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Mark William HOFMANN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Considered by forensic experts to be the best forger yet caught
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: October 15, 1985
Date of arrest: February 1986
Date of birth: December 7, 1954
Victims profile: Steven F. Christensen / Kathy Sheets
Method of murder: Homemade bombs
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in January 1988
photo gallery

Mark William Hofmann (born December 7, 1954) is an American counterfeiter, forger and convicted murderer. Widely regarded as one of the most accomplished forgers in history,

Hofmann is especially noted for his creation of documents related to the history of the Latter Day Saint movement. When Hofmann's schemes began to unravel, he constructed bombs to murder two people in Salt Lake City, Utah. As of 2009, he is serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

Early life

As a sixth-generation Mormon, Hofmann was reared in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by two devoutly religious parents. Hofmann was a below-average high school student, but he had many hobbies including magic, electronics, chemistry, and stamp and coin collecting. Friends of Hofmann later reported that he built a metal detector out of household items and could "figure stuff out." He and his friends were also said to have made bombs for fun on the outskirts of Murray, Utah. According to Hofmann, while still a teenage coin collector, he forged a rare mint mark on a dime and was told by an organization of coin collectors that it was genuine.

As was expected of Mormon young men, Hofmann volunteered to spend two years as an LDS missionary, and in 1973 the Church sent him to the England Southwest Mission, where he was based in Bristol. Hofmann boasted to his parents that he had baptized several converts; he did not tell them that he had also perused Fawn Brodie's skeptical biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History.

While in England Hofmann also enjoyed investigating bookshops and buying old Mormon and anti-Mormon books. A former girlfriend whom Hofmann came within a few days of marrying later stated that she believed he had lost his faith long before he performed his mission and that he went to England only because of social pressure and the desire not to disappoint his parents.

After Hofmann returned from his mission, he enrolled as a premed major at Utah State University. In 1979, he married Doralee Olds, and the couple eventually had four children. Dorie Olds Hoffman filed for divorce in 1987 and became co-founder of a holistic healing company. Despite her denials, there has been speculation that Olds knew more about the forgeries than she admitted.


Anthon transcript

Hofmann forgery of "Reformed Egyptian" document, LDS archives. Note the columnar arrangement and the "Mexican Calender" described by Anthon. In 1980, Hofmann said that he had found a seventeenth-century King James Bible with a folded paper gummed inside. The document seemed to be the transcript that Joseph Smith's scribe Martin Harris had presented to Charles Anthon, a Columbia classics professor, in 1828.

According to the Mormon scripture Joseph Smith—History, the transcript and its unusual "reformed Egyptian" characters were copied by Smith from the Golden Plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.

Hofmann constructed his version to fit Anthon's description of the document, and its "discovery" made Hofmann's reputation. Dean Jessee, an editor of Joseph Smith's papers and the best-known expert on handwriting and old documents in the Historical Department of the LDS Church, concluded that the document was a Joseph Smith holograph. The LDS Church announced the discovery of the Anthon Transcript in April and purchased it from Hofmann for more than USD$20,000.

Appraised by the LDS church for $25,000, it was purchased on October 13 in exchange for several artifacts the church owned in duplicate, including a $5 gold Mormon coin, Deseret banknotes, and a first edition of the Book of Mormon. Assuming the document to be genuine, prominent Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley predicted that the discovery promised "as good a test as we'll ever get of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon" because he thought the paper might be translated. The eccentric Barry Fell shortly claimed to have decoded the text.

Hofmann promptly dropped out of school and went into business as a dealer in rare books. He soon fabricated other historically significant documents and became noted among LDS Church history buffs for his "discoveries" of previously unknown materials pertaining to the Latter Day Saint movement. These fooled not only members of the First Presidency — notably Gordon B. Hinckley — but also document experts and distinguished historians. As Richard and Joan Ostling have written, Hofmann was by this time a "closet apostate" motivated not only by greed but also by "the desire to embarrass the church by undermining church history."

Joseph Smith III blessing

During the early 1980s, a significant number of new Mormon documents came into the marketplace. Sometimes the Church received these as donations, and others it purchased. According to the Ostlings, "The church publicized some of the acquisitions; it orchestrated public relations for some that were known to be sensitive; others it acquired secretly and suppressed."

In 1981, Hofmann arrived at the headquarters of the Utah church with a document which supposedly provided evidence that Joseph Smith the Prophet had designated his son Joseph Smith III, rather than Brigham Young, as his successor. In a forged cover letter, purportedly written by Thomas Bullock and dated January 27, 1865, Bullock chastises Brigham Young for having all copies of the blessing destroyed. Bullock writes that although he believes Young to be the legitimate leader of the LDS church, he would keep his copy of the blessing. Such a letter, if true, would portray Young and, by extension, the LDS church in an unfavorable light. In September 1981, Hofmann gave the letter to Hinckley as a “faithful Mormon.”

According to Hofmann, Hinckley filed the letter away in a safe in the First Presidency's offices. The letter was also later given to the RLDS Church. Hofmann expected the church to "buy the blessing on the spot and bury it." When the church archivist balked at the price, Hofmann offered it to the Missouri Church, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which had always claimed that the line of succession had been bestowed on Joseph Smith's line but had never had written proof. A scramble to acquire the Blessing then occurred, and Hofmann, posing as a faithful Utah Mormon, presented it to his church in exchange for items worth more than $20,000. Nevertheless, Hofmann engineered the situation so as to ensure that the document would be made public.

The next day a New York Times headline read, "Mormon Document Raises Doubts on Succession of Church's Leaders," and the LDS Church was forced to confirm the discovery and publicly present the document to the RLDS Church.

During the race by the Utah and Missouri churches to acquire the Blessing of Joseph Smith III, Hofmann discovered "a lever to exercise enormous power over his church," a power to "menace and manipulate its leaders with nothing more sinister than a sheet of paper." Salt Lake County District Attorney's investigator Michael George believed that after Hofmann had successfully forged the Blessing, his ultimate goal was to create the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, which he could have filled with inconsistencies and errors, sell them "to the church to be hidden away and then—as he had done often with embarrassing documents"—make "sure its contents were made public."

Salamander letter

Perhaps the most notorious of Hofmann's LDS forgeries, the Salamander letter, appeared in 1984. Supposedly written by Martin Harris to William Wines Phelps, the letter presented a version of the recovery of the gold plates that contrasted markedly with the church-sanctioned version of events. Not only did the forgery make it clear that Joseph Smith had been practicing "money digging" through magical practices, but instead of an angel, "a white salamander" had appeared to Smith.

After the letter had been purchased for the church and became public knowledge, Apostle Dallin Oaks asserted to Mormon educators that the words "white salamander" could be reconciled with Joseph Smith's Angel Moroni because in the 1820s, the word salamander might also refer to a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire, and a "being that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the Angel Moroni."

In 1984, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, noted critics of the LDS church, became the first to declare the letter a forgery despite the fact that it, as well as others of Hofmann's 'discoveries,' would have strengthened the Tanners' arguments against the veracity of official Mormon history. Document expert Kenneth W. Rendell later said that while there was "the absence of any indication of forgery in the letter itself, there was also no evidence that it was genuine."

Other Mormon forgeries

No one is certain how many forged documents Hofmann created during the early 1980s. But they included a letter from Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, describing the origin of the Book of Mormon; a letter each from Martin Harris and David Whitmer, two of the Three Witnesses, each giving a personal account of their visions; a contract between Smith and Egbert Bratt Grandin for the printing of the first edition of the Book of Mormon; and two pages of the original Book of Mormon manuscript taken in dictation from Joseph Smith by Oliver Cowdery.

In 1983, Hofmann sold to the Church, through its then-de facto head Gordon B. Hinckley, an 1825 Joseph Smith holograph letter confirming that Smith had been treasure hunting and practicing black magic five years following his First Vision. Hofmann had the signature confirmed by Charles Hamilton, the contemporary "dean of American autograph dealers," sold it to the Church for $15,000 and gave his word that no one else had a copy of the letter. Then Hofmann leaked its existence to the press, after which the church was virtually forced to release the letter to scholars for study, despite previously denying it had it in its possession.

To make this sudden flood of important Mormon documents seem plausible, Hofmann explained that he relied on a network of tipsters, had methodically tracked down modern descendants of early Mormons, and had mined collections of nineteenth-century letters that had been saved by collectors for their postmarks rather than for their contents.

Oath of a Freeman

In addition to documents from Mormon history, Hofmann also forged and sold signatures of many famous non-Mormons, including George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Boone, John Brown, Andrew Jackson, Mark Twain, Nathan Hale, John Hancock, Francis Scott Key, Abraham Lincoln, John Milton, Paul Revere, Myles Standish, and Button Gwinnett, whose signature was the rarest, and therefore the most valuable, of any signer of the Declaration of Independence.

He also forged a previously unknown poem in the hand of Emily Dickinson. But Hofmann's grandest scheme was to forge what was perhaps the most famous missing document in American colonial history, the Oath of a Freeman. The one-page Oath had been printed in 1639, the first document to be printed in Britain's American colonies; but only about fifty copies had been made, and none of these was extant. A genuine example was probably worth over a million dollars in 1985, and Hofmann's agents began to negotiate a sale to the Library of Congress.


Despite the considerable amounts of money Hofmann had made from document sales, he was deeply in debt, in part because of his increasingly lavish lifestyle and his purchases of genuine first-edition books. In an effort to clear his debts, he attempted to broker a sale of the "McLellin collection”—a supposedly extensive group of documents written by William E. M'Lellin, an early Mormon apostle who eventually broke with the LDS church. Hofmann hinted that the McLellin collection would provide specular revelations unfavorable to the LDS church. Unfortunately for Hofmann, he had no idea where the McLellin collection was, nor did he have the time to forge a suitably large group of documents.

Those to whom Hofmann had promised documents or repayments of debts began to hound him, and the sale of the "Oath of a Freeman" was delayed by questions about its authenticity.

In a desperate effort to buy more time, Hofmann began constructing bombs. On October 15, 1985, he first killed document collector Steven Christensen, the son of a locally prominent clothier. Later the same day, a second bomb killed Kathy Sheets, the wife of Christensen's former employer. As Hofmann had intended, police initially suspected that the bombings were related to the impending collapse of an investment business of which Kathy Sheets' husband, J. Gary Sheets, was the principal and Christensen his protégé.

The following day, Hofmann himself was severely injured when a bomb exploded in his car. Although police quickly focused on Hofmann as the suspect in the bombings, some of Hofmann's business associates went into hiding, fearing they might also become victims.

Trial and sentencing

During the bombing investigation, police discovered evidence of the forgeries in Hofmann's basement, and they found the engraving plant where the forged plate for the Oath of a Freeman had been made. (Through inexperience, Hofmann also made two significant errors in his Oath, creating a version impossible to have been set in type.)

Hofmann was arrested for murder and forgery in February 1986. In January 1987, he pled guilty to second-degree murder and theft-by-deception to avoid the death penalty, confessing his forgeries in open court. In January 1988, he was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1988, before the Utah Board of Pardons, Hofmann confessed that he thought planting the bomb that killed Kathy Sheets was "almost a game… at the time I made the bomb, my thoughts were that it didn't matter if it was Mrs. Sheets, a child, a dog… whoever" was killed. Within the hour the parole board, impressed by Hofmann's "callous disregard for human life" decided that he would indeed serve his "natural life in prison."

After Hofmann was imprisoned, his wife filed for divorce. Hofmann attempted suicide in his cell by taking an overdose of antidepressants. He was revived but not before spending twelve hours lying on his right arm, blocking its circulation and causing muscle atrophy. His forging hand was thereby permanently disabled.


A master forger, Hofmann fooled a number of renowned document experts during his short career, and an unknown number of his forgeries may still be in circulation. But it is Hofmann's forgeries of Mormon documents that have had the greatest historical significance.

In August 1987, the sensationalist aspects of the Hofmann case led Apostle Dallin Oaks to believe that church members had witnessed "some of the most intense LDS Church-bashing since the turn of the century." Student of Mormonism Jan Shipps agreed that press reports "contained an astonishing amount of innuendo associating Hofmann's plagiarism with Mormon beginnings. Myriad reports alleged secrecy and cover-up on the part of LDS general authorities, and not a few writers referred to the way in which a culture that rests on a found scripture is particularly vulnerable to the offerings of con-artists."

According to the Ostlings, the Hofmann forgeries could only have been perpetrated "in connection with the curious mixture of paranoia and obsessiveness with which Mormons approach church history." After Hofmann's exposure, the Church tried to correct the record, but the "public relations damage as well as the forgery losses meant the church was also a Hofmann victim."

Robert Lindsey has also suggested that Hofmann "stimulated a burst of historical inquiry regarding Joseph Smith's youthful enthusiasm for magic [that] did not wither after his conviction" despite "even harsher barriers to scholars' access to [LDS Church] archives… The Mark Hofmann affair had emboldened many scholars to penetrate deeper and deeper into recesses of the Mormon past that its most conservative leaders wanted left unexplored, and it was unlikely that those in the Church Administration Building would ever be able to contain fully the fires of intellectual curiosity that Hofmann had helped


Mark Hofmann (born December 7, 1954), a disaffected member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a prolific counterfeiter who murdered two people in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He is currently serving a prison sentence at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Hofmann is widely regarded as one of the most skilled forgers in history.

Early life

Although Hofmann claims to have embraced atheism while in his teen years, he was raised in a devout LDS family. His grandmother, Athelia Call, had been the wife of a Mormon polygamist. His family's reluctance to discuss its involvement with plural marriage became an early source of Hofmann's resentment toward Mormonism.

Like many young LDS individuals, Hofmann spent two years as a Mormon missionary. He appeared outwardly devout, but his explorations of Mormon history led him to doubt many of the church's official claims regarding its origins.

Hoffman is an Eagle Scout. He married Doralee Olds in the Salt Lake Temple in 1979. The couple had had four children, but divorced in 1988.

Hofmann's forgeries

After his mission, Hofmann became a dealer in antique items. Forging and altering coins, books, and historical banknotes to make them more valuable (often by adding signatures), Hofmann worked up to fabricating historically significant documents. He became famous for his "discoveries" of previously unknown documents pertaining to the Latter Day Saint movement and the LDS church.

The first forgery Hofmann sold to the LDS church was the so-called Anthon Transcript. Hofmann claimed he found this document April 1980 pasted between the pages of a 1668 Bible with the apparent signatures of Joseph Smith's great and great-great grandfathers inside. The document seemed especially significant as the transcript that Smith's scribe Martin Harris presented to Charles Anthon, a Columbia University classics professor, in 1828.

According to the Joseph Smith-History, the transcript and its unusual "reformed Egyptian" characters were copied by Smith from the Golden Plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith—History reports that Anthon thought the esoteric-looking characters were genuinely Egyptian, but wanted access to the original plates. Anthon's recollection of the transcript differed greatly from a purported copy of the transcript possessed by the Community of Christ; Hofmann intentionally constructed his version to fit Anthon's description.

A Joseph Smith expert, Dean Jessee, opined that the document's handwriting and signature appeared genuine. Appraised by the LDS church for USD$25,000, it was purchased on October 13 in exchange for several artifacts the church owned in duplicate including a $5 gold Mormon coin, Deseret banknotes, and a first edition of the Book of Mormon.

On September 4, 1981, Hofmann gave Elder Gordon B. Hinckley another forgery. Supposedly written by Thomas Bullock, Hofmann claimed to have acquired the letter along with the Joseph III blessing, which presented Smith's young son, Joseph Smith III as the most legitimate leader for the LDS church, not Brigham Young.

In the forged letter, dated January 27, 1865 and marked "private" and "not sent," Bullock chastises Brigham Young for having all copies of the blessing destroyed. Bullock writes that although he believes Young to be the legitimate leader of the LDS church, he would keep his copy of the blessing. Such a letter would unflatteringly portray Young and by extension the LDS church. Hofmann gave it to Hinckley as a "faithful Mormon," supposedly doing the church a favor. According to Hofmann, Hinckley filed the letter away in a safe in the First Presidency's offices.

The sale of these and other forgeries emboldened Hofmann, and confirmed his earlier conclusions about the LDS church. He thought that when LDS officials "covered up" what might be seen as embarrassing or contradictory documents which they apparently thought were genuine, they were lending credence to the stories.

Hofmann also concluded that since LDS officials were apparently fooled by his forgeries, they had no divine prophetic powers. Hofmann continued selling and trading fraudulent documents to the LDS church and to many other collectors and historians.

One significant Hofmann forgery arrived at the church via Brent F. Ashworth, an attorney and rare documents collector. The forgery was a letter complete with a 1828 Palmyra, New York postmark from Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith's mother. She describes her son's revelations and finding the Gold Plates, including the lost 116 pages of the Book of Lehi, a document that has been missing since 1828.

Hofmann sold it to Ashworth, and it was announced to the world in a August 23, 1982 joint press conference. In the conference Dean Jessee again asserted that a Hofmann forgery looked authentic, not only for Lucy Smith's handwriting, but also for the period postmark and correct postage.

On October 5, 1982, the LDS church and Ashworth announced another of Hofmann's documents: A supposed letter from Martin Harris to Walter Conrad, brother-in-law of Brigham Young. Ashworth felt that this letter, bought nine months earlier, bolstered the Church's move to subtitle the Book of Mormon "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

Hofmann sold the church a similar letter supposedly from David Whitmer, another of the three witnesses, for $10,000 shortly thereafter. Other purported letters sold in excess of $10,000 include a holograph referring to Joseph Smith treasure-seeking for silver (which some would consider embarrassing to the church) and the supposed 1830 contract between Smith and printer Egbert Bratt Grandin for the first edition of the Book of Mormon.

Hofmann's most famous Mormon history forgery emerged in 1984. An LDS Bishop, Steven F. Christensen, purchased the so-called Salamander Letter for $40,000 on January 6 after the LDS church and Brent Ashworth turned down more extravagant offers.

News of the document was contagious and soon Peggy Fletcher of Sunstone Magazine, and then Richard N. Ostling, the religion editor of Time Magazine, were calling about the letter. Containing elements of early anti-Mormon rumors, the Salamander Letter depicts Joseph Smith as a practitioner of folk magic, and relates an account of Smith's receiving the Golden Plates that is entirely different from the orthodox version.

In addition to documents from Mormon history, Hofmann also forged a number of other items, including works by Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln. He announced his final completed forgery, a copy of the long-vanished 17th century printed broadside Oath of a Freeman, in 1985.

The Oath, allegedly a printing from the press brought to America on the Mayflower, was a Pilgrim constitution, and would have been the oldest document printed in America. To be sold at over $1 million, the Oath was manufactured by Hofmann as an act of desperation. He even produced a second copy of the document of lesser technical quality. Authentication of these prints was underway as Hofmann committed his murders. They would contribute to his eventual discrediting.

Hofmann's murders

Despite the often considerable amounts of money he was making from document sales, Hofmann became embroiled in financial difficulties. In an effort to clear his debts, he attempted to put together a deal involving the sale of "the McLellin collection": an extensive and previously unknown collection of documents purportedly written by William McLellin, an early Mormon apostle who broke with the LDS church and actively worked against them.

Hofmann was unable to forge the entire collection quickly enough to meet his promises to his intended buyers; in a desperate effort to buy time he began planting bombs in Salt Lake City.

On October 15, 1985, the first bomb killed document collector Steven Christensen. Christensen was the son of prominent clothier Mac Christiansen, founder of the Utah-area Mr. Mac clothing stores. Later that same day a second bomb killed Kathy Sheets, the wife of Christensen's employer.

Police initially suspected that the bombings were related to the impendng collapse of a business which employed both Christensen and Gary Sheets (Kathy's husband). Hundreds of investors stood to loose sizable sums of money.

On October 16, 1985 Hofmann was severely wounded when one of his own bombs exploded in his car. Police suspicion quickly focused on Hofmann, though many others in the rare documents trade doubted that Hofmann was a killer. Some of Hofmann's peers went into hiding, afraid they might be victims of more bombs.

During the bombing investigation the police discovered incriminating evidence of the forgeries in the basement studio where Hofmann had created them. He was arrested for the murders and forgery in February, 1986.

He eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life in prison. He has twice attempted suicide in prison. There has been speculation about the intended target of the third bomb that injured Hofmann, but he has never discussed the issue.

Legacy in document collecting

During his career, Mark Hofmann fooled some very renowned people. Years after being found guilty of murder, his forgeries continued to cause headaches for collectors of historical documents. Among them was Daniel Lombardo, a curator for a library of material written by Emily Dickinson. In 1997, Lombardo purchased a "newly discovered" manuscript copy of an unpublished Dickinson poem from Sotheby's auction house for $24,000.

The document was later determined to be one of Hofmann's many fakes still in circulation. Lombardo remarked, "Hofmann was one of the most skilled forgers in this century. The lengths he went to fool all the experts were extraordinary."

Before Hofmann's criminal career was exposed, some of his "discoveries" were also presented to Kenneth Rendell, one of the top document experts in the United States and one of the men responsible for debunking the forged "Hitler Diaries".

Like others duped by Hofmann, Rendell, after initially dismissing the documents as forgeries, later pronounced them consistent with their claimed origin. Nearly all of Hofmann's documents have been determined to be forgeries, and there is now debate about whether any of them are legitimate, even those widely regarded as genuine.

Ironically, Hofmann forgeries are now collector's items themselves.


  • Sillitoe, Linda & Roberts, Allen (1989). Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders, 2nd. ed., Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 0941214877.

  • Turley, Richard E.. Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252018850.

  • Lindsey, Robert (1988). A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671651129.


Mark Hofmann

Mark William Hofmann, born Pearl Harbor Day, 7 December 1954, in Salt Lake City, Utah, became by age thirty one of the state's most notorious, complex, and successful criminals.

A double murderer, Hofmann is considered by forensic experts to be the best forger yet caught. He specialized in Mormon holographs and currency but also forged other Americana. Hofmann successfully duped manuscript experts nationwide, including those within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, and--a prime customer--the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The second of three children and only son of William and Lucille Hofmann, Mark Hofmann was raised in Salt Lake City and in Buena Park, California. He received an Eagle Scout award, filled a mission to England for the Mormon Church, attended Utah State University in Logan, and married Doralee Olds in 1979 in the Salt Lake Temple. He fathered four children, the last as an accused murderer.

On 16 October 1985 Hofmann was critically injured by an exploding pipe bomb in his sports car. He quickly became the suspect in two bombing murders the previous day which had killed Steven F. Christensen, thirty-one years old, and Kathleen Webb Sheets, fifty. Investigators learned that Hofmann and Christensen had been scheduled the morning of the murders to close the "sale" of the McLellin Collection, a purportedly controversial document collection that turned out to be non-existent.

Christensen was a facilitator in the snarled deal that involved top LDS Church authorities, one of whom had arranged an unsecured $185,000 bank loan for Hofmann. The loan was in arrears. A mission president in Nova Scotia had agreed to buy the collection as a favor to the Mormon church, keep it for a year or two, then donate it to the church for a hefty tax write-off. Church leaders had agreed to accept the collection, which was described by Hofmann as very inflammatory. Christensen, a history buff, wanted the papers studied by Mormon historians and had ensured his opportunity to see them by volunteering to authenticate the collection at the time of sale.

In fact, Hofmann had been selling various non-existent collections all year in a lucrative scam that was threatening to topple, leaving him pressed by irate creditors. Meanwhile, certain Mormon document forgeries, particularly the "white salamander letter" that Christensen had earlier bought, authenticated, and donated to the Mormon Church, had projected a revisionist view of history that stimulated historical review and attracted wide media attention. In the spring and summer of 1985, the LDS Church had endured a series of embarrassing document-related media stories, including news reports that an inflammatory collection was headed for secret church vaults.

Christensen, who had left a floundering investment company and was facing bankruptcy, resolved to enforce Hofmann's promises on the church's behalf even as church authority Elder Hugh Pinnock, who had arranged Hofmann's bank loan, offered to help Christensen survive his financial dilemma. When Christensen locked up a supposed piece of the McLellin Collection, which Hofmann was trying to sell separately, Hofmann began buying bomb parts.

About 6:30 A.M. on 15 October Hofmann placed the first bomb, packaged in a cardboard box, at the home of Gary Sheets, Christensen's former boss and company president. He then placed a similarly packaged bomb--this one laced with nails--outside Christensen's office door. Although Sheets's wife Kathleen was killed rather than her husband, Hofmann had successfully linked the bombing motive with the failing CFS Financial Corporation.

However, this diversion worked too well; that afternoon a church leader simply replaced Christensen in the McLellin deal and rescheduled the closing for the next day. Being of course unable to close the deal, Hofmann drove ninety miles to buy bomb parts under several aliases and returned to Salt Lake City with a third motion-sensitive bomb, which he dropped while stalking another victim. This he hoped would alarm church officials sufficiently to deter them from pursuing the McLellin Collection.

The murder investigation uncovered the forgery/fraud scheme. Forensic history was made in detecting Hofmann's method for chemically aging ink that was then applied to old paper. Following a five-week preliminary hearing, Hofmann was bound over for trial on thirty felonies, including two capital murders. Because he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of second degree murder and to discuss his crimes, the prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other charges, to accept a reduced sentence on the Sheets homicide, and to allow concurrent sentences. Thus, Hofmann was sentenced to serve one five-years-to-life sentence in the Utah State Penitentiary. Parole was indicated at seven years for someone with Hofmann's first-offender status. Hofmann rewarded the prosecutors with a four-hundred-page transcript on forgery but refused to discuss the murders.

In January 1988, one year after he entered prison, Hofmann attended a hearing before the Board of Pardons. When the board explored his thinking regarding the homicides, his responses convinced them to refuse to set a parole date. Shortly after the hearing, coded letters threatening the board were found in Hofmann's cell, and investigators learned that even before the hearing he had threatened their lives in conversations with other inmates. Following the hearing, Hofmann twice attempted to commit suicide, overdosing on drugs obtained from other inmates; however, in both August 1988 and August 1990 he was unsuccessful.

See: Linda Sillitoe and Allen D. Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (1988); and Richard E. Turley, Jr. Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (1992).

Linda Sillitoe


Dealer in Mormon fraud called a master forger

By Robert Lindsey - The New York Times

Wednesday, February 11, 1987

He was shy, tentative and sometimes spoke so softly that he was barely audible. A kind of scholarly country bumpkin, Mark W. Hofmann flew to New York from the hinterlands bearing precious documents unearthed from America's past, or so it seemed, and he fooled everyone.

On Jan. 23, Mr. Hofmann was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty here to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of theft by deception. Investigators say he had sold dozens of potentially embarrassing and supposedly historical documents to the Mormon Church and then, in October 1985, used homemade bombs to murder two people in an effort to prevent them from disclosing that the documents were forged.

According to criminal investigators here and court documents, the 32-year-old Mr. Hofmann fooled not only senior members of the Mormon hierarchy but also scores of document collectors around the country and virtually all of the nation's top forgery experts.

''Mark Hofmann was unquestionably the most skilled forger this country has ever seen,'' said Charles Hamilton, a New York document dealer who is widely regarded as the nation's pre-eminent detector of forged documents. He was the first to determine that the widely publicized ''Hitler Diaries'' of several years ago were fakes.

Mr. Hamilton said Mr. Hofmann ''perpetrated by far the largest monetary frauds through forgery that this country has ever had,'' adding, ''He fooled me - he fooled everybody.''

In fact, investigators said, one of the textbooks Mr. Hofmann used in pulling off an increasingly successful six-year trade in forged documents was a book written by Mr. Hamilton, ''Great Forgers and Famous Fakes.''

Since the Oct. 15, 1985, murders of Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, most attention has focused on Mr. Hofmann's transactions with senior officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church. Mr. Hamilton, who had examinined many of the documents involved in the case, had been prepared to testify for the prosecution in the case about his finding that they were forgeries.

Doubt Cast on Church History

According to investigators, the church leaders purchased from Mr. Hofmann and then hid in a vault a number of 19th-century letters and other documents that cast doubt on the church's official version of its history. In the view of some church leaders, the documents threatened to undermine the faith of Mormons, who make up one of the world's fastest-growing and most economically prosperous religious organizations.

The church maintains that it is God's only true church, based on a divine revelation to its founder, Joseph Smith, who was reared on a farm in upstate New York. He said that in 1823 the angel Moroni led him to a cache of golden plates containing a third volume of scripture, in addition to the New and Old Testaments, which Smith called the Book of Mormon and which contained teachings that differ widely from those of other Christian sects.

Not all the documents sold by Mr. Hofmann were kept secret by the church. Among the exceptions was a letter purportedly written by one of Smith's contemporaris, Martin Harris, that quoted the church's founder as saying, before making the claim he had been visited by an an angel, that a ''white salamander'' had actually led him to the golden plates.

Successful in New York

Among those fooled by Mr. Hofmann's documents were hundreds of specialists in Mormon history.

Referring to the white salamander letter, Ronald W. Walker, an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, said: ''This document still has every aspect of being historically accurate.'' As a group, the documents produced by Mr. Hofmann, he said, were ''extremely well crafted -they're pieces of art.''

Investigators have said that Mr. Hofmann was as successful in selling forged documents in New York as he was in Utah. They say he may have collected more than $2 million selling rare documents purportedly written or signed by such literary and historical figures as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jack London and Jim Bridger, the fur trader and mountain man who is believed to have been the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake.

Some Sold at Major Auctions

Detectives said they believed that some of the forged documents commanded high prices at major United States auction houses while others were sold directly to private collectors.

The Schiller-Wapner Gallery, a New York concern dealing in art and rare documents, acted as an intermediary between Mr. Hofmann and the Library of Congress in what nearly became the costliest transaction ever involving a historical document.

According to investigators, Mr. Hofmann contended in 1985 that he had found first one and then two copies of the ''Oath of a Free Man,'' a long-vanished broadside printed in 1639 that was drafted by members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to promote freedom of conscience. The document is regarded as a pivotal artifact in the evolution of democracy in America.

Experts at the National Archives, the investigators said, found no evidence that it was fraudulent and determined that it had the characteristics of a mid-17th-century document. Negotiations then began on acquiring the broadside for enshrinment at the National Archives in Washington near the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. $1.5 Million Asking Price However, the negotiations stalled after several months because the Library of Congress, blaming budget restrictions, was unable to meet Mr. Hofmann's asking price of $1.5 million.

Justin G. Schiller, part owner of the gallery, said in an interview that he was still convinced the document, which is in his possession, was genuine and that additional testing would confirm this. ''There has been no indication that the 'Oath of a Free Man' is fraudulent,'' he said, refusing to accept that Mr. Hofmann had deceived him.

The National Archives was not the only agency to give Mr. Hofmann's documents a clean bill of health.

After examining the white salamander letter, experts working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they could find no evidence that it was forged, a conclusion also made by Kenneth W. Rendell, a Newton, Mass., document dealer who is often ranked with Mr. Hamilton among the nation's leading detectors of forged documents.

Mr. Hofmann's prolific output of forgeries was finally uncovered by investigators for the Salt Lake City Police Department and District Attorney's office, helped by William Flynn, an Arizona state crime expert.

Among other things, the Salt Lake City investigators said they found that Mr. Hofmann had used a formula for ink first developed in the 16th century that used excretions of an oak tree as an ingredient.

A Telltale Sign Is Found

They also found that he had applied ammonium hydroxide to the documents to prevent the ink from running on paper. Such ''feathering'' is a telltale sign of many forgeries. The investigators also said the paper used in the forgeries had been taken from the fly-leaves or other blank pages from books of the time.

Mr. Hamilton, who examined dozens of Mr. Hofmann's forgeries as a consultant to prosecutors in the bombing case, said many of his techniques, such as the formula for the ink, were taken directly from his book about great forgers.

In hindsight, document experts said Mr. Hofmann succeeded not only because of his technical skills but also because of the personality he projected as an unassuming scholar of history.

''He was able to get away with it because nobody thought he was capable of it,'' Mr. Rendell said of Mr. Hofmann. ''He was shy; he was extremely tentative about the documents he brought you, saying he wasn't sure whether they were genuine or not. He just didn't seem like a guy who could pull off a hoax like this.''

'Absolute Confidence in Him'

Mr. Hamilton, who acknowledged that his authentication of one of Mr. Hofmann's first forgeries gave the dealer the credibility he needed to expand his business, agreed with Mr. Rendell.

''I had known Mark Hofmann for years,'' Mr. Hamilton said. ''He was mild-mannered, a serious scholar of high caliber dedicated to his work. When I first heard about the bombings, I knew it couldn't possibility be him.''

''When you know you're dealing with a devious mind, you can counterattack,'' he added. ''That's where I failed so miserably. I had absolute confidence in him.''

Concluding his assessment of Mr. Hofmann, Mr. Hamilton said: ''In a way, two murders are pedestrian crimes. But to fool me, to fool Ken Rendell, to fool the whole world, requires not only forgery but a packaging of himself. He packaged himself as a bespectacled, sweet, unobtrusive, hard-working, highly intelligent scholar dedicated to the uncovering of history. Now we know he's more than he appeared to be.''


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