Neighbors knew him as Tim, a quiet man who kept to himself but was always pleasant and never left home without his San Francisco Giants cap on.
Then his picture appeared on the news and TV satellite trucks showed up Monday on their quiet, tree-lined street in Daly City, and it became clear their neighbor apparently was not who they had thought.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a news release they had apprehended the man, identified as Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr., who had top security clearance when he disappeared in New Mexico 35 years ago.
Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base. He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.
Authorities say they arrested Hughes last week at his residence, where he was living under the name “Barry O’Beirne.”
Official records show that O’Beirne used Timothy as a middle name.
“Everyone knew him as Tim. He was very pleasant,” said neighbor June Dayao, 60, a retired teacher who recognized her neighbor’s face in a photograph released by the Air Force. “That’s him but he always had his Giants hat on.”
Dayao and her husband had talked about going to a Giants game with him and his partner, a woman already living in the house when Hughes moved in several years ago.
Neighbor Lorenzo Laurel, 62, said Hughes was an “ideal neighbor.”
“I would only see him when he leaves or throws out the garbage; he was very private,” said Laurel, who never knew his neighbor’s occupation and assumed he was retired.
Hughes was captured after a passport fraud investigation, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a statement.
He told authorities after his capture Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave, saying he created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983, according to the statement.
Hughes was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO’s control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War. He specialized in radar surveillance.
A captain at Kirtland Air Force Base, Hughes was 33 and single when he vanished, according to news reports from the time of his disappearance.