When someone goes missing, investigators will work around the clock to find the person in question because they know that the more time passes, the less likely they are to find any clues that might lead to solving the case.
In 1983, authorities left no stone unturned after an Air Force captain mysteriously vanished without a trace. As time passed, they lost hope that the case would ever be closed. However, 35 years later, a routine investigation made them realize the answers they had been looking for had been right under their noses the entire time…
The Last Call
In July 1983, Air Force Captain William Howard Hughes Jr. called his mom to let her know that he was going to the Netherlands for a 2-week vacation and didn’t give her any other details except that he would be back home in Kirtland, New Mexico on August 1.
The Air Force Captain
The 33-year-old from Seattle, Washington, worked as a lead surveillance analyst on the Kirtland Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center in New Mexico. According to the Air Force, Hughes specialized in radar surveillance and had top-secret security clearance…
Top Secret Work
Hughes had been assigned to the Kirtland Air Force base since 1981 and was involved in the planning and analysis of NATO’s control, command, and communications surveillance systems, which was highly classified.
The Work Trip
In July 1983, Hughes was temporarily assigned to work in the Netherlands and left for his trip as planned on July 17, 1983. During his time in the Netherlands, Hughes wasn’t actually on vacation, but was being sent to work with NATO to new Airborne Warning and Control communications…
Highly Classified Technology
The new technology was created to be used for surveillance, command and control, battlespace management, and communications. After his time in the Netherlands, Hughes was supposed to return to duty at Kirtland on August 1, 1983.
Vanished Without A Trace
However, August 1 came and passed and the 33-year-old single captain never showed up at work ever again. In the days and weeks that followed Hughes’ sudden and mysterious disappearance, officials opened up and investigation and searched for any trace of him…
The Investigation Begins
Investigators found Hughes’ car at the Albuquerque International Airport where he had left it when he went on the work trip to the Netherlands. When they searched his townhouse, they found personal to-do lists and a list of books Hughes had been planning on reading, but nothing that tipped them off to his whereabouts.
Retracing His Steps
Investigators managed to retrace some of Hughes’ steps after returning to New Mexico from the work trip and found surveillance footage that showed the 33-year-old withdrawing $28,500 from his bank account from 19 different bank branches…
Despite the search they conducted around the country and overseas, law enforcement agencies failed to track Hughes down. The fact that Hughes took out so much money made investigators believe that he had either defected or been abducted.
The Family Speaks Out
Hughes’ family, however, insisted that Hughes wouldn’t intentionally leave without telling them or leaving them some sort of note. “We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily,” said Christine Hughes, 1 of Hughes’ 4 sisters…
According to Christine, her brother would never intentionally disappear and that it was totally out of his character to do something like that. By December 8, 1983, however, there was still no sign of Hughes and the Air Force declared him a deserter.
As time passed, Hughes’ family never doubted that he had been taken against his will. Others, however, believed Hughes had either defected to the Soviet Union or been taken by the Soviets because of his top secret clearance, which would have been incredibly useful to them…
In the following years, there was a handful of NASA catastrophes that made some people speculate if Hughes had helped the Soviets sabotage the missions like the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. “The French and American accidents are adding up to a bizarre pattern, surrounded by strange coincidences and unexplained events… These include the apparent defection to the Soviet Union in 1983 of the U.S. Air Force’s leading expert on rocket self-destruct procedures,” said Tad Szulc, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.
A Goldmine Of Classified Information
“He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future ‘Star Wars,’ if we have them,” an anonymous intelligence source told Szulc at the time. Over the years, however, there has been no indication that information Hughes knew had ever been leaked…
35 Years Later…
Hughes’ case was never closed, but after it had gone cold, investigators thought they would never find out what happened especially as more time passed. Almost 35 years after his mysterious disappearance, however, investigators got their first break in the case.
A Passport Fraud Investigation
In June 2018, federal authorities found some discrepancies in a California man’s identity and brought him in for questioning as part of a passport fraud investigation. Authorities hoped to get some answers about inconsistencies in the documents, but they got far more than they ever dreamed of…
When investigators confronted the man, Barry Timothy O’Beirne, he confessed that the identity was fake and that his real name was William Howard Hughes Jr., the missing Air Force captain. According to Hughes, he had made a fake identity and had been living in California ever since he vanished.
Finally Getting Answers
When questioned, Hughes explained that in the months leading up to his disappearance, he had been ‘depressed about being in the Air Force’ and decided to just abandon his life and create a new one. Once in California, Hughes got a job working as a consultant for the University of California system…
‘Tim’s’ Colleagues React
Hughes’ acquaintances and coworkers, who knew him as ‘Tim’, were shocked when they found out the truth about their smart, funny, and kind colleague. “This just floors me,” Judy Boyette said, a former coworker. “My gosh, that’s Tim! Oh, my word. That is unbelievable. But that’s him! Wow.”
Hughes has been charged with desertion and is being held at the Travis Air Force Base in California until pretrial proceedings. He could face up to 5 years of confinement, may be forced to forfeit all pay, and could be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. For now, the case is still being investigated. “At this point, there’s no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information,” said AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card. “Until we have the whole story, we don’t have the story.”