CC – Mark Hofmann pt. 2

On this episode, we dive right back into a “clean cut” examination of the infamous Mark Hofmann. We cover from the end of 1983 up to the bombings in October of 1985. Even with nearly 3 hours of audio, there’s a lot being left out. Hopefully we’ll be able to wrap things up next week, but no promises…

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Tracking the White Salamander

The Caravan Moves On Bruce R. McConkie

Dean Jessee’s New Documents and Mormon Beginnings

Oath of a Freeman article

Time “Challenging Mormonism’s Roots,9171,956313,00.html

Extract from The Mormon Murders by Naifeh, Smith

Bombing articles:

Hofmann audio tape Sunstone presentation

Welcome to this CC episode of the Naked Mormonism Podcast, the Serial Mormon History Podcast. Today is Thursday Aug 18, 2016, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me.

Today’s episode is part 2 of the Mark Hofmann story. If you missed part 1 and want to hear what happened previous to this episode, might I suggest going back and listening to the first part. If you’re all caught up or don’t mind picking up in the middle of the story, then this is the episode for you.

In December of 1983, Mark Hofmann sold the Salamander letter to two men named Steven Christensen, and Gary Sheets. Once it was publicized that the letter existed and the church was attempting to buy it for the purposes of suppressing its contents, the price was set at $40,000. Christensen was the primary investor, while Gary Sheets was brought in to finance a secondary document that was added to the Salamander letter to sweeten the deal.

Christensen was the main guy who was dealing with the Salamander letter who also ended up donating it to the church, so his name appears most frequently when discussing the Salamander Letter, but keep in mind that Gary Sheets was still involved with buying the Salamander letter from Hofmann.

What I’m about to read is taken from Chasing the White Salamander, on, check the show notes for a link to this chapter.

“After Mark Hofmann sold the letter to Steven Christensen, Christensen "and Hofmann agreed to split the cost of $6,000 to have the letter authenticated by Kenneth Rendell, a...rare book dealer recommended by Hofmann." (Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 55) Mr. Rendell examined the letter and sent it to other experts for their opinions. He was unable to find any evidence of forgery. At the preliminary hearing he testified that when he examined the letter he felt that it was authentic but that he could not actually prove that this was the case: "First of all, I did not determine authenticity. I mean, I dealt with the question of authenticity, but I did not determine it to be genuine." Rendell said that there was no material to compare the handwriting with although he was given a few Martin Harris signatures: "...I did compare the signature to four or five signatures, but frankly, I just couldn't rely on the signatures." As I have already shown, after Kenneth Rendell saw other forgeries Mark Hofmann had sold and found out that Lyn Jacobs had admitted that he fabricated a story as to how the Salamander letter was obtained, he began to have doubts with regard to its authenticity. At the preliminary hearing he stated: "If someone came to me with this letter in this context, I would not buy it. I could not offer it as probably being genuine." He also said that he "would not sell this letter."

    Mr. Rendell claimed that he was unable to find a relationship between the Salamander letter and the other forgeries, but "If there is one it's in the ink...and I...don't do ink analysis...that's out of my area, and it now passes on to being a question of ink."

Kenneth Rendell was the man who was hired to examine the Salamander letter to detect any outright signs of forgery, and there weren’t any. Rendell took some Harris documents, including some signatures, and compared them to the Salamander Letter, but there simply wasn’t enough Harris material to compare it against. Also, it should be noted that some of the Harris signatures he was using to compare against the signature on the Salamander Letter, were possibly manufactured by Hofmann already. Rendell may have been using Hofmann forgeries to substantiate a Hofmann forgery. This could be one main reason why it didn’t stand out as a forgery until many hours of research and comparison had gone to determining it as such.

But, there were some signs that Hofmann couldn’t hide. The Salamander Letter was a legitimate piece of paper that was held by Christensen, the church, and anybody who would examine it, meaning it would undergo some very serious scrutiny, and Hofmann must have known this to make such a high quality forgery. With the letter actually being a real letter though, Hofmann had to manufacture it somehow. There were cut marks on the side of the paper that looked like they were made with scissors, cut from a larger piece of old paper, this would not be expected with typical paper in the 1830’s. Also, when examined under a microscope, the ink that Hofmann used had some unusual cracking that wasn’t seen on any other legitimate historical documents from the same time. This cracking was probably a by-product of whatever process Hofmann used to make the paper look aged or pressed as if it had actually existed for 150 years.

The whole time that many people were reeling from the discovery and publication of the Salamander letter, Hofmann was cooking up other forgeries and deals to keep him secure in his admittedly lavish lifestyle. Jerald Tanner of UTLM began popularizing the idea that the Salamander letter was a forgery and a document forger was out there somewhere in April of 1984, while the following August Sunstone Symposium is where discussion really began opening up about the legitimacy of the letter. Let’s pick up Hofmann’s timeline from when the Tanners introduced into the public sphere that the Salamander Letter may be a forgery.

| 18 May 1984 | “Mike Hansen” [Hofmann alias] orders printing plates from Cocks-Clark Engraving in Denver, Colorado, for Deseret Currency. | | | | ----------------- | --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | June 1984 | “Mike Hansen” orders twelve zinc etchings from Wm. Clayton's Latter Day Saint's Emigrants Guide(1848) from Heisler Engraving in Kansas City, Missouri. Part of the $389.69 order is paid with a check for $169.69 signed by Mark W. Hofmann. | | | | August 1984 | Hofmann sells full set of Deseret Currency (dated 1858) to Alvin Rust for $35,000. | | | | 21-24 Aug. 1984 | Sunstone Theological Symposium, Hotel Utah, Salt Lake City. First public discussion of the Harris 1830 letter by Jan Shipps and Richard Bushman. | | | | 22 August 1984 | The Tanner's (Utah Lighthouse Ministry) publish The Money-Digging Letter. | | | | 25 August 1984 | Los Angeles Times publishes long article on the Harris letter. Other newspapers across the country follow its lead. | | | | September 1984 | Utah Lighthouse Ministry publishes copy of a circulating typescript of the 1825 Smith-Stowell letter, and questions why the 1830 Harris letter is devoid of mention of God or angels. | | | | 26 September 1984 | Hofmann learns from Kenneth Rendell that forensic examiner of paper, William G. Krueger, had determined there were no indications of forgery in the 1830 Harris letter. | | | | October 1984 | In an address at General Conference, Elder Bruce R. McConkie warns members who conduct or support historical research threatening to the faith of other members. Three days later Christensen fires Brent Metcalfe from his research team, but gives him severance pay. Metcalfe had filled in for Christensen in giving a talk to the faculty at the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah. The discussion had become very heated over Metcalfe's refusal to bear his testimony to the group after discussing the Harris 1830 letter. Christensen writes a letter to Pres. Hinckley shortly thereafter (16 October), in which he says he has decided to suspend research on the letter and to drop plans to publish a book about it. | | |

We’re going to listen to that audio of Bruce McConkie’s talk in General Conference. This is titled the Caravan Moves On and it is the property of the church, used for critique and educational purposes only, falling under the fair use clause of creative commons. I extracted the audio from the church’s official General Conference YouTube channel. There is a link for it in the show notes and I encourage everybody to watch the entire 18-minute video.

In this video you will hear how the church was trying to paint people that were constructing the narrative of Joseph Smith being a treasure hunter. They were afraid that something like this was an existential threat to the church, so McConkie gets up on the stand and tells us what true Latter-day Saints are supposed to do.

Caravan Moves On pt 1

McConkie said it pretty straight-forward there. “No latter-day saint that is true and faithful in all things will publish any article, book, or material that weakens or destroys faith.” There is simply no way of getting around the logical block that was put in place by this talk. If anybody that was studying the Salamander Letter published a book or any material that wasn’t faith promoting, or didn’t spin the news of the letter in a way that is faith promoting, they could easily fall into that category of those that are aiding a cause other than the Lord’s. This is simply a chastisement of anybody seeking further knowledge into historical studies, only thinly veiling how much the leadership was at a loss for proper solutions to the Salamander Letter gaining traction in the public sphere.

Near the end of 1984, Dean Jessee, the Mormon historian released a pamphlet discussing the 1825 letter from Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell and the Salamander Letter. 3 pages were dedicated to the 1825 letter, but the remaining 20 pages are dedicated to examining the Salamander Letter. This gives us an idea of how much scrutiny and examination the letter was barraged with, but passed every single test.

There will be a link to the entire pamphlet hosted on BYU’s online library in the show notes.

Read New Documents and Mormon Beginnings pp 405

I should note that on the last few pages of the pamphlet a large number of photocopies of documents are contained, including 12 Martin Harris signatures. One of the documents and 5 of those signatures were forgeries by Hofmann that Dean Jessee was using to compare and validate the Salamander Letter.

The best part about all of this is what Hofmann was doing while scholars and historians were arguing about the legitimacy of his work. It seems almost as if the church’s troubled PR campaign to deal with the information in the Salamander Letter had no effect on him. He was still manufacturing letters, bank notes, and nearly anything else possible that would fetch a significant price. Hofmann was riding the bubble in this market he was creating, and the bubble was still inflating.

Nearing the end of 1984, Hofmann seemed to decrease his dealings in Mormon history and increase his forgeries in other historical realms. By no means did he completely stop with Mormon forgeries, they were his specialty so he couldn’t just abandon that world, but he began to really increase the number of other historical documents he was producing.

| October 1984 | Wilford Cardon sent Hofmann on 30 October a check for $12,000 for an 1807 Betsy Ross letter. | | | | ---------------- | ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 30 October 1984 | “Mike Hansen” orders Jim Bridger notes from Utah Engraving Company. | | | | 21 November 1984 | “Mike Hansen” orders printing plate for Emma Smith hymnal back page from Debouzek Engraving, Salt Lake City. | | | | 28 November 1984 | Emma Smith hymnal sold to Brent Ashworth for $5,000 and a Brigham Young letter. | | | | 12 December 1984 | “Mike Hansen” leaves Mark Hofmann fingerprint, which police later find, on receipt at Salt Lake Stamp Company. | | | | 2 January 1985 | Hofmann sells two Jim Bridger notes to Charles Hamilton for $10,000. | | | | 15 February 1985 | Steve Christensen receives a report from Albert H. Lyter, III, a forensic chemist in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lyter had examined the ink on the Harris 1830 letter and reported: “There is no evidence that the examined document was prepared at a time other than during the stated time period.” | | | | 26 February 1985 | Christensen again writes to President Hinckley about the Harris letter. | | | | 29 February 1985 | President Hinckley calls Steve Christensen and assures him that the Church wants the Harris letter. | | |

Even through most of 1985, the church was working on reconciling the Salamander Letter with their own narrative, fully believing the letter was real. Hofmann’s work kept passing test after test not showing any apparent signs of being a forgery. Christensen and Hinckley continued to exchange letters and discussions about the church accepting the letter as a donation.

From everything I’ve seen here, and given the amount of time, it seems like Hinckley was somewhat apprehensive to accept the letter as church property. Think about it, if the church owned up to having the letter in their possession, it could be perceived as a concession to the legitimacy of the letter. People would expect the church to publish books about the letter that reconciled the historical narrative with this new idea of a White Salamander. As long as Steven Christensen had the letter in his actual possession the church had some plausible deniability. It was well known that Christensen, a bishop of the church, owned the letter, but until the church accepted the donation of the letter, they weren’t expected to publish work about their own history surrounding the letter. It bought them time, but their actions show that they were merely controlling the damage, they didn’t know how to deal with the public outcry rising from this revelation. The church leadership was stuck thanks to a situation Hofmann had orchestrated with publicizing the Salamander Letter.

Hofmann, however, continued working. He set his sights on the ultimate prize. If you remember back to the Sandra Tanner interview from part one, you’ll remember that we briefly discussed the Oath of a Freeman. I was only slightly familiar with it during the discussion and the history surrounding the Oath doesn’t pertain to our discussion today, so I’ll just read the 4 sentence Wikipedia page about it which gives us a relative sense for how rare the Oath is.

“The Oath of a Freeman was a loyalty oath drawn up in the early 17th century, to be taken by freemen of the Plymouth Colony, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; a freeman was any established member of a colony who was not under legal restraint. The Oath was a vow to defend the Commonwealth, and not to conspire to overthrow the government. It was first written in 1631, and revised in 1634. Original copies survive only in a handwritten copy from 1634 and in a later printed version from 1647. Stephen Daye made a broadside printing of the document in 1639, but it is now lost.”

For more reading check the show notes where you’ll find a link to talking about the Oath with the full text intact. Needless to say, the Oath of a Freeman is one of the most elusive and revered documents in American history. An original copy of the Oath would be truly invaluable because there is no market to compare them to. One of these originals has never been bought or sold before, this would be Hofmann’s magnum opus if he could pull it off. This is his timeline into spring of 1985.

| 8 March 1985 | “Mike Hansen” orders plate from DeBouzek Engraving in Salt Lake City for “The Oath of a Freeman.” | | | | ------------- | --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 11 March 1985 | Hofmann flies to New York City. | | | | 13 March 1985 | Hofmann purchases five items from Argosy Book Store in New York City for $51.42. One item he claimed he purchased at this time was the “Oath of a Freeman,” the oldest printed item in American history. Hofmann claimed he paid twenty five dollars for this specific item. Several days later he returns with the “Oath of a Freeman” to Schiller's Gallery in New York City. Various authorities are contacted by Schiller to examine the broadside. William Matheson, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress accepts the item and says a battery of tests would be performed on it to determine its authenticity. In April the Library of Congress tells Schiller and Wapner, Hofmann's agents, that it wants to buy the “Oath of a Freeman”. | | |

Hofmann was able to get the Library of Congress to look into the Oath of a Freeman and consider it legitimate. They didn’t know if it was real, but the only reason they had to suspect it was a forgery was the rarity of the document. Hofmann was established as a very legitimate historical document trader, and this seemed like it was merely his next big find. The Oath underwent said battery of tests for the next few months, failing to show any signs of forgery whatsoever.

| 15 March 1985 | Thomas Wilding and Associate Syd Jensen, at Hofmann's invitation, agree to invest $22,500 in eighteen rare books. | | | | ------------- | ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 20 March 1985 | Kenneth Rendell sends his final report to Christensen: “There is no indication that this letter [the Harris 1830 letter] is a forgery.” | | | | 21 March 1985 | Wilding and Co. investors give Hofmann $22,500 to purchase rare books. | | | | 25 March 1985 | “Mike Hansen” had ordered a second plate of the “Oath of a Freeman.” | | | | 3 April 1985 | Christensen tells Salt Lake Tribune that tests show Harris letter to be authentic, that researchers are preparing it for publication, and that their findings will be announced at the Mormon History Association Annual meetings in May. | | | | 8 April 1985 | Schiller sends “Oath of a Freeman” to Library of Congress. Asking price: $1.5 million. | | | | 16 April 1985 | Letter of David & Peter Whitmer to Bithel Todd (dated 12 August 1828) sold to LDS Church for $1,500 by Hofmann. | | | | 18 April 1985 | First Presidency accepts Steven Christensen's donation of the Harris 1830 letter to Church. | | |

At this point, it almost became official that Hofmann could get away with nearly anything. The church had finally accepted the letter as a donation from Steven Christensen and Gary Sheets, symbolically accepting it as a legitimate historical document. Regardless of what happened after this, I think Hofmann just won in his own way. He got the church to accept something he manufactured in his basement as a historical fact. If we try and apply motives to Hofmann’s actions, it seems like this is exactly what he wanted all along. He had been doing it for around 6 years before this, but the church accepting something as absurd and damaging to their own history as the White Salamander Letter was a milestone. He had won in his mind, but the rest of the world didn’t know about this. Unfortunately, people rarely quit while they’re winning.

| 23 April 1985 | Alvin Rust gives Hofmann money ($150,000) to purchase “McLellin Collection” in New York City. Hofmann later tells Rust that he has sold the McLellin Collection to the LDS Church for $300,000. | | | | ------------- | ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 28 April 1985 | Church News (of Deseret News) announces Church's acquisition of Harris letter from Christensen, and publishes the letter, with a careful statement from First Presidency acknowledging apparent authenticity. | | | | 29 April 1985 | Utah Lighthouse Ministry's Salt Lake Messenger accuses LDS Church of hiding a second letter that deals with early treasure hunting by the Smith family. Salt Lake Tribune claims 1825 Smith-Stowell letter exists, but Church spokesman denies that Church possesses it. | | | | 30 April 1985 | Rhett James questions authenticity of Harris letter based on study of word patterns of “known” Harris writings. | | | | 2 May 1985 | At Mormon History Association annual meetings in Independence, Missouri, Dean Jessee summarizes findings by experts who noted that nothing had been found indicating forgery. As Jessee would reemphasize in the months to follow one can prove forgery but not authenticity, and that authenticating is a matter of reducing probability, not of proving. Ronald Walker discusses context of treasure hunting into which the letter apparently fits. | | |

Things get a little confusing here as more people get involved and Hofmann continues to set up deals. The McLellin collection unfortunately marks the fall of Hofmann and mid-April 1985 is when this harbinger rises to signal the collapse of Hofmann’s business model. Hofmann claimed he had the McLellin collection, a box of journals and letters that prove Joseph Smith to be a fraud, the likes of which the Salamander Letter never thought possible. William McLellin was a prominent member of the church during the early years from 1831 until the 1838 defection crisis. He was also a school teacher and historian considered to be one of the best contemporary historians to Joseph Smith we have available to us.

Hofmann claimed the McLellin collection to be embarrassing to the church and Joseph Smith, thus generating a lot of public excitement about it. Hofmann had sold the Salamander letter as damaging to Mormon history, and he delivered on that promise, so anybody hearing of the McLellin collection from him knew when Hofmann said he had something good, he wouldn’t disappoint. In April Hofmann borrowed money from Alvin Rust to get ahold of the McLellin collection, only to tell him that he sold it to the LDS church for double the money Rust had invested. I’m assuming that meant that Rust would get repaid as soon as the church went through on the deal. At this point, I think Rust was the only person that knew about the collection from the mouth of Hofmann. A man named Hugh Pinnock would later be the second person that Hofmann made a promise of the McLellin collection to. It really seems to show signs of desperation on Hofmann’s part when he takes money from two people claiming he can come up with McLellin collection and sell it to the church with huge returns on their investments, with no real plan to actually produce the collection.

All the while Hofmann was working out the logistics of the McLellin collection, people were still questioning his Salamander Letter. Even Dean Jesse was saying that all of their studies can’t prove authenticity, just rule out the possibility of forgery, something that doesn’t translate to newspaper headlines very well.

To make the church look even worse during this time, Hofmann had sold Christensen and Sheets the 1825 Smith-Stowell letter and anonymously leaked to the Salt Lake Tribune that the church has the letter and is hiding it.

| 5 May 1985 | Church spokesman retracts his denial of Church having the 1825 letter, saying, he was informed by President Hinckley that the letter was in First Presidency vault and perhaps would be subject of critical study as Harris letter had been. | | | | ----------- | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 9 May 1985 | First Presidency releases text of 1825 Smith-Stowell letter with statement that Dean Jessee says document “appears definitely to be in hand of Joseph Smith” and is earliest document written by the Prophet. Document expert Charles Hamilton of New York had authenticated the letter earlier. | | | | 11 May 1985 | Newspapers nationwide feature headlines claiming that the Smith-Stowell 1825 letter links Mormon church founder to the occult. | | |

Like I said last episode, Hofmann knew what screws to turn and just how to turn them, that’s what we’re really seeing happen here.

| 14 May 1985 | Spokesman denies Church has hidden Oliver Cowdery history. | | | | ----------- | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 15 May 1985 | Walter McCrowe Associates find the Harris letter's paper “consistent” with period of date. | | | | 20 May 1985 | Time magazine publishes “Challenging Mormonism's Roots” about the documents controversy. | | |

This is an extract from the Time article, I can’t read the whole thing because I don’t subscribe to the magazine and it’s behind a pay wall, but if you want to read all of it, follow the link in the show notes.

“'It's an incredible crisis of faith for me," says Mormon Klaus Hansen, who teaches at Queen's University in Ontario. "It means our historical foundation becomes a nice story that has no connection to reality." To Denise Olsen, a law student and mother of three in Bountiful, Utah, "it's another evidence to me that things have gone awry in the church." A devout Mormon couple in Whittier, Calif., in a letter to friends explaining why they have left the church, say new revelations about the Mormons' founding prophet have destroyed their belief.”

I can only assume that the rest of the article is just as unflattering and indicative of how well the church was handling these Hofmann documents surfacing. Hofmann’s documents were really gaining national attention. Prominent news outlets were covering the church’s response to these documents and joining in the public voice that was pressuring church leadership to publish these challenging Mormon documents. This must have been exactly what Hofmann had wanted all along, although there’s no way of really knowing that for sure.

We need to burn through this to get to the really good parts so I’m just going to hit on some of the highlights of the next few months leading up to October of 1985.

| 20 May 1985 | Kenneth Rendell verifies, based on his examination and tests, and based on ink and paper tests done by others, “that there is no indication that this [Harris] letter is a forgery.” | | | | ----------------- | ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ | | | | 25 May 1985 | Ronald Vern Jackson displays forgery of Neeley Court docket to claim Harris letter is a fake. | | | | Early June 1985 | Brent Metcalfe, who earlier had passed to John Dart, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, information from an anonymous source [Hofmann] about the existence of an Oliver Cowdery history hidden by the First Presidency, now meets with Hofmann and Dart in Salt Lake City. Hofmann tells Dart he has seen the Oliver Cowdery History in the vault of the First Presidency, that this history contains a different account of the origins of the Church, and that it credited Alvin Smith with a key role in obtaining the Book of Mormon Plates. | | | | 5 June 1985 | Wilford Cardon wires $110,000 to Schiller-Wagner in New York City to invest in a Charles Dickens manuscript “The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargin.” Hofmann had told him of the investment opportunity. | | | | 9 June 1985 | Hofmann offers the same investment opportunity to Thomas Wilding he had offered to Cardon. | | | | 13 June 1985 | Los Angeles Times cites “insider” (anonymous interview with Mark Hofmann) that LDS Church presidency is hiding a Cowdery history. | | | | 14 June 1985 | Library of Congress returns “Oath of a Freeman” to Schiller-Wapner Gallies: price is too high at $1.5 million. | | | | 28 June 1985 | Elder Hugh Pinnock helps arrange a loan of $185,000 from First Interstate Bank for Hofmann to help purchase McLellin Papers. | | | | 6 July 1985 | Salt Lake Tribune, citing Hofmann, says McLellin Collection includes Facsimile 2 from the Pearl of Great Price. | | | | 29 July 1985 | Letter of Joseph Smith to General Jonathan Dunham, 27 June 1844, sold to Brent Ashworth, after Hofmann bought it from Deseret Book Co., which had bought it from Dr. Richard Marks, who had bought it from Hofmann. Hofmann loses about $56,000 on this transaction, but he must keep Ashworth quiet as Ashworth is beginning to tell people how untrustworthy he is. | | | | August 1985 | Brigham Young papers “sold” to Wilding group for $23,600. | | | | 12 August 1985 | Hofmann signed a contract to buy a home in Cottonwood area of Salt Lake City for $550,000. Hofmann agrees to pay $5,000 in earnest money, $195,000 at closure, and three additional annual installments of $195,000. The closing was set for 15 October, 1 p.m. | | | | 21-24 Aug. 1985 | At Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, historians Michael Quinn, Marvin Hill and Ronald Walker say that Joseph Smith's involvement with “folk magic” can be sustained without Hofmann documents. | | | | 3 September 1985 | Hofmann's $185,000 check to First Interstate Bank bounces. | | | | 10 September 1985 | Deseret Book sells Book of Common Prayer to Hofmann for $50. It contained a signature of “Nathan Harris.” Several days later Hofmann returns to claim that a poem written by Martin Harris was in the back of the volume. | | | | 13 September 1985 | Hofmann admits to Wilding and Syd Jensen that their money had not purchased the “Oath of Freeman” or Dickens manuscript, that Brigham Young papers he had offered to sell did not exist, and he could not return their money. Hofmann spends the day trying to raise money. One angry investor hits Hofmann in face. Increasing pressure put on Hofmann. | | | | 16 September 1985 | Leslie Kress and Kenneth Rendell sell Hofmann two pieces of papyrus on consignment for expected $10,500 sale. | | | | 23 September 1985 | Hofmann offers to sell papyrus piece to Curt Bench, of Deseret Book Co. | | | | 25 September 1985 | Hofmann offers to sell papyrus piece to Ashworth. | | | | 30 September 1985 | Hofmann tries to use papyrus for collateral for $150,000 loan arranged by Wade Lillywhite of Deseret Book. | | | | 1 October 1985 | Hofmann sells Deseret Currency notes to Deseret Book. | | | | 2 October 1985 | Christensen warns Hofmann to tell Pinnock of his problems. | | | | 3 October 1985 | Hofmann sells Nathan Harris Book of Common Prayer to LDS Church, for $700 in trade. | | | | 4 October 1985 | Hofmann tells Elder Hugh Pinnock he must sell McLellin Collection rather than donate it to Church, so Pinnock arranges for it to be purchased for $185,000 during Oct. 13-19. Mission President David E. Sorensen working through his attorney, David West, is to purchase the McLellin collection, if someone can authenticate it. Steve Christensen was chosen to do this. | | | | 6 October 1985 | A one-third interest in a Betsy Ross letter sold to Wilford Cardon. | | |

There’s just too much going on with Mark Hoffman to keep track of everything. It’s all just a blur in my mind at this point in the research. Hofmann was setting up deal after deal to keep his head above water. He was deep in debt and it seemed like he was just pulling off whatever deal he could manage for any amount of money he could possibly get.

Maybe saying that he was doing it just to keep his head above water is the wrong perspective. Last episode I said he was approaching some of his business with a crackhead mentality. He had sold the Salamander Letter to Steven Christensen for $40k, but to sweeten the deal he tacked on the 1825 Smith-Stowell letter which added another $15k to the deal and a bit more money down, that’s when Gary Sheets entered the equation. Remember, Hofmann set up this convoluted deal and promised to deliver on a forgery he had yet to manufacture because he had a “cash flow problem”. It seems like he was willing to make promises and do whatever necessary to keep the money flowing in, even if that meant putting himself in an uncomfortable situation, but maybe viewing it as desperation is the completely wrong way to view what Hofmann did.

Do you have a friend, cousin, relative, or somebody in your life that’s an adrenaline junkie? They might grow up building ramps to jump their bike or skateboard off, or possibly walk balance beam style across the tops of the monkey bars high above the playground. Adrenaline junkies are never satisfied with doing something and calling it good, they always have to raise the stakes. That kid jumping her bike off plywood ramps at the age of 6 is jumping motorcycles and doing tricks in the air by her mid-twenties. That same kid walking the tops of the monkey bars is found cooking an omelet on a high wire attached to two skyscrapers spanning Time’s square in his 30’s. Adrenaline junkies always need to up the ante, that’s just their life’s purpose.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a stretch of imagination to say that making deals and conning people into buying forgeries were Hofmann’s thing. He was great at it, arguably the greatest at it! I would argue that he wasn’t making these deals to only sustain his lifestyle, but more to sustain his life’s purpose. What that purpose may have been, I don’t think we can ever really know. But if we apply this adrenaline junkie mindset to Hofmann’s business deals, it would make sense that he kept doing more epic deals with greater stakes whenever he found the opportunity. He was known for asking people if there was a document they were looking for. Once they told him, he would say something along the lines of, I’ll look into it and see if I can’t find what you’re looking for. Remarkably enough, he would often show up a few weeks later with exactly what the person was looking for. Hofmann got high off of showing people his forgeries and them totally believing him, just like any other charlatan in all human history. To put a more sinister motive on it, if he sought to help the church and its leadership to make fools of themselves, he had done so many times by the time fall 1985 rolled around, the public just wasn’t aware of the extent of the foolishness yet.

But, we can’t ignore the desperation, it must have had something to do with Hofmann’s decisions, but maybe he was also doing it for love of the game. His bounced checks and promising the same deal to multiple people to the point of being punched in the face by an investor provides us evidence that things weren’t so hunky dory in Hoffman’s world and desperate circumstances were taking their toll, but love of the game would help explain how he got into this situation in the first place.

| 7 October 1985 | Radio Shack outlet in Cottonwood Mall, in south Salt Lake City, sells to “M. Hansen” a battery holder and a mercury switch. | | | | --------------- | ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 11 October 1985 | Hofmann offers to sell President Hinckley a Kinderhook Plate and Joseph's translation of it. Hofmann is turned down. | | | | 13 October 1985 | Hofmann tries to sell papyrus (supposedly Facsimile 2), for $100,000. By now Hofmann's debts are at least $1,300,000. | | |

This final part of discussion will take us to the end of this episode. I was optimistic that we could cover everything in 2 episodes, but it just doesn’t seem to be the reality. It should be pointed out that I’m ignoring so many deals and newspaper clippings for the sake of conciseness here. It would take us 4 episodes to cover every single deal Hofmann did in as much detail as we discussed the Salamander Letter deal, and each deal is more convoluted and epically orchestrated than the last. I wish I could just do the rest of this podcast’s ten years on Hofmann alone because he’s such a remarkable individual and the work he did can’t be examined with enough detail.

And you know, I realized something; it’s weird to talk about a murderer like this. If you listened to the first episode with the Sandra Tanner interview, or you know a little Mormon history, you know what happened next and it’s absolutely crazy. Some of you listening to this show were members of the church when all of the news was breaking about these incredible Mormon document finds with the name Mark Hofmann occasionally cropping up. But what happened next was a plan, a premeditated and destructive plan.

Hofmann had fallen through on a multiple deals by this point; his total debts were $1.3mn. He was trying to buy a house, but the first payment check for $195k bounced indicative of serious money problems. It’s rumored that Steven Christensen knew that Hofmann was manufacturing documents, although that can never be confirmed, but we do know that a meeting was set up between Kenneth Rendell and Steve Christensen to discuss the McLellin collection.

In the McLellin collection, Hofmann claimed that Facsimile No.2 of Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri was included. The problem with this inclusion is the logistics of the forgery. Mark Hofmann could manufacture old documents with old cotton paper, or pages ripped out of old books, but when it came to ancient Egyptian papyri, there wasn’t really any source material Hofmann could scavenge to replicate the Facsimile without buying actual ancient Egyptian papyri. Hofmann bought this 1st century papyri from Kenneth Rendell so he could manufacture and deliver on Facsimile no. 2 as part of the McLellin collection. October 11th 1985 was the day that Hofmann was supposed to transfer the McLellin collection to Steven Christensen, and on that day, Christensen had to track Hofmann down to even get in touch. Turns out Hofmann was meeting with Gordon B. Hinckley that day to try and sell him a Kinderhook plate with Joseph Smith’s translation, a story for another day. The day for transferring the McLellin collection was rescheduled to October 15th, the same day Hofmann was supposed to close on his new half a million-dollar home in Cottonwood area of SLC.

In the meantime, Kenneth Rendell was due to return home from his honeymoon and meet with Christensen to talk about the Papyri in the McLellin collection. Hofmann knew about this meeting and knew that it would only take Rendell looking at the Papyri he’d sold to Hofmann who turned around and forged the papyri into Facsimile no.2, to expose Hofmann to the larger world of antique document collectors. Hofmann knew if the meeting between Christensen and Rendell happened it was all over.

From initial appearances, it looks like Hofmann tried to target Rendell upon his return from the honeymoon. Leslie Kress, Rendell’s secretary took a phone call from a male caller claiming to be a Mr. Thornton. Mr. Thornton claimed he was a good friend of Rendell and had a gift to send, if he could only have Rendell’s home address. The secretary found the phone call to be odd and refused to give the address; instead she hung up and called the police to report the phone call.

Friday, October 11th, 1985 marked the beginning of a long weekend for multiple people centered around Hofmann’s deals. I’m going to read an excerpt taken from pages 266-269 of The Mormon Murders by Steve Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. It was published less than a year after Hofmann’s plea bargain was reached, and I think it captures the chaos much better than I’ve described up to this point. There is a link for the book in the show notes and I recommend following it to get an idea of many first-person accounts of this troubling time in Mormon history.

Mormon Murders extract

Hopefully we’re beginning to see what life was like for Hofmann. He had promised too much and simply couldn’t deliver. He’d reached a breaking point where he couldn’t deliver on the McLellin collection or any of the other deals that were still in the works. The Library of Congress had basically rejected the Oath of a Freeman by this point with too many questions about its authenticity and how Hofmann had come to possess such a rare document. Rendell and Christensen were about to meet and talk about the papyri that made up Facsimile no. 2, which Rendell had sold to Hofmann that Hofmann used to scavenge together the forged Facsimile. Christensen probably knew that Hofmann was a fraud at this point, but if Rendell found out it would blow the whole thing apart; everything was chaos for Hofmann.

He was on the verge of being discovered by multiple people in multiple ways all at the same time. He had been doing this run-around game we just heard from the Mormon Murders book for too long and everything was quickly approaching a breaking point.

Brent Metcalfe, who was working for Hofmann at the time attempted to cash a paycheck for the amount of $1,000. This was a small fraction of the money Hofmann owed Metcalfe, and he had been hounding Hofmann for weeks about getting some money for his work. When Metcalfe tried to cash the check, it bounced, and he decided to go to Hofmann’s home to demand money for his employment.

On the evening of Saturday October 12th, Metcalfe and his wife, Jill, went to Hofmann’s home, only to find him absent. However, Hofmann’s wife, Dorie, was there and told them that he’d just gone to his attorney’s office to write his will. We’ll come back to that. Metcalfe called the attorney’s office and didn’t get an answer, which seemed odd if Hofmann and his attorney were supposedly there working.

Brent and Jill Metcalfe left Hofmann’s home and went back to try and revive Brent’s stalled vehicle, to no avail. Before going home that night, they decided to swing back by Hofmann’s home one last time to try and find him. Jill missed the turn to get into the neighborhood and instead drove a couple of blocks down to turn around in the church parking lot nearby. Lo and behold, Hofmann’s sky blue Toyota MR2 was sitting in the corner of the lot with Hofmann sitting in the driver’s seat. They pulled up next to the car and Brent got out of the car and went and sat in the passenger seat of Hofmann’s car.

At the time, Hofmann had a bunch of papers in his lap that he haphazardly threw face-down on the dash. Brent and Hofmann talked for some time about payment, and Hofmann told Brent he had received a death threat that day. A man reportedly told Hofmann that ‘You’re gonna die. I’m gonna kill you.’

Brent found this somewhat hard to believe because Hofmann notoriously never answered his phone, what are the chances that the one time he did answer his phone that day that the person on the other line would issue a death threat. Regardless, Hofmann seemed very agitated and stressed which was uncharacteristic of him. Brent figured that the papers on Hofmann’s dash were his financials, which would explain why he looked so stressed and frustrated at the beginning of the conversation. To get a proper idea for how much pressure Hofmann was under, this is an extract from that same book we read from earlier, The Mormon Murders. It quantifies Hofmann’s personal debt extremely well, but I think it’s lacking somewhat because the values are all 1985 dollar amounts. I’m going to read the excerpt with the amounts adjusted for today’s inflation so we can get a sense of how much of today’s money Hofmann owed. We know that Hofmann had a personal debt of $1.3 mn but this tells us just how widespread his web of terrible business deals had reached.

“If Hofmann was going over his financial picture that night in the car, it was no wonder his face showed signs of stress. In the next few days, he would be expected to repay $1,017,952 to Wilding’s group, $382,440 to First Interstate Bank, $44,800 to Shannon Flynn, $295,000 to Al Rust, $22,000 to Lyn Jacobs, $12,300 to Brent Ashworth, $380,200 to Shiller-Wapner, $243,800 to Ralph Bailey, $413,700 as a closing payment on the “marvelously livable” house in Cottonwood, and $143,400 in other miscellaneous debts, for a total of $2,958,113, plus if he didn’t pay the Wilding group by the 16th, penalties of $8,950 per day.”

Nearly $3 mn in personal debt expected to be paid out in less than a week’s time, yet the $1,000 paycheck, to Brent Metcalfe, had bounced. Hofmann was not in control. He was stuck. He had made countless promises, financial, antique documents, or otherwise, that he couldn’t make happen. Let’s go back to something Hofmann did earlier, he made his will, at least that was what he told Dorie he was going to that Saturday night. Why? Why would he go to the trouble of making a will when he was under pressure to do so many other things? People have used this as evidence that he had plans to kill himself, I don’t want to try and posit motives like that, but I think it does help us to get inside his mind a little bit when we look at just how stressed Hofmann was this Columbus Day weekend.

Sunday came and went, as did Monday. Steve Christensen had spent the entire weekend with his pregnant wife to try and repair their dying marriage and she felt like things were beginning to look up, even though Steve was in the middle of bankruptcy filings and losing his business.

On Tuesday, October 15th, 1985, a woman named Janet McDermott arrived at her office in the Salt Lake City Judge Building. She had the office across the hall from Steven Christensen, who had recently moved his business in to the building. She saw a small brown package outside of Steve’s door with no postage or stickers, just the name Steven Christensen in all caps written in permanent marker.

Steve arrived to the office just before 8 and picked up the package, attempting to take it into his office and open it. Janet was on the phone in her office when there was a deafening bang in the hallway. Nails shot through her door and impaled the family portrait on her desk. The nails from the pipe bomb ricocheted throughout the hallway and one even bored through the wall and grazed Janet’s leg, drawing blood. Initially, Janet thought there was a rifleman outside, but the explosion was much louder than a rifle shot, then She heard a child’s whimper outside and sprang into action.

She ran out of her office toward Steve’s office and found the hallway badly damaged and his office door blown off its hinges. As Janet rushed to the doorway, everything became clear. The whimpering that sounded like a child was coming from Steve’s exposed chest cavity. His mangled body was lying a few feet into the office, having been blown backwards by the force of the explosion. In his last few breaths, Steve moaned in anguish, waiting for death to overcome the immense pain from the thousands of cement nails that had ripped through his flesh.

Janet began to whimper at the horrific sight in front of her, as her friend lay bleeding out from the trauma of this expertly crafted pipe bomb. Other people began to emerge from their offices nearby and Janet yelled to the first person that emerged, “Get an ambulance! Someone is dying!” After a few short moments of guttural moaning from the mutilated form that used to be Steve Christensen, the torture ended and he passed, falling as the first victim of Mark Hofmann’s 3 bombings.

Barely an hour later, another package was found at the home of Gary and Kathleen Sheets. This package was probably very similar, having Gary Sheets in all caps written on the brown paper with no postage or stickers. Kathleen was the only one home and it exploded instantly upon her picking it up from the wood footpath toward her garage, killing her just as quickly and effectively as the first bomb had killed Steve. Her mutilated body was found 2 hours later by a passing neighbor.

The news went crazy. Was it a terrorist attack? Was it a series of hired assassinations from business deals gone awry? Nothing I could say would properly describe the feelings of confusion and anxiety stemming from these bombs going off in quiet, little Salt Lake City.

I’m just going to read a few excerpts I was able to pull up on Google’s newspaper archives for that day. You can pretty much pick any paper at random on October 16th, 1985 and go to the national news section of that paper to find an article covering what happened in Utah with the bombings.

READ Freelance Star, La Times, and Deseret News

October 15th marked an unusual day in American history. SLC has always been such a nice quiet, urban city with nothing like this ever happening before. People were quick to say that it was organized crime because no regular Jack or Jane walking down the street could pull off something like this. Hofmann was no regular Jack. He was smart, calculating, and sadistic, with little to no empathy for the lives he’d destroyed. He left the bombs out in the open, anybody could have picked them up or stumbled over them, there was no assurance that the bombs would hit their marks, showing a callous disregard for any human life.

After the bombs went off, Gary Sheets, as the known intended target, went into police custody for protection. His wife had been killed and he was probably still on the hitman’s list. Brent Ashworth, another person who came up a few times in our timeline, was theorized as the next target, and he, along with his family, was taken into custody for protection as well. Unfortunately, to cap off this tragic string of events, Ashworth’s son was out riding his bicycle when the police were rounding up the Ashworths to take them into protective custody and a car hit him, fatally crushing him. If deaths come in threes, there’s our three for one day, because the next day would bring headlines of a third bomb going off which critically injured Hofmann, but didn’t fatally wound him.

The next afternoon, Hofmann was attempting to deliver the 3rd bomb to an unknown target. The mercury switches he used for the pipe bombs were very sensitive. Once armed, they’re meant to trigger with the slightest jostle or bump. Hofmann parked his sky blue Toyota MR2 near 50 West and Second North a couple of blocks from the Salt Lake City temple. He wouldn’t have driven there with it armed because a speedbump could trigger the explosive, so once he parked he presumably armed the third pipe bomb he planned to use on an unknown target. He must have left the package on the passenger side floor of the car and got out of the car, possibly to check the address of his target, or maybe to pay for parking. He returned back to his mid-engined 2-door coupe and opened the driver’s door.

This bomb was different than the one that killed Christensen. The bomb that killed Christensen was surrounded with 2.5 inch concrete nails to cause the most damage to fleshy humans possible. This bomb didn’t have the shrapnel or nails, or else Hofmann wouldn’t have survived the blast. This bomb was probably intended for a vehicle’s fuel tank or something.

Hofmann then reached for the bomb, with one leg out on the pavement and his other leg kneeling on the driver’s seat. In grabbing the package, he must have bumped it against the stick-shift, or possibly against the passenger seat, and boom.

The force from the exploding gun powder inside the small pipe bomb ripped the roof and doors off Hofmann’s car and threw him into the middle of the road. Blood splattered across the street. His leg was badly bleeding from his kneecap that was essentially blown off by the explosion. One of his fingers was nothing but exposed bone, he had light powder burn all over his chest and face, but he got off lucky.

People walking or driving by instantly surrounded Hofmann and dragged him to the sidewalk to await the arrival of paramedics. The blue MR2 was engulfed in flames. The fire department and EMT’s showed up to take Hofmann ironically to LDS hospital and put out the fire. The police had the block quarantined off as they brought in bomb dogs from the airport to sniff around the car and the local area to clear it of other possible explosives.

When they put out the fire, the police were worried that the water had washed valuable evidence down the storm drains so they removed the covers and went diving for charred papers that made their way out of the cab and trunk of the car, including some fragments of ancient papyrus.

When Hofmann arrived at the hospital, they classified him in critical but stable condition, and the police began to question him. As Sandra said in our discussion last episode, he made up a story about a van following him around, and that he was sitting in his car when the bomb went off. None of those facts could be verified by police, and even more Hofmann’s placement in his car didn’t make sense with the mechanics of the bomb going off. If Hofmann would have been sitting in the driver seat of his car and picked up the package, the blast would have been contained enough inside the cabin of the car to kill him.

It’s like hitting a bullet with a hammer. I don’t recommend doing this, but when you hit a cartridge with a hammer, the cartridge will fire and send the bullet a few feet before it falls to the ground. In order for a bullet to have killing power, the explosion from the cartridge needs to be contained in the receiver and barrel of a gun. If Hofmann’s driver door would have been closed with him sitting in the driver’s seat, the explosion would have been much more contained and the energy from the gun powder likely would have killed him. Instead, the driver door was open and Hofmann was partly out of the car, so the explosion merely sent him flying across the street.

Hofmann’s claim, that he was sitting in the car and picked up the bomb, didn’t mesh with the crime scene, nor did the claims of a mysterious white van. The police considered his faulty testimony to be probable cause to search his home.

Up to this point, nobody was allowed into the basement of Hofmann’s home. It was basically his laboratory, or some may call it his secret lair. He was conducting all of his fraudulent business from the basement of his home, where his document forge and rare book collection were found. When the police conducted a search of the Hofmann home, they found large amounts of scrap paper, many possible forged documents Hofmann was working on, many vials of old fashioned ink Hofmann had personally made, and various bomb making materials, along with his Uzi. Now, the Uzi wasn’t connected to any crimes, nor was there any reason to suspect that Hofmann would use it in the coming days, but it was illegal to own an automatic weapon without a permit, and Hofmann was kind of a gun nut. This Uzi actually served to be the legal stance the prosecution took to hold Hofmann in custody until they could gather enough evidence to consider him the primary lone acting suspect in the bombings from the previous day.

The final thing the police found in Hofmann’s basement was a green letterman’s jacket. This is important because a witness reported a man walking into the judge building the previous early morning with a package wearing a green letterman’s jacket, he even gave the police an accurate description of Hofmann. The picture the sketch artist created perfectly matched that of Hofmann the morning before the bomb went off in Christensen’s office. Finding all of this evidence, the police were able to return to the press and say they have the primary suspect in custody mere hours after the bomb went off in Hofmann’s car.

Newspaper article like this were printed the following day, October 17th, 1985:

READ Albany Herald, NY Times, Daily News, Deseret News

Hofmann has been painted as many things. Criminal mastermind, killer, murderer, master forger, bomber, all very negative terms, none of which are false. I have a few words of my own that I use to describe him, and I’ll get to those in a minute.

I want to ask a question that has no answer… What drives a person to kill somebody? I consider myself a humanist in every sense of the word and I can’t think of any situation where killing another human being is justified or righteous. You might say, well what if somebody killed your wife and kids and parents and brothers and sisters, would you be justified in killing that person… no! Nor was their killing of my family justified in the first place, killing another human being can never be considered the right thing to do. What if somebody says you have to kill somebody or else they will kill your family? That person is evil in the first place for threatening to kill my family… the loss of human life is never a good thing, and the person taking that life can never be justified in doing so.

The problem here is, I’m a rational human being and I can’t picture my life ever being in a situation where killing another human being is justified. That’s a product of my upbringing and current situation. There are plenty of real-world situations where killing somebody is justified within that situation. Living in Syria as a member of the Kurd army holding off the advance of ISIS. Living in Russia and annexing parts of Ukraine to fend off aggressive NATO expansionism. Living in rough parts of Chicago or East LA when an invading gang does a drive-by shooting of your homies crib. In all of these situations people find themselves justified in killing another human being for the sake of their own survival. Me, growing up in perfect little Bountiful, Utah with nearly zero crime violence, and currently living in Seattle in very affluent parts of the city, I’m not exposed to any of the situations described, and I could never put my mind in a place where I could justify killing another human being.

The problem with these labels I listed earlier is Mark Hofmann wasn’t a murderer until October 15th, 1985. He was born in 1954, that’s nearly 31 years he spent as not a murderer, only to be remembered as nothing more because of a few rash decisions.

Let me wrap this into something contemporary for a second to try and describe my perspective a little bit. I was watching a video online recently of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and she told a little anecdote that made me cringe to think about. She said that her and Donald were walking down the street one day and Donald pointed to a homeless man on the street and said, that man is $5 bn richer than I am, implying Trump industries were that deep in debt. Come to think of it, it must have been a John Oliver segment that talked about it. The point I’m making is, Donald Trump has an army of lawyers. He agrees to terrible business deals, usually leveraging other people’s money, and makes all kinds of wild promises that he can never deliver on, and when his financial world begins to collapse, he files for bankruptcy, as he’s done 6 times in the last 15 years, and he somehow gets off scott free. He digs himself into bottomless pits, declares bankruptcy, and the world is fine again, he finds his way back to the top and builds more buildings with other people’s money. The thing is, Trump deals in real money with real estate, and his army of lawyers will always be there to find the proper loopholes to save him when he gets in too deep.

Hofmann, on the other hand, dealt with real money, but dealt in fake documents. He was selling a commodity that he couldn’t outsource or hire out, he was solely responsible for his own success or failure. He dealt in huge numbers, accruing a total of nearly $3 mn in personal debt from his business deals spanning the 5 years from 1980 to 1985. When Hofmann made deals to deliver on an old document, it was up to him to make good on that delivery. There was no way he could file for bankruptcy and have the people he’d already made deals with just back off. Filing for bankruptcy may have relieved a little bit of stress with some of the creditors, but it wouldn’t make anybody stop asking about documents he had yet to forge. His bankruptcy wouldn’t stop people from asking about the McLellin collection or the Oath of a Freeman, or really anything else he was working on.

Sitting back and thinking about it, there really wasn’t any possible way for Hofmann to get out of this without facing the music. The only solution was to come clean, and nobody in the con-game does that, and I don’t think Hofmann ever had the intention of coming clean. And if he wasn’t going to come clean, and wasn’t able to relieve the pressure by filing for bankruptcy, what could he possibly do to continue to provide for his family the lavish lifestyle he’d created by continuing to do what he knew and loved, no solution comes to mind.

Many have called Hofmann the greatest forger of our modern times. I would argue that the greatest forger has never been caught, but that’s neither here nor there. Hofmann had a passion and he was able to make a very comfortable living by using his passion. He loved history, loved old books and documents, and loved, even more, deceiving people. He was amazing at his passions.

Since Hofmann refuses to meet or interview with anybody, we’ll never get to ask him what was going through his mind. Whether it was manufacturing the Anthon Transcript, selling the Salamander Letter, or hearing that his friend, Steve Christensen, had been horribly murdered by a bomb he’d created the night before, we will never know what was going through Hofmann’s mind. What we can say is, Hofmann loved the game. In 2010, an audio tape emerged from some of Hofmann’s belongings. This audio tape includes one of his cons in action. I’m going to play it, and the audio quality is terrible, but it was first played at a Sunstone Symposium, and I’ll leave a link to the entire hour and 40-minute presentation so you can listen to all of the audio that Hofmann recorded.

It starts out with Hofmann talking to a woman with the RLDS archive collections department. He begins with saying this is Mark Hofmann of Salt Lake City, you may remember me from the Anthon Transcript, and the woman responds friendly. After that, he tells her he’s found a new document that may be of interest to the RLDS church, the Joseph Smith III blessing, which we talked about in part one of this show. He goes on to read the entire transcript to her. She asks how he came to possess such a letter, and he goes on to describe that it came from the Bullock collection. After that he asks for a copy of the 1833 Book of Commandments in exchange for the letter, which surprises the woman, because the books are so valuable. But remember, this blessing that Hofmann had forged stated emphatically that the RLDS church was the true church in following Joseph Smith III after Joseph’s death in mid-1844, so the blessing was quite valuable to the RLDS church as well. The only reason I told you what you’re about to listen to is because the quality isn’t great and it’s hard to understand at times. About 3.5 minutes in you’ll hear some laughing, those are the people in attendance at the Sunstone Symposium presentation where this originally aired.

Without further ado, this is the audio recording Mark Hofmann made during his phone call to Madeline Brunson.


Why did Hofmann record this? He was literally putting on record an account of him bargaining to trade one of his own forgeries for a nearly priceless book. Maybe, just maybe, this was his adrenaline spike. If Hofmann was an adrenaline junkie like I talked about earlier, maybe this was what made him feel alive. There’s a quote from him that’s found in a 1988 letter. This is what it says:

"As far back as I can remember I have liked to impress people through my deceptions," Hofmann wrote in a January 1988 letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. "Fooling people gave me a sense of power and superiority. I believe this is what led to my forging activities."

Think of how surprised Madeline Brunson was when Hofmann read the text of the Joseph Smith III blessing. She wasn’t even sure how to react, and when he said he wanted to trade a Book of Commandments for it, she just said “Oh, my” in complete shock at the request. That reaction must have been Hofmann’s cocaine. That was what got him high, when somebody found out he had something valuable and they were simply appalled by his masterful deception.

There’s a remarkable image that can be seen online, and I believe it was first published by the LA Times. I found it in a SL Tribune article, but it’s possibly the most amazing photo of Mark Hofmann in existence. One of his earliest “finds” was the Anthon Transcript that was supposedly stuck between the pages of an old bible, we talked about it last episode. This photo I’m referring to features 6 men standing around a table looking at the Anthon transcript with the Pearl of Great Price on the table next to it. From left to right the six men are Mark Hofmann in his mid-twenties, N Eldon Tanner, Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney, Boyd K. Packer, and Gordon B. Hinckley. The 5 highest leaders in the church at the time are standing around the Anthon transcript that Hofmann had manufactured in his basement weeks before, determining it to be a legitimate document.

These 5 men were the most revered people in the Mormon church at the time, supposedly ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators, and here lies a photo of Hofmann deluding every single one of them. Hofmann grew up his entire life revering these men as the leaders of the church, and there he was, fresh off his mission convincing them that something he forged was a real historical document. If deceiving people or tricking them in some way was Hofmann’s crack, imagine what this moment must have done for him, to be surrounded by the highest church leaders with a camera crew and news team asking questions after taking such an iconic photograph.

I doubt there was a single moment he had felt higher in his entire life before this picture was taken, and all he could do was chase the next biggest adrenaline rush by fabricating the next biggest Mormon document find.

So what would I call Hofmann? This takes a lot of thought, because I don’t want to stick with the tired terms he’s been called by so many before. Murderer, bomber, madman, scum, forger, swindler, con-man, fraud, coward, all of them are much too overused when describing Hofmann. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m venerating him or something here, but what about genius, imaginative, creative, perceptive, insatiable student of Mormon history, obsessively attentive to detail in his work, a man capable of orchestrating massive business deals to get whatever he wanted by any means necessary, and finally, Hofmann painted himself into a corner where the only idea he could come up with to get out of the situation was to kill people, thus gaining the label of murderer.

This may sound like an odd way to take the conversation now, but the Amazing Randi is a magician who made his name in exposing other magicians or illusionists that claimed to have magical or psychic powers. He’s exposed people ranging from Peter Popoff to Uri Gellar to James Hydrick and many in between. Randi knows the game of deception, but he comes by it honestly and tells you he’s a magician or illusionist and his entire purpose is to deceive you. I can’t help but see some parallels between Randi and Hofmann, minus the people dying bit, that’s a pretty big difference.

My point is, as soon as Hofmann found out that the church was suppressing information and documents about their convoluted history, he embarked upon a decade’s long mission to expose this suppression. What if what happened was Hofmann’s plan all along? Think about it, when a corporate scandal involving millions or billions of dollars is uncovered, it hits the media for a week and dies off as soon as a royal baby is born or Justin Bieber flashes his junk to some people. This hypothetical scandal involves corporations and millions of dollars, but what if that corporation is a church, and the only scandal involves them paying a few hundred thousand dollars for old documents, just to suppress them or keep them out of the public eye? Two days after that story hits somewhere in the B column of local newspapers, people don’t care and they’re talking about how long it will take for Gorbachev to tear down the wall, or the newest developments in the Chrysler workers strike. Two weeks after it broke, the story of the church suppressing documents would only stay alive in the hearts of the historians that were affected by it.

As soon as you throw 3 bombs and people dying in little ol’ Salt Lake City and possible corporate mafia hits into the equation, the story gets A LOT sexier. Instead of just the Deseret News talking about an antique document scandal in the B column of Tuesday’s paper, every news outlet from the LA Times to the Albany Herald were talking about people dying in explosions in SLC with connections to Mormon history, featured on the front page for a week.

Call Hofmann whatever you will, but given his fixation with defrauding people and how angry he was at the church for doing the same thing to its members for over a century and a half, Hofmann seemed to have one goal in mind; get everybody in America to talk about Mormon history by any means necessary, and make the church and its leaders look foolish while doing it. In that sense, I have one word to describe Hofmann… Victorious.

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