May 17, 1976 12:00 PM

Somehow money and Melvin Dummar have never seemed to get along. A 31-year-old college dropout who once won about $5,000 and a car as a TV show contestant, the affable Dummar impresses his neighbors as “a likable guy with big ideas.” But Dummar sometimes has had trouble paying his bills. He and his children scrabbled for night crawlers to pay for school clothes, and once, when Dummar couldn’t raise the $400-a-month rent on his Willard, Utah filling station and the three-room apartment above, he paid with a freezer he had won on Let’s Make a Deal. Then recently, under mysterious circumstances, a hand-written will, bearing a Midas-touch signature of billionaire Howard Hughes, turned up at Mormon church headquarters in Salt Lake City. In it, Dummar was named a beneficiary. He stood to inherit upwards of $125 million. “I just can’t believe it,” he sobbed when the news was confirmed. “I just can’t believe it.”

In support of his claim to the money, Dummar recounts an incident in 1968. While driving from his home in Gabbs, Nev. to Las Vegas, he says, he had pulled off the road to relieve himself and spotted a bleeding, bedraggled old man. “I helped him into my car,” Dummar recounts, “and on the way to Las Vegas he kept telling me he was Howard Hughes, but I thought he was an old wino. He kept asking me how I was fixed for money, so I thought he needed some. I gave him a quarter.”

Dummar, one of 10 children, is the son of a now-retired government worker who lived in Long Beach, Calif. Dummar attended Long Beach City College, dropped out of school to get married and served two years as an Air Force medical corpsman. Later he drove a milk truck in California, then worked for a mining operation in Gabbs. Divorced, he now lives with his second wife, Bonnie, and four of their five children. He recently resumed his studies at Weber State College in Utah and hopes to become a lawyer. Initially jubilant about his purported inheritance, he later began entertaining misgivings. “Sometimes you dream of something like this happening to you,” he told Salt Lake City reporter Clark Lobb. “But in the dreams everything turns out all right. Now I just don’t know. I guess I’m the poorest rich man in the world. I can’t believe I’m going to get the money.”

Officials of Hughes’s Summa Corp., meanwhile, are vigorously investigating both the will and Dummar. “It would have been easy to write this kind of will based on news accounts that have appeared recently,” observes one source who is knowledgable about Hughes’s movements. “I think Summa can prove that Hughes never left his hotel in 1968 without his aides.” Stung when information was released that he had been charged with forging a payroll check in 1968, Dummar now says, “I realize people are going to dig up everything about me from the time I was born. But I am only human. That’s all I can say. I was innocent. I was not convicted.”

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