frozen meat, salmon and big pies. He counts about 100 regular customers, ranchers and others, making around $10 a box for pounds of steak or bacon, a thin profit threatened by rising gas prices.

"I could have been a billionaire," he said.

Dummar's customers appear mostly to reserve judgment. Bob Grill of Tintic Service, a spotless machine shop, who buys $27 worth of side pork from Dummar and can't resist a tease -- "he's got all the money" -- offers a fatalistic observation on Dummar's odds of ever collecting anything.

"About the time he's old enough to order one of them 6-foot boxes," Grill said. "That's about the way it works."

Dummar's lawsuit targets 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.

Gay, 86, died in May at a hospital outside of Houston. Lummis, retired and living in Texas, didn't return messages left by The Associated Press. Stuart Stein, an estate-planning lawyer from Albuquerque with a radio show, substituted Gay's estate in the lawsuit.

From his law office in Salt Lake City, Dryer serves as doubter-in-chief of Dummar, no small job given Hughes' secretive life and the erratic emergence of evidence that seems irrefutable, if also impossible to prove. Dryer said the claims are surfacing long after the Hughes empire dissolved in probate and tax courts, the fortune going mostly to 22 distant cousins.

"He's beating a dead horse. That dog won't hunt," said Dryer, listing ways to assert Dummar was wasting time. "I mean, this happened 30 years ago. He's just consuming resources. He's chasing this shadow. It's a pipe dream."

Even if Dummar did pick up Hughes in the desert, it means nothing, Dryer said. Dummar can't prove he was due any reward, much less from a discredited will purportedly scrawled by Hughes that, purged from court files, no longer exists.

Others are more sympathetic.

"Dummar got screwed, and I hope he gets what's coming," said Roberto Deiro, who was director of aviation facilities for Hughes Tool Co.

Deiro, now a 68-year-old Las Vegas businessman, came forward with his story three years ago, breaking a confidentiality pact with the Hughes organization. He says he flew Hughes in late December 1967 to the Cottontail Ranch brothel, then woke to find his boss missing. It's about the same place and time Dummar says he pulled off a lonely Nevada highway to relieve himself and found Hughes sprawled, face down and bloody, on a dirt road.

Dummar says he picked up the "bum" and gave him a ride to Las Vegas, when the man let out that he was Howard Hughes. Deiro flew back to Las Vegas on his own.

One former Hughes aide finds nothing believable in Dummar or Deiro's accounts.

"This thing is a disgrace," Frank Morse, a 63-year-old Beverly Hills, Calif., businessman and lawyer who was general counsel of Summa Corp. He argued that Hughes wouldn't have taken risky flights in a single-engine plane and that Deiro wouldn't have been so careless as to let him wander off.

Morse said he rejected the disputed will the moment he saw it because it also left money to the Boy Scouts of America and the Mormon church -- organizations Hughes wouldn't have provided for, he argues.

Morse contends Hughes never would have written "Spruce Goose" in a will leaving the experimental flying boat to Long Beach, Calif. Hughes hated the term and made its utterance by any employee "a terminal offense," he said.

After Hughes' death, Dummar says a personal messenger for Hughes delivered the will to his gas station with instructions to turn it over to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also stood to gain $156 million. The church, however, never pursued a claim.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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