Mark Hofmann
Mark William Hofmann is an American counterfeiter, forger
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

 and convicted murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

er. 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
Latter Day Saint movement
The Latter Day Saint movement is a group of independent churches tracing their origin to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in the late 1820s. Collectively, these churches have over 14 million members...

. When Hofmann's schemes began to unravel, he constructed bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s to murder two people in Salt Lake City, Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

. As of 2011, he is serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison
Utah State Prison
Utah State Prison, or USP, is one of two prisons managed by the Utah Department of Corrections' Division of Institutional Operations. It is located in Draper, Utah, United States, about 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.-History:...

 in Draper
Draper, Utah
Draper is a city in Salt Lake and Utah Counties in the U.S. state of Utah, located about south of Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front. Between 1990 and 2000 Draper was Utah's fastest-growing city over 5,000 people . Its population in 1990 was 7,143 and had grown to 25,220 by the 2000 census...


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. He and his friends were said to have made bombs for fun on the outskirts of Murray, Utah
Murray, Utah
Murray is a city situated on the Wasatch Front in the core of Salt Lake Valley in the U.S. state of Utah. Named for territorial governor Eli Murray, it is the state's fourteenth largest city. According to the 2010 census, Murray has approximately 46,746 residents.Murray is close to Salt Lake City,...

. According to Hofmann, while still a teenage coin collector, he forged a rare mint mark
Mint mark
A mint mark is an inscription on a coin indicating the mint where the coin was produced.-History:Mint marks were first developed to locate a problem. If a coin was underweight, or overweight, the mint mark would immediately tell where the coin was minted, and the problem could be located and fixed...

 on a dime
Dime (United States coin)
The dime is a coin 10 cents, one tenth of a United States dollar, labeled formally as "one dime". The denomination was first authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. The dime is the smallest in diameter and is the thinnest of all U.S...

 and was told by an organization of coin collectors that it was genuine.

Like many young men in the LDS church, Hofmann volunteered to spend two years as an LDS missionary
Mormon missionary
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work, with over 52,000 full-time missionaries worldwide, as of the end of 2010...

, and in 1973 the Church sent him to the England Southwest Mission, where he was based in Bristol. Hofmann told his parents that he had baptized several converts; he did not tell them that he had also perused Fawn Brodie's biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. While in England Hofmann also enjoyed investigating bookshops and buying early mormon material as well as books critiquing mormonism. Hofmann later told prosecutors that he had lost his faith in the LDS Church when he was about fourteen, and a former girlfriend believed he performed his mission only because of social pressure and the desire not to disappoint his parents.

After Hofmann returned from his mission, he enrolled as a pre-med major at Utah State University
Utah State University
Utah State University is a public university located in Logan, Utah. It is a land-grant and space-grant institution and is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities....

. In 1979, he married Doralee Olds, and the couple eventually had four children. Dorie Olds Hofmann 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 forgery

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
Charles Anthon
Charles Anthon was an American classical scholar.-Life:After graduating with honors at Columbia College in 1815, he began the study of law, and in 1819 was admitted to the bar, but never practiced...

, a Columbia
Columbia College of Columbia University
Columbia College is the oldest undergraduate college at Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It was founded in 1754 by the Church of England as King's College, receiving a Royal Charter from King George II...

Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 professor, in 1828. According to the Mormon scripture Joseph Smith—History, the transcript and its unusual "reformed Egyptian
Reformed Egyptian
According to the Book of Mormon, that scripture of the Latter Day Saint movement was originally written in reformed Egyptian characters on plates of "ore" by prophets living in the Western Hemisphere from perhaps as early as 2600 BC until as late as AD 421. Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the...

" characters were copied by Smith from the Golden Plates
Golden Plates
According to Latter Day Saint belief, the golden plates are the source from which Joseph Smith, Jr. translated the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the faith...

 from which he translated the Book of Mormon
Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2600 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr...


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
The Joseph Smith Papers
The Joseph Smith Papers is a project researching, collecting, and publishing all manuscripts and documents created by, or under the direction of, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. The documents will be published with transcriptions and annotations online and in...

 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
A holograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of the person whose signature it bears. Some countries or local jurisdictions within certain countries give legal standing to specific types of holographic documents, generally waiving requirements that they be witnessed...

. The LDS Church announced the discovery of the Anthon Transcript
Anthon Transcript
The Anthon Transcript is a small piece of paper on which Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote several lines of characters. According to Smith, these characters were from the Golden Plates and represent the Reformed Egyptian writing that was on the plates...

 in April and purchased it from Hofmann for more than USD
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

$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
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 Mormon coin, Deseret
State of Deseret
The State of Deseret was a proposed state of the United States, propositioned in 1849 by Latter-day Saint settlers in Salt Lake City. The provisional state existed for slightly over two years and was never recognized by the United States government...

 banknotes, and a first edition of the Book of Mormon. Assuming the document to be genuine, prominent Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley
Hugh Nibley
Hugh Winder Nibley was an American author, Mormon apologist, and professor at Brigham Young University...

 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
Barry Fell
Barry Fell was a professor of invertebrate zoology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. His primary research was on starfish and sea urchins...

 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
Latter Day Saint movement
The Latter Day Saint movement is a group of independent churches tracing their origin to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in the late 1820s. Collectively, these churches have over 14 million members...

. These deceived not only members of the First Presidency
First Presidency
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the First Presidency was the highest governing body in the Latter Day Saint church established by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1832, and is the highest governing body of several modern Latter Day Saint denominations...

 — notably Gordon B. Hinckley
Gordon B. Hinckley
Gordon Bitner Hinckley was an American religious leader and author who served as the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from March 12, 1995 until his death...

 — but also document experts and distinguished historians. According to Richard and Joan Ostling
Richard and Joan Ostling
Richard Ostling is an American author and journalist living in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He and his wife, the late Joan K. Ostling, are the co-authors of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. They have two children, Margaret and Elizabeth. Elizabeth plays flute in the Boston Symphony...

, 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, Jr., the Mormon prophet, had designated his son Joseph Smith III
Joseph Smith III
Joseph Smith III was the eldest surviving son of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and Emma Hale Smith...

, rather than Brigham Young
Brigham Young
Brigham Young was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877, he founded Salt Lake City, and he served as the first governor of the Utah...

, as his successor. In a forged cover letter, purportedly written by Thomas Bullock
Thomas Bullock (Mormon)
Thomas Bullock was a Mormon pioneer and a clerk in the Church Historian's Office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Bullock was born in Leek, Staffordshire, England...

 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 February 1981, Hofmann tried to sell the letter to the chief archivist of the LDS 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 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 also ensured that the document would be made public. The next day a New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

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
Salamander Letter
The Salamander Letter was a document created by Mark Hofmann in the early 1980s.The letter was one of hundreds of documents concerning the history of Latter Day Saint movement that surfaced in the early 1980s...

, 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 intimate that Joseph Smith had been practicing "money digging" through magical practices, but it also replaced the angel that Smith said had appeared to him with a white salamander.

After the letter had been purchased for the church and become 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
Salamander (legendary creature)
The salamander is an amphibian of the order Urodela. As with many real creatures, pre-modern authors often ascribed fantastic qualities to it , and in recent times some have come to identify a legendary salamander as a distinct concept from the real organism. This idea is most highly developed in...

, 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
Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Jerald Dee Tanner was an American writer and researcher who, with his wife Sandra McGee Tanner spent nearly fifty years annotating and publishing archival and evidential materials which, the Tanners claim, accurately portrayed the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...

, 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
Kenneth W. Rendell
Kenneth W. Rendell is an American dealer and expert in historical letters, manuscripts, and documents. He is president of Kenneth W. Rendell, Inc., in South Natick, Massachusetts, and the Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery in New York City. Rendell is also founder of the Museum of World War II in...

 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
Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy Mack Smith was the mother of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. She is most noted for writing an award-winning memoir: Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations. She was an important leader of the movement during...

, describing the origin of the Book of Mormon; a letter each from Martin Harris and David Whitmer
David Whitmer
David Whitmer was an early adherent of the Latter Day Saint movement who eventually became the most interviewed of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon's Golden Plates.-Early life:...

, two of the Three Witnesses
Three Witnesses
The Three Witnesses were a group of three early leaders of the Latter Day Saint movement who signed a statement in 1830 saying that an angel had shown them the golden plates from which Joseph Smith, Jr. translated the Book of Mormon and that they had heard God's voice testifying that the book had...

, each giving a personal account of their visions; a contract between Smith and Egbert Bratt Grandin
Egbert Bratt Grandin
Egbert Bratt Grandin was a printer in Palmyra, New York, known for publishing the first edition of the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the churches of the Latter Day Saint movement.-Biography:...

 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
Oliver Cowdery
Oliver H. P. Cowdery was, with Joseph Smith, Jr., an important participant in the formative period of the Latter Day Saint movement between 1829 and 1836, becoming one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon's golden plates, one of the first Latter Day Saint apostles, and the Second Elder of...


In 1983, Hofmann bypassed the Historical Department and sold to Gordon B. Hinckley
Gordon B. Hinckley
Gordon Bitner Hinckley was an American religious leader and author who served as the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from March 12, 1995 until his death...

, a member of the First Presidency
First Presidency
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the First Presidency was the highest governing body in the Latter Day Saint church established by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1832, and is the highest governing body of several modern Latter Day Saint denominations...

 and the de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

head of the Church, an 1825 Joseph Smith holograph
A holograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of the person whose signature it bears. Some countries or local jurisdictions within certain countries give legal standing to specific types of holographic documents, generally waiving requirements that they be witnessed...

 purporting to confirm that Smith had been treasure hunting and practicing black magic five years after his First Vision
First Vision
The First Vision refers to a vision that Joseph Smith, Jr. said he received as a youth in a wooded area in Manchester, New York, which his followers call the Sacred Grove. Smith described it as a personal theophany in which he received a forgiveness of sins...

. Hofmann had the signature authenticated by Charles Hamilton, the contemporary "dean of American autograph dealers," sold the letter to the Church for $15,000, and gave his word that no one else had a copy. 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
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

, Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman whose frontier exploits mad']'e him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which was then beyond the western borders of...

, John Brown
John Brown (abolitionist)
John Brown was an American revolutionary abolitionist, who in the 1850s advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to abolish slavery in the United States. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre during which five men were killed, in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas, and made his name in the...

, Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

, Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale was a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City but was captured by the British...

, John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

, Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".-Life:...

, Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

, Paul Revere
Paul Revere
Paul Revere was an American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting Colonial militia of approaching British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride...

, Myles Standish
Myles Standish
Myles Standish was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for Plymouth Colony. One of the Mayflower passengers, Standish played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony from its inception...

, and Button Gwinnett
Button Gwinnett
Button Gwinnett was an English-born American political leader who, as a representative of Georgia to the Continental Congress, was the second of the signatories on the United States Declaration of Independence...

, whose signature was the rarest, and therefore the most valuable, of any signer of the Declaration of Independence
Declaration of independence
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

. He also forged a previously unknown poem in the hand of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life...

. 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
Oath of a Freeman
Oath of a Freeman was a loyalty oath drawn up by the Pilgrims during the early 17th century. A freeman was an 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.The oath was first written in...

. The one-page Oath had been printed in 1639, the first document to be printed in Britain's American colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

; 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
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...



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
Apostle (Mormonism)
In the Latter Day Saint movement, an Apostle is a "special witness of the name of Jesus Christ who is sent to teach the principles of salvation to others." In many Latter Day Saint churches, an Apostle is a priesthood office of high authority within the church hierarchy. In many churches, apostles...

 who eventually broke with the LDS church. Hofmann hinted that the McLellin collection would provide 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, Mac Christensen
Mac Christensen
Mac Christensen is the founder of the Salt Lake City based clothing retailer "Mr. Mac". He also currently serves as the president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.- Biography :...

. 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 made two significant errors in his Oath, creating a version impossible to have been set in type.)

Document examiner George Throckmorton analyzed several Hofmann documents that had previously been deemed authentic and determined they were forgeries. Throckmorton noted that three letters purportedly written by Joseph Smith from an Illinois prison used different ink, paper, and writing instruments. (Because the letters had been authenticated by different experts, the inconsistencies had earlier escaped detection.) Throckmorton also discovered that some documents, supposedly written by different people, had similar writing styles and that they had been written with homemade iron gall ink that looked cracked like alligator skin under a microscope, although authentic period documents did not. Investigators also found that a poem used to authenticate the handwriting in the salamander letter had been forged by Hofmann and inserted in a Book of Common Prayer
Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, "Anglican realignment" and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 , in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English...

 once owned by Martin Harris.

Hofmann was arrested for murder and forgery in February 1986. He initially maintained his innocence; but rather than risk the death penalty, in January 1987, he plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of theft by deception, 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
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 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 deceived a number of renowned document experts during his short career. Some of his forgeries were accepted by scholars for years, and an unknown number of them 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." A student of Mormonism, Jan Shipps
Jan Shipps
Jo Ann Barnett "Jan" Shipps is an American historian specializing in Mormon History, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century to the present. Shipps is generally regarded as the foremost non-Mormon scholar of the Latter Day Saint movement, having given particular attention to The...

, 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
Robert Lindsey (journalist)
Robert Lindsey is a journalist and author of several true crime books, including The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage , the story of Christopher John Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, who were both convicted of selling information to the Soviets...

 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 fan."

External links

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