an abandoned brothel in Nevada
In Winter of 1967, Melvin Dummar, a 23 year old magnesium plant worker from Gabbs, Nevada, was driving through the Nevada desert one night when he pulled off the highway and onto an empty dirt road about seven miles south of the Cottontail Ranch for a quick bathroom stop. It was here that Dummar saw a man lying down, beaten and bruised, in the dirt road. He would ultimately give him a ride to Las Vegas where the man asked to be dropped off, leaving the dazed stranger with a little bit of money at the back of the Sands Hotel, before continuing on toward his destination in Southern California.
Years later while working at a gas station in Utah, a man came in and set an envelope with Dummar’s name on the counter and then left. After helping a customer, Dummar saw and opened the envelope, containing what he says was a copy of the will of billionaire aviator Howard Hughes, and touching off decades and multiple court trials over the authenticity of the will and Dummar’s claims.
The will named Dummar as one of 16 equal beneficiaries of Hughes’ estate, which encompassed Hughes Aircraft and large amounts of land holdings. Though a series of court cases with opposing accounts made by Hughes’ family eventually found against Dummar’s claims.
Over time, others would hear about the will and the trials, and would come forward providing information that until that time had been secretive. One person was Robert Deiro, Hughes’ personal pilot during that time. Deiro, years later, confirmed that despite the belief that Howard Hughes had never left his Desert Inn suite during the time that he lived in the penthouse of the Las Vegas casino, that in the months following its opening in 1967, Deiro had flown Hughes on regular trips to the dirt airstrip immediately behind the Cottontail Ranch, where Hughes would see a woman named ‘Sunny’, a red-head who worked at the Cottontail known for having a diamond embedded in her left incisor.
Deiro admits to falling asleep one night in the kitchen, where the brothel staff would allow him to wait for Hughes. On this night, he was awoken when the brothel was closing. After asking for Hughes, staff at the Ranch said that he had been drunk and kicked out hours earlier. Unsure of what to do and unable to find Hughes, Deiro flew back to Las Vegas without him, certain he would be fired. Rather than being fired, he remained working for Hughes, and over time was promoted, this he believes as an encouragement to keep quiet about his knowledge of Hughes’ activities.
Howard Hughes would die in 1976. Melvin Dummar would claim that later that same year was when the copy of the Hughes’ will was left at his gas station.
In 1978, following a trial instigated by other members of the Hughes family who stood to benefit from the will, Dummar’s story of the encounter with Hughes and the will were ruled a fraud by the courts.
Having opened in 1967, the Cottontail Ranch would close in 2004 when the property and business were sold by Howard Harrell, the husband of Madam Beverly Harrell. Beverly Harrell, a dancer and actress originally from New York, had run the brothel with her engaging and larger than life personality until her death in 1995. Harrell’s husband maintains that she had told him in secrecy that Howard Hughes would visit the brothel in its early years.
To this day, Hughes’ top aide, Robert Mayhew claims that Howard Hughes never left his penthouse at the Desert Inn. Though other witnesses claim to have seen him during that time inspecting mining claims that belonged to him in the Nevada desert.
Melvin Dummar has exhausted his legal avenues of challenging the earlier rulings on the authenticity of the will – judgements made before several people with knowledge of Hughes’ habits had come forward.
Today, Dummar says that he was told the will was kept as evidence, and then eventually was destroyed following the trials.
The Cottontail Ranch has sat empty in the Nevada desert since it closed.
Two different mythologies in the boom and bust cycle of rural Nevada.
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The main parlor of the Cottontail was a trailer that was hauled into place and then had the additions of a main entranceway built onto it.
The parlor served as the main waiting area and lounge.
Unlike most brothels in Nevada, workers at the Cottontail lived and entertained customers in separate rooms. The eastern wing rooms were for entertaining.
Remains of one of the entertaining rooms.
The whirlpool tub suite, referred to as the Palm Room.
The western wing was composed of rooms where the women lived.
The Cottontail Ranch was a complex made of multiple trailers sitting side-by-side.
A closet used for storing linens and sale items like condoms and “lubricates”.
A room between the parlor and the sleeping rooms called the Cat Walk. Here, girls could play cards or listen to music during quiet periods. The kitchen, as well as the madame’s office were located adjacent to the Cat Walk.
********* update *********
On September 5th, 2022, a morning fire destroyed the remains of the Cottontail Ranch.
*** Beverly Harrell’s record, Coming My Way, was recently re-released on vinyl for the first time since 1976 and is available here ***
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