Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

United States air force deserter found alive in California after 35 year manhunt

United States air force deserter found alive in California after 35 year manhunt

An Air Force captain who deserted in 1983 amid speculation of Cold War espionage was arrested last week at his home in California, where he had been living under a fictitious identity for 35 years, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said. When investigators confronted him about "inconsistencies about his identity", the man confessed that his real name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted the Air Force in 1983, according to the Office of Special Investigations.

Before leaving New Mexico, Hughes withdrew $28,500 from his bank account, making smaller withdrawals by visiting 19 different branches, the Air Force said. He said he had lived in California since then.

The Air Force classified Hughes, who had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance, as a deserter a few months later.

According to a news release, Hughes admitted his identity during an interview with the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service as part of a passport fraud investigation.

Pictured, William Howard Hughes Jr.in 1983.William Howard Hughes Jr. why did he disappear and where did he go? He faces up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.

It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance.

While working at his permanent duty station at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the Air Force assigned Hughes to a temporary duty station in the Netherlands in July 1983.

Hughes was assigned to temporary duty in the Netherlands, working with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to test its new Airborne Warning and Control System, created to be used for surveillance, command and control, battle space management and communications.

He had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance, which meant he had access to US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secret information.

At the time of his "abrupt" disappearance, Hughes specialized in radar surveillance.

Later in 1986, a Los Angeles Times article also speculated that Hughes had defected to the Soviet Union. The news of Hughes' disappearance made headlines the following year, with a front-page Albuquerque Journal announcing "Kirtland Launches Search for Officer Missing 5 Months" on January 17, 1984. Linda Card from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations elaborated.

"Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story", she told the newspaper.

In 1985 and 1986, several French and American rocket ships failed to launch properly and subsequently exploded, including the Challenger space shuttle.

In a 1984 article by the Associated Press, Capt Hughes' family said they believed he had been abducted.

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