In light of a ruling handed down last week in Denver by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the sad case of Melvin Dummar will now remain largely undebated, and at least to some of us unresolved, until the High Court is in session on the other side of the Great Divide.
It appears only Heaven can render a final verdict whether the enigmatic Howard Hughes really did leave $156 million to the enigmatic Dummar.
It's been 40 years since Dummar claims he picked up a man near death off the desert floor in remote Nevada who said he was billionaire Howard Hughes, and nearly 30 years since Dummar produced a hand-written will he claimed was written by the same Howard Hughes, now certifiably dead, that left some $2.5 billion to various heirs, the Good Samaritan who picked him up in the desert among them.
The will was subsequently judged to be a fraud in a jury trial held in Las Vegas in 1978, a decision based substantially on testimony from Hughes aides who testified that their reclusive boss never left his penthouse atop the Desert Inn and therefore never could have made the acquaintance of Dummar in the desert.
That was that until a revival of sorts three years ago when a retired FBI agent, Gary Magnesen, uncovered new evidence that placed Hughes and Dummar together in the desert. In his book, "The Investigation," Magnesen introduced one Guido Robert Deiro of Las Vegas, a retired pilot who said he flew Hughes under cover of darkness to a remote brothel 150 miles north of Las Vegas the very night Dummar said he picked him up. Further, Deiro testified that he fell asleep at the brothel and when he awoke the billionaire was gone.
The pilot's testimony, along with other new evidence, is what caused Dummar, who lives near Brigham City, to assemble a legal
team that has spent the past two years attempting to negate the 1978 ruling and have another day in court. He had 156 million reasons to do so, plus interest, plus a good name to attempt to restore.
But first on the federal district level and now at the federal appeals level, the petition has been denied.
Other appeals will no doubt follow a petition that all nine members of the appeals court hear the case should be next, and who knows, maybe a petition to the Supreme Court after that. All may not be denied, but don't bet that way.
"I would have liked a different outcome," Dummar, 63 and not in the best of health, said this week of the court ruling. "But my life has been filled with disappointments, so it's not that big a deal."
It is the plaintive lament of a man who, if his story is true, is the walking epitome of no good deed going unpunished.
And if his story isn't true, he's the walking epitome of the opposite.
It seems irrefutable now that Dummar indeed picked up Hughes in 1967 and likely saved his life.
But did that lead to Hughes, who died in 1976, including Dummar in his will? Or did it lead to Dummar opportunistically producing a fake will?The courts of man are sticking with the verdict that it was a fake. It could be awhile before any of us hear anything different.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.