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.
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.”
Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes: Second Edition
Spiller, however, had to start at the beginning of the trail. The word was that Forsythe had the will stashed in the shower in his home. Beginning there, Spiller followed the trail. First stop was a bank where Forsythe had cashed in some $100 bills. This would not have been memorable if it weren’t for the fact that the bills were very old and issued at a time when the seals on hundred dollar bills were printed in red ink. The bank cashier at first thought they were counterfeit. From there, Forsythe’s itinerary showed a flight to Ogden, Utah, a rental car reservation, and a drive to Willard, Utah. Here Spiller got a break when he learned that a local farmer may have seen Forsythe. Thrilled with his luck, Spiller drove to the farmer’s property, where he was greeted by a series of large signs that read, “Trespassers Will Be Shot on Sight.” Spiller had an awkward moment. But he knew he wasn’t going to get the job done parked out in the road, so he took a deep breath and leaned on the car horn as he drove onto the property. He wanted to make sure everyone knew he wasn’t trying to sneak up on them. It worked. The farmer came out to see what the racket was. “I’ll never forget his face,” Spiller recalled laughing. “I saw it for the first time down the barrel of the rifle he had pointed at me.” Once the uncomfortable introduction was complete, the farmer vividly recalled seeing Forsythe. In the rural community, a big man like Forsythe, dressed in a suit in a brand new, black car was unusual. The farmer remembered that he had a conversation with the man. The man asked him how to get to Dummar’s gas station (Jim Spiller interview with the authors).