Cottontail Ranch was a legal, licensed brothel in Nevada that opened in October 1967. Located near the intersection of U.S. Route 95 and State Route 266 known as Lida Junction, in Esmeralda County, Nevada. It was also known as the Cottontail Ranch Club.
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.
The Cottontail Ranch would close in 2004 when house Madam, Beverly Harrell, retired. She later died. Harrell’s husband maintains that she had told him in secrecy that Howard Hughes would visit the brothel in its early years. The Cottontail Ranch has sat empty in the Nevada desert since it closed.