Air Force Arrests Fugitive Officer Who Evaded Authorities For 35 Years

news
U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations

On Jan. 17, 1984, a front-page Albuquerque Journal headline announced “Kirtland Launches Search for Officer Missing 5 Months.”


That officer, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr., was apprehended in California on Wednesday, more than 30 years after his mysterious disappearance.

According to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), the State Department was recently investigating a man claiming to be “Barry O’Beirne” during a passport fraud inquiry.

“After being confronted with inconsistencies about his identity, the individual admitted his true name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted from the U.S. Air Force in 1983,” an AFOSI news release reads.

Hughes, now 66, told investigators that he was “depressed” about his Air Force career, so he assumed the fictitious identity of O’Beirne and had been living in California ever since.

But AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said there are many more questions to be answered as the investigation continues.

At the time of his disappearance in 1983, Hughes, then 31, was assigned to the Kirtland-based Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center. He had been at Kirtland since 1981, working on highly classified operations involving NATO’s command, control and communications surveillance systems, according to the news release.

He had top secret clearance, but “none that could compromise national security,” Pentagon officials said in article that appeared in the Journal on May 2, 1984.

Hughes was assigned to temporary duty in the Netherlands, working with NATO to test its new Airborne Warning and Control System, designed to be used for surveillance, command and control, battlespace management and communications. He was expected to return to duty at Kirtland on Aug. 1, 1983.

He never showed up.

His car was found at the Albuquerque airport and a search of his home in the 1900 block of Chandelle Loop NE revealed notes of planned activities and books to read upon his return, according to reports.

Hughes was seen in the Albuquerque area withdrawing more than $28,000 from bank accounts, according to the AFOSI news release.

After the Air Force formally declared Hughes a deserter in December 1983, his family said in an Associated Press article printed in the Journal on Jan. 20, 1984, they believed he had been abducted.

Hughes was unmarried when he disappeared, but the Seattle native had three sisters.

“We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily,” his sister, Christine Hughes, said in the article.

There was even speculation that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets.

In 1986, three years after his disappearance, journalist Tad Szulc wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times that referred to Hughes’ “apparent defection” to the Soviet Union.

Szulc’s article came amid suspicions that the Challenger disaster and explosion of a French rocket may have been due to Soviet sabotage.

“He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future ‘Star Wars,’ if we have them,” Szulc quotes an unidentified intelligence officer as telling him.

But Card said no classified information leaks are suspected, nor is there an indication that Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union, but the investigation is ongoing.

“They (AFOSI investigators) said at this point there’s no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information,” Card said. “Until we have the whole story, we don’t have the story.”

Card said Hughes’ family has been notified of his apprehension, but it is unknown whether they had been in contact with him or knew his whereabouts.

Hughes is charged with desertion and awaiting pretrial confinement at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif.

Desertion carries maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

———

©2018 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

An undated image of Hoda Muthana provided by her attorney, Hassan Shibly. (Associated Press)

Attorneys for the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America have filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump asking the court to recognize the citizenship of an Alabama woman who left the U.S. to join ISIS and allow she and her young son to return to the United States.

Read More Show Less
U.S. soldiers surveil the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018. Picture taken November 1, 2018. (U.S. Army/Zoe Garbarino/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will leave "a small peacekeeping group" of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Read More Show Less
Construction crews staged material needed for the Santa Teresa Border Wall Replacement project near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol/Mani Albrecht)

With a legal fight challenge mounting from state governments over the Trump administration's use of a national emergency to construct at the U.S.-Mexico border, the president has kicked his push for the barrier into high gear.

On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted a time-lapse video of wall construction in New Mexico; the next day, he proclaimed that "THE WALL IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION RIGHT NOW"

But there's a big problem: The footage, which was filmed more than five months ago on Sep. 18, 2018, isn't really new wall construction at all, and certainly not part of the ongoing construction of "the wall" that Trump has been haggling with Congress over.

Read More Show Less
(From left to right) Chris Osman, Chris McKinley, Kent Kroeker, and Talon Burton

A group comprised of former U.S. military veterans and security contractors who were detained in Haiti on weapons charges has been brought back to the United States and arrested upon landing, The Miami-Herald reported.

The men — five Americans, two Serbs, and one Haitian — were stopped at a Port-au-Prince police checkpoint on Sunday while riding in two vehicles without license plates, according to police. When questioned, the heavily-armed men allegedly told police they were on a "government mission" before being taken into custody.

Read More Show Less
Army Sgt. Jeremy Seals died on Oct. 31, 2018, following a protracted battle with stomach cancer. His widow, Cheryl Seals is mounting a lawsuit alleging that military care providers missed her husband's cancer. Task & Purpose photo illustration by Aaron Provost

The widow of a soldier whose stomach cancer was allegedly overlooked by Army doctors for four years is mounting a medical malpractice lawsuit against the military, but due to a decades-old legal rule known as the Feres Doctrine, her case will likely be dismissed before it ever goes to trial.

Read More Show Less