Murder Among the Mormons is a docuseries on Netflix that dives into the 1985 Salt Lake City bombings that targeted the Mormon community. This event is not widely known, somewhat purposely as the Mormon community themselves do not like to talk about it. Perhaps it is because of how tragic of a story it is, but it may also have to do with how the motive is tied to the religion itself.
Mormonism began just 150 years ago by a man named Joseph Smith. Because the religion was so new, artifacts were not exactly plentiful. So in the 1970s, Leonard Arrington, a Mormon church historian, started an initiative to collect all documents related to the church. This meant the document dealers took a sudden interest in this Mormon market. One document dealer in particular, Mark Hofmann, made a name for himself in the documentation dealing business first with Mormon documents and later expanded his business to other historic letters.
In 1980, Hofmann claimed to have found a letter from Joseph Smith himself tucked into an old Bible. Shortly after this shocking discovery, Hofmann found what is now known as The Salamander Letter which questioned the entire foundations of the church. Hofmann continued to find rare, unusual artifacts pertaining to the Mormon church. Then, in 1985, Hofmann made his most outrageous claim that he had a collection of documents, known as the McLellin Collection, that included a letter from Emma Hale Smith, Joseph Smith’s wife, that cast even more doubt on the beginnings of the Mormon church. The Mormon church along with an authenticator named Steven Christensen were prepared to give Hofmann $300,000 for the documents. The deal never went through, however, as Hofmann did not forge the documents fast enough.
After public scrutiny of Hofmann’s inability to produce the collection, he turned to dire and deadly measures in an attempt to get himself out of the mess he made. On October 15, 1985, a pipe bomb went off inside an office building called the Judge building in Salt Lake City, UT, killing Steven Christensen. An hour later, another pipe bomb went off in the home of Christensen’s former associate, Gary Sheets. Sheets was not home, but his wife Kathy was. She was killed in the explosion. The next day, a third pipe bomb went off in Hofmann’s car with him and the so-called “McLellin Collection” inside of it. Hofmann survived the bombing.
Document dealers were interviewed as potential suspects, but it wasn’t long until a fellow artifacts dealer identified Hofmann as the man who dropped off the package at the Judge building on the day of the bombings. The FBI began investigating the documents that Hofmann was selling, starting with the Salamander Letter. One hundred hours of scrupulous investigation determined that the Salamander Letter was forged by Hofmann. Subsequently, investigators found that Hofmann had forged documents that cost buyers over a half of a million dollars.
Hofmann was arrested in February 1986 and was found guilty on two accounts of second-degree murder and two counts of theft by deception. Hofmann was interviewed from jail, and he admitted to forging the documents and committing the bombings to cover it up. Additionally, Hofmann confirmed that the third bomb set off in his car was an attempt to take his own life.
While the forged documents have been removed from circulation in the Mormon faith, Mark Hofmann has made irreparable damage in the Mormon faith. He is currently serving a life sentence in Utah.