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John Hollenhorst Reporting There's a new twist in a story that brought worldwide attention to Utah more than a quarter-century ago. A veteran FBI investigator says he's found new evidence to support the amazing yarn. It's the story of a Utah gas station attendant who claimed he gave a ride to eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and then turned up in a will that was later declared a fake.
The movie called "The Aviator" is up next week for 11 Oscars and it has renewed interest in the secretive, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Melvin Dummar's story about Hughes is almost forgotten. A jury didn't believe him. But now a top investigator says Dummar got a raw deal and should have gotten the money.
Melvin Dummar ekes out a living driving vast distances delivering meat in remote areas. It's a far cry from the fabulous wealth that slipped through his fingers almost 30 years ago.
Melvin Dummar, Dummar's Premium Foods: “I just know that I got ripped off, and nobody would believe me.”
His story always did seem hard to believe. It was told in a previous Oscar-winning film called "Melvin & Howard." Driving on a dirt road in Nevada in 1968, Dummar says he found a scraggly old man lying injured. Dummar drove him to Las Vegas, not believing himself what the old man said, that he was Howard Hughes.
Years later Howard Hughes died, the most famous billionaire in the world. And not long after, a handwritten will turned up in Salt Lake City, naming one 'Melvin Dummar' to get one-sixteenth of the Hughes fortune. The world press corps beat a path to Dummar's gas station.
Melvin Dummar, 1976: “I thought he was a bum. I lent him some money.”
But Hughes' relatives battled the will in court. A jury declared it a hoax and branded Dummar a liar.
Melvin Dummar: “I wouldn't have had a chance, even if God himself had delivered the will.”
But now Gary Magnesen hopes to rescue Dummar's reputation. He's the FBI's former top organized-crime investigator in Las Vegas. After he retired, someone asked him to look into Dummar's story.
Gary Magnesen, Former FBI Special Agent: “I thought Melvin was a kook. It didn't make any sense at all. Why was Howard Hughes out in the desert in the middle of nowhere? Why did he look like that? Didn't make any sense at all.”
Reporter: “But now you believe it?”
Gary Magnesen: “I believe it completely.”
Magnesen is rewriting the Dummar story in a book that will be published this fall. He says he discovered three important new witnesses who prove beyond a reasonable doubt Dummar's story is true. And he found a 1968 deed. It shows Howard Hughes purchased an interest in 32 mines, located on the very dirt road where Dummar says he found the old man.
Gary Magnesen: “This explains why he was there. He had an option to buy those particular mines at the exact period of time that Melvin picked him up.”
Magnesen says his book will prove the trial was a miscarriage of justice for Dummar because of obstruction of justice and intimidation of witnesses.
Gary Magnesen: “He's had to live with that all these years. As this new evidence now comes up, hopefully people will know he's telling the truth.”
Melvin Dummar: “It does make me feel a lot better, for what it's worth. But as far as any financial gain or anything like that, I think it's water under the bridge.”
Magnesen would not tell us details about his new witnesses. He's saving that for his book.
For those who remember the news coverage or the movie and might be wondering, Dummar and his wife Bonnie are still together after all these years.