Who Is Mark Hofmann From ‘Murder Among The Mormons’ And Where Is He Now?March 3, 2021
Netflix’s new true crime documentary follows the twisty investigation of pipe bomb murders around Salt Lake City in 1985. At the center of the Murder Among the Mormons mystery is victim-turned-suspect Mark Hofmann.
Set in Utah, the three-part series revolves not only around the murders, but many historical documents integral to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The bombings—and the controversy that caused them—still looms large over the LDS community, and pulls those unfamiliar with the religion into the origin stories of Mormonism like a magnet.
“It is a story that happened to take place in a relatively small town whereby a human was able to utilize the culture in order to perpetrate his crimes,” filmmaker Tyler Measom, told The Salt Lake Tribune. That human was Mark Hofmann, and here’s what to know about the him and the many secrets he profited from for years.
Hofmann was a historical documents dealer in Salt Lake City.
He had a booming business “discovering” (i.e. forging) and selling rare historical documents, often related to the founding and early development of the Mormon church. “During our nine-year marriage, he created historical documents and signatures, coins, antique Mormon money and much more… selling them for millions of dollars,” Hofmann’s ex-wife, Dorie Olds, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
He sold controversial documents that questioned Mormon Church history.
Among them, the White Salamander Letter, which supposedly revealed that a magical white salamander guided church founder Joseph Smith to the gold plates that held the Book of Mormon. It was a major disruption in the community, going against the original narrative that Angel Moroni appeared to Smith and led him to the plates.
The White Salamander Letter had undergone tests to date it, but there was no way to prove or disprove its authenticity. This and other documents that cast doubt on the LDS history were donated to the Mormon Church or purchased by leaders and stored in the archival vault of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City.
When the Salt Lake City bombings happened, Hofmann was one of the victims.
He was injured by the same type of homemade pipe bomb that killed two others. Initially, he was viewed as an innocent victim and was treated at the hospital for his injuries in what was later revealed to be an attempted suicide on Oct. 16, 1985. When Hofmann left the hospital, he required a wheelchair due to a knee injury. But, it wasn’t long belong he was able to walk again.
The day before, Steven Christensen was killed by a pipe bomb. Another pipe bomb killed Kathleen Sheets, wife of Christensen’s business partner, Gary Sheets, on the same day. Detectives found sections of pipe, like those from the bombs, in Hofmann’s car trunk.
Document experts confirmed Hofmann was a master forger.
”Mark Hofmann was unquestionably the most skilled forger this country has ever seen,” Charles Hamilton, a New York document dealer, told the New York Times in 1987.
Of course, that wasn’t known to authorities–or anyone—at the time of the investigation. Many believed Hofmann was an uncannily-talented document dealer, but something seemed off to investigators.
They tapped Hofmann’s clients and collected Mormon letters, old Bibles, hymn books, Mormon currency, 19th-Century contracts, Books of Mormon in English, Books of Mormon in foreign languages, frontier emigrant guides, and ecclesiastical blessings. Documents affiliated with the Mormon Church and outside of it amassed to deals worth $944,000 for Hofmann in the year prior to the bombings. Nearly every transaction of Hofmann’s was a felony, the filmmakers told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Though experts had previously deemed Hofmann’s documents authentic, investigators, including George Throckmorton, who worked for the Utah Attorney General’s office as its documents expert, did their own analysis and tests of Hofmann’s documents. In the process, they noticed that the ink on Hofmann’s “discoveries” cracked in a way that wasn’t consistent with any other documents from that time period, as shown in Murder Among The Mormons. But the cracked ink showed up again and again in the Hofmann documents. This helped investigators prove that all of Hofmann’s rare discoveries were actually just forgeries.
One of the most controversial documents was the Lucy Mack Smith letter, the “earliest” known Mormon document. Hofmann had sold it to Brent Ashworth, but it was a forgery like the rest.
According to the analysis results, Hofmann wrote the White Salamander Letter on a sheet of old paper with a formulation of iron gallotannic ink to make it appear to be from the 19th century.
The forgeries also exposed Hofmann’s murder motive
This created a break in the bombing case because it gave Hofmann a motive for murdering Christensen and Sheets, as they were in a deal with him over another set of historical Mormon documents: the McLellin Collection. Hofmann had “discovered” documents written by William McLellin, a leader in the early years of the Latter-day Saints movement who later lost his faith and was excommunicated from the church, according to Brigham Young University. Hofmann said the collection held many documents that would prove embarrassing to the Mormon church if exposed, Deseret News reported.
The only problem? No one had ever seen the McLellin Collection.
At first, friends couldn’t believe Hofmann was capable of forgery.
Lyn Jacobs, a theological historian told investigators, per the LA Times: “Mark Hofmann is not a forger. I don’t think he even knows how. I have never heard a negative statement concerning Mark’s integrity from any archivist or professional. If he were a forger, how could he have gone so long without a single slip?”
Many others recounted their disbelief at Hofmann’s years-long deception in Murder Among The Mormons.
Four months after the bombings, he was arrested on charges of murder and fraud.
In Feb. 1986, Hofmann was charged with the murders of Christensen and Sheets and 28 counts of fraud. After promising the impossible to clients, investigators said he set off the pipe bombs to buy time and keep his forgeries hidden. Christensen, who was a Mormon bishop, had been threatening Hofmann about the McLellin Collection. If Hofmann didn’t produce the documents by Oct. 15, he would expose him as a fraud, per the New York Times. And, the murder of Kathy Sheets was a diversion.
Two months later, the state presented eyewitnesses and stacks of evidence at a preliminary hearing. In Jan. 1987, Hofmann pleaded guilty to the second-degree murders of Christensen and Sheets, admitted that the Salamander Letter was a forgery and that the attempted sale of the McLellin Collection was a deception.
He also confessed to investigators how exactly he made such convincing forgeries, seeming to revel in sharing his knowledge, according to audio released in the Netflix film.
Hoffman was sentenced to life in prison—where he still is now.
He was sentenced to four concurrent terms of five years to life in the state penitentiary. The judge recommend that Hofmann spend the rest of his life behind bars, where he remains today.
Hofmann later explained his motives in a lengthy letter shared by The Salt Lake Tribune: “The most important thing in my mind was to keep from being exposed as a fraud in front of my friends and family. When I say this was the most important thing I mean it literally. I felt I would rather take human life or even my own life rather than to be exposed.”
Some believe Hofmann intended to reshape Mormon history with his documents.
Over and over, he produced forgeries that touched the most sensitive parts of the church’s past. If he wasn’t caught, Hofmann likely would have continued creating documents meant to undermine the religion. Detectives found evidence that he was prepping the 116 Lost Pages of the Book of Mormon before his arrest, per the LA Times.
Hofmann’s ex-wife, Dorie Olds, was completely in the dark about the forgeries.
They met at Utah State University and were neighbors and friends before dating. Their first date was in April 1979, they were engaged in July, and married by September. “I didn’t feel loved, but I did think he would be my savior,” Olds described their relationship to The Salt Lake Tribune. “He would save me from my family.”
She was pregnant with their fourth child during her then-husband’s hearing, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, and divorced him in 1988. After Hofmann went to jail, she struggled to support their children and had to give up their house. Olds was shunned by her LDS congregation. She ended up growing her own food and getting help from relatives with raising the children.
She works as a hypnotherapist and life coach and has spoken at the Mormon Church.
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