U.S. Air Force officials arrested a man wanted for desertion since 1983 in California last week. The captain disappeared without a trace, leaving both family members and the Air Force in the dark.
Air Force Office of Special Investigation (OSI) arrested Captain William Howard Hughes, Jr. in California after the officer went missing in 1983, according to U.S. Air Force officials. The Air Force declared Hughes a deserter in December 1998. He officially went missing in August of that year.
Hughes apparently lived in California under the assumed identity of Barry O’Beirne. His true identity came to light during a passport fraud investigation being conducted by the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, officials stated. After being confronted by several inconsistencies in his identity during the investigation, he reportedly told investigators his true identity and that he deserted from the USAF in 1983.
OSI agents assigned to Travis AFB in northern California went to his home and arrested the fugitive captain without incident. He allegedly told investigators that he became depressed while serving in the Air Force so he left and created a new identity for himself. He said he has been living in California ever since.
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. His orders included working with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers on the operation of Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) electronic surveillance aircraft, officials stated. Capt. Huges had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance at the time giving him access to U.S. and NATO secret information.
Hughes reportedly returned to New Mexico on leave in July 1983. The Air Force ordered Hughes to return to the Netherlands on July 18, 1983.
Instead, investigators said Capt. Hughes went to 19 Albuquerque bank branches and withdrew a total of $28,500 from his account. This is the last time he was seen as William Howard Hughes until last week. He never showed up in the Netherlands for his temporary duty assignment.
In December 1983, Air Force officials declared Capt. Hughes to be a deserter.
The Seattle native’s family refused to accept the Air Force’s declaration and said they believed their loved one had been abducted.
“We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily,” his sister, Christine Hughes, said in a 1984 Associated Press article, according to USA Today.
Investigators found Hughes’ car abandoned at the Albuquerque airport. In his home, the investigators found lists of plans and books he wanted to read, the article states.
OSI investigators placed Capt. Hughes under arrest and he now awaits a pre-trial confinement hearing. He will likely face charges of desertion. If convicted, the officer could face reduction in rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement in a military prison for up to five years and a dishonorable discharge, FindLaw.com reports.