Howard Hughes was a smart man. Smarter than people think. Smart enough to escape his problems by hiring stand-ins to draw people off his trail while he fled his problems. One of them went to the grave in his place. In seclusion, he married a woman who kept his secret for 30 years. This strange story of love and deception can finally be told.
Howard Hughes was hiding out, using the identification of a deceased C.I.A. operative named Verner Nicely. He decided he liked the name Nik better, especially with the unusual spelling. Howard was a clever guy. Nik didn't write much, but when he did his spelling and grammar were appalling. This would be an argument against Nik being Hughes, since it was assumed that a genius like Hughes wouldn't make those kinds of errors. To the contrary, it's part of the proof. In the infamous Mormon Will trial that followed Hughes' supposed death, attorney Hal Rhoden produced documents written by Hughes that matched both the handwriting in the Mormon Will, and Nik's writing. Curious.
There’s an old saying in crime investigation: follow the money. It always seems to work. One of the side circuses of the death of Howard Hughes was the fight for his money. There was plenty of it to fight over. A key document of contention was the so-called Mormon Will, which left one-sixteenth of his estate to Melvin Dummar, a gas station attendant in Willard, Utah. According to Dummar, the bequest was because he had found Hughes wandering in the desert and saved his life. For one-sixteenth of a ton of money, the Hughes family was willing to fight. Jim Spiller was a private investigator in Texas. He was hired to find the origins of the will and if/how it got to Dummar. He traced the will to Hughes operative La Vane Forsythe and then the hunt was on. The Mormon Will is important for a couple of reasons. First, it would have changed the life of a well-liked man named Melvin Dummar. More important to our story, the will also had a provision that could have been used to send money to Nik and Eva. This would explain Nik’s response when Eva asked what happened to his money. “My family screwed me out of it.”
Industrialist Howard Hughes had a favorite client: the CIA. For spy satellite technology alone the CIA owed him a big debt. There came a time when he needed to collect. As Howard entered the autumn of his life his leaves were not turning beautiful colors. They were pretty much all brown. He was being chased down by lawyers and an anxious media hoping to create or report some new disaster. He had zero chance of living his remaining years in peace. Then something interesting happened. He suddenly was reported to be a long-haired insane man, hidden away in the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, where no one could gain access to him. Meanwhile in Panama, a CIA operative named Verner Nicely disappeared. He didn’t say goodbye to his family. He just left on a mission from which he didn’t return. Almost. After two years Verner came back and he was a new man. Literally. His eye color had changed and he was five inches taller. He did not in any way match the description on his government documents (in the book) but he did match Howard Hughes. Howard suddenly had a new lease on life.
A quick search of the internet will reveal a number of medical facilities that surgically change eye color today. However, when Howard/Nik has the surgery done in the ‘60s it was still experimental. The end result was not exactly perfect. The iris of the eye is made up of many shades and hues of color, and even different colors. The prevalent color dominates to give the impression of a specific eye color. In Howard/Nik’s experimental surgery all of the shades, hues and colors were eliminated and replaced with a solid, deep blue color that looked very strange and reflective. Everyone that we spoke with who knew Nik remarked about his unnatural, almost surreal, eyes. It’s interesting to note that today this eye color change technique has been adopted by body modification enthusiasts. In addition to tattoos and body piercings, changing the iris of the eye to a solid color has become popular for shock value, such as changing the iris to red. As a shock technique it certainly works.
The fact that Howard Hughes used stand-ins to throw people off of his trail is nowhere more evident than in the summer of 1973. Howard flew three Hawker-Siddeley aircraft with the chief test pilot of the firm who reported that he was physically and mentally normal for his years. Two weeks later a doctor examined "Howard" and reported that he was a 98 pound wreck of a man who was physically and mentally incompetent. Howard knew he could never live his later years in peace unless he did something drastic. He did. He replaced himself with a fake Howard.
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