After 35 Years Missing, An Air Force Captain Mysteriously Reappeared

On June 6, 2018, Air Force special agents knocked on the door of a modest house in the sleepy suburb of Daly City, a few miles south of San Francisco. They had a warrant for William Howard Hughes, Jr. for desertion. In 1973, he had enlisted in the Air Force, and by the time he was 33 he was a captain at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he gained top secret access, working on a NATO program that controlled missile launches and warning systems. In July 1983, he was sent to the Netherlands for a short time to work on the same technology and was due to report back to Kirtland AFB on August 1, 1983. Hughes never returned. An Air Force investigation revealed that he had withdrawn $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different ATMs. His car was later found at Albuquerque International Airport. William Howard Hughes was officially classified AWOL on August 10, 1983. Military officials speculated that he had defected to the Russians, but there was no proof of that. On December 9, 1983, Hughes was declared a deserter, a crime punishable by 5 years of imprisonment during peacetime and execution in a time of war. Over the years, police forces across the country and numerous military and international agencies tried to find Hughes, with no success. A search through the archives reveals that William Howard Hughes’ name was not mentioned once in the press between 1987 and 2017. In June 2018, Department of State special agents traveled to Daly City on a passport fraud investigation to interview a man living as Barry Timothy O’Beirne. After being confronted with inconsistencies about his identity, the individual admitted that he was William Howard Hughes, Jr. and that he had deserted from the Air Force in 1983. Reportedly a very private man, neighbors said they knew little about him beyond his love of the Giants. It was later revealed that Hughes had worked as a consultant and actuary for the University of California and had led a law-abiding life. When arrested, Hughes was taken to Travis Air Force base in Fairfield. There, he told investigators that he was not a spy. He claimed he had become depressed about being in the Air Force back in 1983, so he simply left, changed his identity, and has lived in California ever since. He was found guilty of desertion and was sentenced to 45 days in military prison, forfeiture of his pay, and a dishonorable discharge. William Howard Hughes’ current whereabouts are unknown.