FALLON, Nev. (AP) — It was on a cold December night some 36 years ago when former Fallon resident Melvin Dummar says he stumbled upon a disheveled man lying on a deserted Nevada road.
That man, according to Dummar, was Howard Hughes — the eccentric billionaire industrialist-aviator-motion picture producer.
"Finding Mr. Hughes out there in the desert has changed my life forever. I was promised about $156 million in his will for saving his life. But I never got a penny of that money and have wound up scorned, sick and nearly broke," Dummar said recently.
The discovery of the purported will after Hughes' death in 1976 made international headlines. Dummar, 59, appeared countless times on television and even had a small role in a 1980 film titled "Melvin and Howard."
Years later, Dummar still insists he found Hughes "laying out there all dirty and messed up in the desert."
And he maintains he did not forge the so-called "Mormon Will," in which Hughes directed that Dummar be given one-sixteenth of his fortune, estimated to be worth up to $2 billion when he died.
The "Mormon Will" — given the name because it mysteriously appeared on the desk of an official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City — was declared a fake by a Las Vegas jury in 1978.
Several courts also determined that numerous other wills supposedly written by Hughes were fakes. Dummar and the rest of those mentioned in the wills never received a cent.
The courts determined the eccentric Hughes never wrote a will, and his heirs were identified after lengthy legal battles.
Dummar said he believes the courts were "rigged against me. Many responsible people still believe me, and justice someday will prevail."
In an hourlong interview conducted at a Hawthorne motel, Dummar recalled that late December day in 1967 when he plucked Hughes to safety on a deserted stretch of Nevada 95 about 237 miles south of Fallon and 150 miles north of Las Vegas.
Leaving his job at the Basic Magnesium Corp. mine in Gabbs, Dummar was heading to Southern California to find his wife, who had "run off with another man."
It was 11 p.m., and Dummar said he had just passed the Cottontail Ranch brothel at Lida Junction when he pulled over to go to the bathroom.
"There lying in the dirt was a man about 6 feet tall wearing a shirt, baggy pants and tennis shoes. He had dirty long hair that came to his waist and looked like he hadn't shaved in a few days," Dummar said.
The man was mumbling something and Dummar said he asked if he could help him.
"He asked me to drive him to Las Vegas, and since I was going that way anyway, I put him in my Chevy, where he sort of lay down on the seat next to me," Dummar said.
The two spoke a bit, Dummar recalled, mostly "idle chitchat."
When they arrived in Las Vegas, the man told Dummar to drop him off behind the Sands hotel-casino.
Since the man said he had no money, Dummar said he gave him some spare change he had in his pocket. Before they parted, the man identified himself as Howard Hughes.
"When I let him off at the hotel, he thanked me very politely and walked away. I've never seen or heard from him again," Dummar said.
Dummar continued on to California, where he found his wife and persuaded her to leave the man she had run off with. The couple returned to Gabbs, where he continued working at the mine. His wife got a job as a waitress at the El Capitan Club in Hawthorne.
When the "Mormon Will' was made public nine years later, Dummar denied having written it. He also said he had never seen it.
But later he changed his story, saying a "mysterious man" gave him the will. Afterward Dummar said he took the will and deposited it on the church official's desk.
"As God is my witness, I found Mr. Hughes in the desert. I'm telling the truth. You must believe me," Dummar said.
Today Dummar lives quietly in western Utah. He has several jobs "to make ends meet," and one of these jobs requires him to leave his home one week a month to deliver fish, meat and pies to several customers in Utah and Nevada.
Hawthorne is a stop along his delivery route.
In the years since his infamous encounter, Dummar has undergone bone marrow transplants, lengthy radiation treatments and the removal of cancerous growths from his neck and abdomen.
"It wasn't fun, I can tell you, but I'm now in remission and feeling somewhat better," he said.
Dummar said he is "barely scraping by these days" and his battle with cancer makes him constantly tired.
"But I know that someday it'll be shown I didn't lie."