Howard Hughes and the Lure of his Estate
THE LURE OF MONEY--LOTS OF IT (This day in history 36 years ago.)
HOWARD HUGHES was an aviator, manufacturer, film producer/director and famous recluse. When he died of kidney failure in 1976, he was a multi-billionaire.
He passed away unmarried and childless and surrounded by employees he felt he could trust only because they were members of the Mormon church. I might add, by all accounts, Hughes was suffering from mental illness and drug addiction when he passed. He had been a notorious womanizer, hypochondriac, and germaphobe. His corpse revealed neither his hair, toenails or fingernails had been cut in years. Oh--and his closet was filled with jars of his own urine. Make of that what you will.
What were Hughes’ intentions as to the disposition of his estate? As far as anybody knew, all that money (billions!) was up for grabs unless somebody could produce a Last Will and Testament. Hughes’ personal aide explained to probate court his boss had told him he had made out a will but being of a suspicious nature, had refused to tell him the location of that document.
There are two popular sayings which now spring to mind:
1. Necessity is the mother of invention 2. Behind every great fortune, there are great crimes.
Enter: Melvin Dummar.
Melvin Dummar was a gas station attendant who claimed to have found a man stranded in the Nevada desert one day hitchhiking. He rescued the man, drove him to the Sands Hotel and “loaned” him a quarter. According to Dummar, before he left, the hitchhiker revealed himself to be Howard Hughes.
Mere days after Howard Hughes died, an envelope appeared at the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Howard Hughes Last Will and Testament was contained therein. The text of this document had many curious anomalies. Perhaps the most curious of all was the name of one Melvin Dummar (name misspelled as Du Mar) who was to receive $156 million dollars.
10 handwriting experts were called who verified the Will and attributed various oddities to Hughes’ medical and mental problems.
Ah but--not so fast!
A carbon copy of an unsigned Will was produced by the executives of Hughes Medical Institute (a tax shelter) leaving his estate to that charity and its executives! $2 Billion.
A battle of Wills commenced in court. The Melvin Dummar Will bestowed $156 million of Hughes’ fortune to establish a home for orphan children, $156 million to the Mormon Church as well as Dummar, and other awards to the Boy Scouts of America and Hughes’ ex-wives and a fourth of the estate to four Universities.
A notorious and scandalous battle had begun.
By the time the court ruled, accusations of fraud and malfeasance had been hurled by both sides. An FBI investigator had determined Howard Hughes’ employees had recalled his sudden appearance disheveled, sunburned and indisposed from a day of checking out several mines he had purchased and also near Hughes’ favorite brothel, on the day Dummar had said he’d found Hughes hitchhiking in the desert.
All of which was ignored and overruled by the court. The so-called Mormon Will was invalidated and a jury declared it a forgery.
Perhaps the strangest testimony offered in court is described in this article from The Washington Post, September 5, 1981:
"The woman before Judge Gregory almost 60 years later was in her early 60s. The left side of her curly hair was blond, the right side black, apparently a combination of two different wigs.
On top sat a straw hat festooned with multicolored feathers. Her silver blouse bore a large Confederate flag on the back. Over that, she wore a gold lame jacket, which was split down the back to reveal the flag. She had on tan silk culottes along with sandals, but no hose.
One pair of glasses perched on her nose and a larger pair of sunglasses covered those; another pair was stuck on the brim of her hat. She was weighed down with necklaces, bracelets, charms and assorted turquoise jewelry, and large, long looped rings dangled from her ears.
A camera hung from her neck. She claimed she had dated presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and had been caught by her husband in bed with Elvis Presley. She said she is the mother of Howard Hughes, come to claim her rightful inheritance.
She was not alone. More than 600 alleged wives, sons, daughters, first, second, third, fourth and fifth cousins lined up in Gregory's small courtroom on the fifth floor of the family law center on the north edge of downtown Houston with their hands out, trying to claim a share of the Hughes fortune.
And those were just the ones who showed up in person or sent a lawyer. Gregory held his hands about two feet apart to indicate the size of the stack of letters he received from others claiming to be Hughes long-lost relatives.
What brought this strange parade of petitioners to Houston was the lure of money, lots of it."
It wasn’t until 1981 that a court awarded 6 1/3 % of Hughes’ estate to three sisters. Over the years, over 600 protests over the will had been heard. A probate Judge awarded 71 ½ % to Hughes’ paternal heirs, 16 first cousins, while the attorneys handling the case ended up with 40% of their client’s shares.
ATTORNEY'S always seem to come out ahead.
I have personally read over 40 books about this Billionaire weird beard.
This book: I CAUGHT FLIES FOR HOWARD HUGHES is by far the greatest at being entertaining.
Movie: MELVIN AND HOWARD
Ahh, Terry - I don't know the facts re/Hughes estate but my husband was at the #1 law firm here in the state that was handling it - lots of legal documents flying around.
The Morman church was trying to grab his estate. What a joke!
I know a large amount of his monies developed the beautiful 'Summerlin' area (northwest) here.
Hughes, in many ways, was luckier than he was smart. He was forced by the Feds to divest himself of TWA when the stock was at its highest and he made more money than he ever had before.
Had he treated Noah Dietrick better (stock) he'd never have had to turn to the (shudder) Mormons and Robert Mayheu. It was the beginning of the end.
His aides could see clearly that he was dying and didn't lift a finger. That's murder any way you slice it.