Melvin Dummar sits on the flowered velveteen sofa in his split-level home and jokes about the day he almost became a millionaire.
Today, Dummar, 43, sells electronic gadgets at store liquidations from Utah to Missouri. His wife, Bonnie, works at a Layton department store.In 1976, 14 days after the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes died, a mysterious Alaska man visited the Willard, Box Elder County, gas station where Dummar worked. He gave him an envelope that he said contained Hughes' will, Dummar said.
Dummar steamed open the envelope, addressed to David McKay (presumed to be late LDS Church President David O. McKay) and found he had been left one-sixteenth of Hughes' fortune. He resealed the envelope and delivered it to LDS Church headquarters. Security guards wouldn't let him in to see church President Spencer W. Kimball so he left the will sitting on a desk.
While rumors circulated that a mysterious woman delivered the will, Dummar denied any knowledge of it. It would be weeks until he told authorities he delivered the will. Looking back, Dummar said that may have been one of his biggest mistakes.
"I knew because of the way it was written they would accuse me of writing it," Dummar said.
Fear motivated the decision not to tell he had delivered it. That initial incredibility may have led to a jury decision that proved the "Mormon Will" invalid and brought him financial ruin and bittersweet fame, he said.
"It's something that happened. You can't forget it. I am a little bitter perhaps because of the way it turned out because there was so much evidence to show that that it was Hughes' will it was pathetic," Dummar said.
Dummar maintains he was written into the will because he picked up Hughes in the Nevada desert in 1967. He said he found him lying on the side of the road after being beaten and left for dead. He drove him to Las Vegas.
He said he has told his story a million times and says he has a following of fans who believe he deserves the money. He still regularly sends out signed photographs, T-shirts and his country music albums.
For the most part, Dummar, now a grandfather, has tried to slip into anonymity. In fact, some of his south Clearfield neighbors never realized the Dummars' connection to the past until a Deseret News car was parked in front of their home, Bonnie said.
Dummar, in a soft-spoken manner, still maintains the will is genuine and that if it had had a fair trial he would now be spending Hughes' money. However, he admits he may have been better off if his name had not appeared in the will.
"Financially, if Hughes chose not to remember me I would have been better off," Dummar said. "I ended up having to sell everything. I lost every single thing I had (at the time) either directly or indirectly because of Hughes."
Since 1976, Dummar has worked sporadically at various jobs in Utah and Nevada, including as a frozen fish truck driver and beer truck driver.
In 1981, he was the star of a two-week country music show in a Reno casino. The managers didn't renew his contract. He had a small role in the movie, "Melvin and Howard," about his chance meeting with Hughes. Before returning to Utah a year ago, he managed a Gabbs, Nev. cafe and appears in television commercials for Dreyer's Ice Cream.
"A few years ago I picked up Howard Hughes in the desert and as a thank-you he left me $150 million. Do you believe that? Here's something else you are not going to believe either . . . ," Dummar said, reciting the commercial's script. Pay he received from the commercial funded the down payment on his home.
Dummar said that the past 12 years have been a mixed bag of fame and frustration.
"There have been some times that have not been all that great just because of the harassment," he said. "Because I believe it was Hughes' will I would have done the same thing."
Dummar blames the federal government and the greed of Hughes' relatives for the jury decision that disqualified the will. He also claims that expert handwriting witnesses were told by the American Handwriting Association if they testified in favor of the will they would be "blackballed" by the organization.
"I think they threw it out of court because there was so much money involved. I even go as far as to say that the federal government wanted it to be probated because of the taxes, because of the billions of dollars they would get," he said.
He is critical of the settlement of Hughes' estate - which increased from $361 to $750 million since Hughes died of kidney failure April 5, 1976. The 70-year-old tycoon died aboard an aircraft that was rushing from Mexico to a hospital in Houston.
In 1981, the heirs agreed that 14 maternal heirs will take 71.5 percent and the five paternal heirs 28.5 percent. In 1984, a legal agreement gave $150 million to California in taxes and $50 million to Texas. Last year, most of the estate was finally paid out to the federal government, states and relatives.
"I probably spent more time with him than most of his relatives, and I was with him only a couple of hours," he said.
The "Mormon Will," along with some 30 other wills, remains locked in the Clark County clerk's safe in Las Vegas. Only the "Mormon Will" was ever considered authentic.
Dummar believes he has been unfairly perceived as a criminal, partially because of a statement made by a judge during the will trial that he was a liar. Although the judge promised, he never made a public apology.
"I never asked (Hughes) him for anything. I never expected to be left in his will," Dummar said, "I hate being treated like a criminal just for helping somebody."
Dummar said his future plans include trying again to launch his musical career even if it means performing at local clubs. He also wants to turn his only composition to gain much attention, "Souped Up Santa Claus," into an animated Christmas television special.