Murder Among the Mormons is a 2021 Netflix series about the Mark Hoffman bombings/murders that took place in October of 1985. He was a forger who specialized in fabricating Mormon historical documents for millions of dollars.
5 out of 10 stars. This jumps all over the place and interviews some really long-winded people. If the producers had just stuck to the story line and told it linearly, it would’ve been much better.
The Mormon Church
If you don’t know anything about Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) then here’s a little biography. In 1829, a man named Joseph Smith, who was basically the town idiot, claimed to have been visited by an angel named Moroni who told him where to find a set of golden tablets to transcribe. The tablets contained the history of Jesus in the Americas. It also laid the foundation for the principles of the LDS (Latter Day Saints) church, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City. Mormons are extremely patriarchal, even more so than Catholics. The man is the head of the family and the wife is supposed to obey him. Devout Mormons get married in one of the LDS temples around the world, usually in the Salt Lake City, Utah temple (because of tradition) or the Washington, D.C. temple (because it’s gorgeous). If you’ve never been inside a temple, you’re not alone. Even Mormons are rarely allowed inside. You have to complete a series of interviews with Church officials and receive a temple recommend to be able to enter the temple at all (visitor centers don’t count). Inside the temple, everything is plated in real gold, which gives you an idea of the accumulated wealth and power of the LDS church. Temples are used primarily for temple marriages and baptisms for the dead. Temple marriages are sealed by the church and you receive temple garments (like short long johns) which you wear next to your skin under your clothes for the rest of your life. Baptisms for the dead are when young Mormons go to the temple and are baptized for those souls who died before they could enter the church. Supposedly the apostles of the church (these are the guys currently living) receive lists of souls who wish to be baptized but lack a human body, so Mormon teenagers flock to the temples to be baptized for the dead. One teenager is usually baptized for 15 souls. Then they’re onto the next one. Baptisms in the Mormon church don’t occur until a child is 8 years old. So what happens to babies who die before they reach 8? They’re damned according to the Mormon church, and can’t go to heaven, so eventually they make it onto one of those lists for baptisms of the dead. Mormons don’t drink, smoke, or have caffeine (although some Mormons will eat chocolate which has a negligible amount of caffeine). Mormons don’t just go to church on Sunday, they go to church three times on Sunday and three additional times throughout the week. They live and breathe the church, form ALL of their relationships through the church (doctor, dentist, banker, car mechanic, everything). They are a tight-knit community. They are also a cult. If you try to leave they will hound you. ALLSTATE INSURANCE is owned by Mormons and is one of the ways that Mormons will find you and hound you to come back to the church if you try to leave. They will stalk your kids, your parents, your grandparents, your coworkers, and your friends. Believe it. Everything in the South Park Mormon episode is actually true.
Now back to Joseph Smith. He was a con man, a drunk, a braggart, and a liar in his day. When he finally sunk to the bottom and couldn’t get work, he came up with the golden plates gig. He approached Martin Harris to help him publish the Book of Mormon. Martin’s wife Lucy said why has he not shown you the plates? Why is he telling you what to write instead of showing you? So Martin intentionally “lost” part of the manuscript for the Book of Mormon to force Joseph Smith to produce the golden plates. He didn’t. Instead he said God was sending him a new Book of Mormon since Martin had failed his faith. It may be entertaining to hear this, but there are millions of people around the world who believe it. And they also believe babies who died before 8 are going straight to hell. They also believe anyone with dark skin color is cursed by God. They didn’t allow anyone of color to hold the priesthood until like the 1990s. They arrange marriages of old men to children who are 12 to 14. And in many places in Utah they still have multiple wives because they ignore the wives over 18 years old. While the Catholic church has received so much negative press over all the pedophiles, why was no one looking at the Mormon church where pedophilia is the norm? Where else can an old ugly white man make his wife think he’s special? Child brides.
Onto Mark Hoffman. Mark Hoffman was raised in a devout Mormon home. He married his wife Dorie in the Salt Lake City, Utah temple where they lived and immediately began “finding” rare Mormon historical documents. Anyone with any common sense should have seen that Hoffman was obviously fabricating these documents. But no one knew how.
On December 27, 1983, Mark Hoffman claimed to have found the Salamander Letter. This was a letter supposedly written by Martin Harris claiming that Joseph Smith was actually led to the gold plates not by the angel Moroni but by a white salamander. Steve Christiansen, a Mormon who collected historical documents and books for the church, purchased it for $40,000. In 1983, $40K was a lot of money. This was before the age of billionaires. The church viewed this as sacrilegious because it made Joseph Smith look like a sorcerer or witch. So the head of the church claimed the Salamander Letter was probably forged in the years Joseph Smith was alive in order to defame the church. The letter was suddenly worthless, but Hoffman had his money.
In the fall of 1985, Hoffman claimed to have found the McLellin Collection, five diaries written from 1831 to 1838 by Joseph Smith’s wife claiming that Joseph never met Moroni. His older brother did. Around the same time Hoffman also claimed to have found the Anthon Transcript, a document written by Joseph Smith in the same script as the letters on the gold tablets. (These are said to look like reformed Egyptian, but they actually look more like Angelic Script, first described by Sir Henry Cornelius Agrippa in 1531 in Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy.)
So when the bombings occurred, Hoffman was brokering two deals, the McLellin Collection and the Anthon Transcript, for more than a million dollars. That’s a lot of money. Even so, Hoffman was heavily in debt. He’d been burning through the money he made and was earning it slower than he was spending it. In desperation, he decided to kill the prospective buyers who were pressuring him to produce them.
On October 15, 1985 at around 8:28 am, a bomb went off in the Judge Building of downtown Salt Lake City killing Steve Christensen. Several people saw a man fitting Hoffman’s description wearing a high school jacket just like Hoffman’s placing a paper package in front of Christensen’s office before the bomb went off. It was a pipe bomb wrapped in nails that tore right through Christensen’s abdomen, basically gutting him.
About an hour later at 9:28 am, a second bomb went off at 4630 Naniloa Drive in Holladay at the home of Gary Sheets. His wife Kathy was killed.
Both Christensen and Sheets were directly involved in financing the sale of the Salamander Letter.
At 2 pm, a bomb under Mark Hoffman’s car, a blue Toyota MR2, blew up, sending him to the hospital. He survived.
By now police saw a pattern and began warning everyone involved in the sale of either of these items, to please leave the city. In Hoffman’s trunk were several historical documents that mysteriously disappeared.
The police put Homicide Prosecutor Gerry D’Elia in charge of the case and he immediately ruffles feathers by bringing in Hoffman for questioning. Even though Hoffman passed the polygraph test with flying colors (+14 which is unheard of) and most of his historical documents had passed the cyclotron test for aging, he was still D’Elia’s number one suspect. D’Elia obviously had excellent instincts. He conducts a search of Hoffman’s home and finds a locked study that Dorie wasn’t allowed to go into. (Queue serial killer music.) In there is a receipt for Cox Clark Engraving under the name Mark Hansen. That ends up sealing Hoffman’s fate. When they question Cox Clark Engraving, they discover that Hansen is Hoffman’s alias and the receipt was for plates to create fake document seals for the Deseret Book Company. Deseret Book Company is a bookstore chain where Mormons get their books, bibles, and temple garments.
D’Elia hires George Throckmorton to figure out how Hoffman faked the historical documents he’s been selling. And he does. He discovers that Hoffman’s historical documents have ink cracking whereas no other historical documents of that time have this. That alone proves they are fake. After learning of Cox Clark Engraving, they search the other local engravers and discover Hoffman had been using Utah Engraving and DeBouzek Printing to make other plates including the Oath of the Freeman plate. When he paid for the Oath of the Freeman plate, he paid cash but was short $2. He wrote a check as Mark Hoffman on Hoffman’s personal account. So now the police had tied Hoffman to the plates to the fakes to the alias Mark Hansen. The Oath of a Freeman was the first historical document Hoffman sold to the church. It sold for $1.5 million in 1984.
Hoffman was immediately arrested and upon seeing the evidence, confessed. In exchange for a full confession, the death penalty was waived and he described in great detail exactly how he fabricated all of these documents. He started faking historical collectibles at the age of 14 while a Boy Scout. He loved the power that lying gave him over other people, so he made it his career. When he came up with the Salamander Letter (completely fictional), it was because in the future he was going to use it as a basis for comparison of Martin Harris’s signature. That future fake was going to be the 116 missing pages from the original Book of Mormon, worth an estimated $10 million.
The day before the bombings, Christensen had given Hoffman an ultimatum: hand over the McLellin Collection or he was going to have him arrested and exposed as a liar. Apparently Christensen had come to believe Hoffman had lied about the Collection and never had it.
Hoffman claims that the third bomb was meant for himself to commit suicide, but it is generally accepted that this is a lie. The third bomb was meant for Brent Ashworth. He had met with Hoffman the same time every week, but that day his wife made him stay home. That meant the pipe bomb was in Hoffman’s car for a lot longer than it should have been and it inadvertently went off.
Hoffman’s Forging Techniques
Here are a few of the techniques Hoffman used:
- Historical documents have ink naturally degrade into the paper. It literally sinks through the paper and is called FOXING. To simulate this, Hoffman pulled the ink thru the paper using a metal mesh and vacuum.
- Historical documents naturally degrade over the years due to OXIDATION, that is the natural exposure from the earth’s atmosphere including low level radiation. To simulate this, Hoffman created ozone in an aquarium and held the document in there for a certain amount of time which aged the document making it appear much older than it was.
- He used ink made of tannic acid, ferric sulfate, and gum arabic which simulated the ink used at the time.
In addition to the techniques above, Hoffman had built a simple skin resistance test machine (polygraph machine) when he was 14 so he could learn to pass a polygraph test.
Hoffman’s confession was completely remorseless. By his own admission, the second bomb which killed Kathy Sheets was a diversion and should have been rigged to not go off. But he didn’t care. One more life meant nothing to him. He got life in prison and when he was denied parole, he ordered hits on the Parole Board and George Throckmorton, the man who proved him a fake.
Hoffman’s wife divorced him. Hoffman responded by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, but survived.
5 out of 10 stars. There’s a lot of information in this series, but a great deal of it I had to look up myself because they did such a sloppy job of the first few episodes.