Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mormon Murders Twenty-Five Years Later

By Sandra Tanner and Rocky Hulse

It has been twenty-five years since Mark Hofmann, a returned missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), forged numerous historical documents, blew up two innocent people with pipe bombs, and was given a plea bargain instead of going to trial.
Left to right: Mark Hofmann, 1st Counselor N. Eldon Tanner, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, 2nd Counselor Marion G. Romney, Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley. (Photo by Jed A. Clark)
Why would the prosecuting attorneys offer a plea bargain when Hofmann had been charged with thirty-two felony counts and two murders?[1] It becomes clearer if you understand the tremendous power the LDS Church has over the state of Utah. Placing Mark Hofmann on trial would have meant calling LDS Prophets and Apostles to the witness stand. These LDS Church Authorities had been utterly fooled by him into purchasing thousands of dollars worth of forged documents relating to early Mormon history.
Nothing in Mark Hofmann's past indicated a dark, sinister side. He was born and raised a Mormon and went on his two-year mission to southwest England, returning in 1976. Married in the Salt Lake LDS temple in 1979, outwardly Mark appeared to be a faithful Mormon. However, as he learned more about problems in early LDS history, he found an easy target to exploit in the LDS Church's desperate need for control of its history.
Since the beginning of Mormonism, founder Joseph Smith has been accused of fraud, deceit, folklore, magic and mysticism. In 1834 E. D. Howe published the first exposé of Mormonism titled Mormonism Unvailed, which contained a number of statements by the Smiths' neighbors, accusing them of deceit and seeking buried treasures through the use of magic.

One neighbor of the Smiths charged that he accompanied Joseph Smith, Jr., and his father, Joseph Smith, Sen., on a nocturnal treasure hunt where he was assured that they would find "two or three kegs of gold and silver, some feet under the surface of the earth." But after drawing two magic circles, lining one with a row of witch hazel sticks, driving a steel rod in the center, digging a five foot trench around the rod, an evil spirit "caused the money to sink." Joseph Smith, Sen., informed him that "we had made a mistake in the commencement of the operation; if it had not been for that, said he, we should have got the money."[2] The farmer went on to state: "When they [the Smiths] found that the people of this vicinity would no longer put any faith in their schemes for digging money, they then pretended to find a gold bible, of which, they said, the book of Mormon was only an introduction."[3]
Prior to telling his neighbors of the gold plates, Joseph Smith was arrested in 1826 on a misdemeanor charge relating to his money-digging. In Judge Albert Neeley's papers he described Smith as the "glass looker," referring to his use of a stone in his hat to discern the location of buried treasures. At the hearing, Joseph informed Judge Neeley that he had given up money-digging:
[Joseph Smith stated] he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; . . . that at Palmyra he pretended to tell, by looking at this stone, where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra he had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was, of various kinds; that he has occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes—made them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.[4]
Smith may have turned from his occupation of treasure digging but he continued to use his seer stone. When he first claimed to acquire the gold plates of the Book of Mormon he used the divinely prepared "Urim and Thummim," allegedly preserved with the plates, for the work of translating the unknown script. However, after the loss of the first 116 pages of transcription, he switched to using his money-digging stone to complete the work. Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer wrote:
I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing.[5]
                                                                  © 1999 Institute for Religious Research
From its beginning, the LDS Church has tried to distance itself from Joseph Smith's early magical practices and provide a legitimate explanation of its origins. For instance, official LDS artwork never depicts Smith translating with his head in his hat, staring at his seer stone. Instead, he is shown sitting at a table looking at the gold plates. Into this fertile ground of protecting church history at all costs, Mark Hofmann cultivated his forgery scheme to make money and make the LDS Church look foolish—he succeeded on both counts.
The Anthon Transcript
Hofmann's first big score was the "Anthon Transcript." Martin Harris, the financier of the first printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830, was skeptical at first of mortgaging his farm to pay for the printing without some proof of the Golden Bible. Joseph Smith would only let him heft the box that supposedly contained the "Golden Plates" from which the Book of Mormon was to be translated, but this wasn't enough to satisfy the wealthy farmer; he wanted confirmation. So, Joseph supposedly copied characters from the gold plates and Harris took them to New York City to have the scholars of the day validate the characters. The characters were not of any known language, Smith explained to Harris, but an unknown language called "Reformed Egyptian."

The Anthon Transcript in the Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.
Harris eventually found his way to Charles Anthon, a professor of Greek and Latin at Columbia College in New York. No one knows for sure what took place at this meeting but Harris came back declaring that Professor Anthon had identified the characters as Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac and Arabic.[6] When Professor Anthon later heard that the Mormons were saying he had validated the characters he wrote a blistering denial: "The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be 'reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics' is perfectly false."[7]
Although an early copy of the Anthon transcript has been preserved in the Community of Christ Library (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in Independence, Missouri, the original Anthon Transcript which Martin Harris had taken on his journey was believed lost. Professor Anthon had described it as a document with vertical columns of strange characters with a circle of characters at the bottom. Amazingly, Hofmann claimed to find the long-missing document in 1980.

                                                                Hofmann's Forged Anthon Transcript
In order to make this fraud seem more credible Hofmann took an old seventeenth-century Bible and glued his document between the pages. He then went to Utah State University in Logan, Utah, to ask Jeff Simmons, head of Special Collections, how to extract a document that appeared to be glued between two pages. When the pages were pried loose, they found what appeared to be the original copy of the Anthon Transcript. On May 3, 1980, the Deseret News ran an article on Hofmann's find, along with a picture of Mark standing next to the most senior LDS Church leaders studying his recently discovered (forged) "Anthon Transcript."[8] (See photo above.)
This incredible document put Mark Hofmann on the inside track with the leadership of the LDS Church. Mark fooled every senior LDS Church leader and struck a deal to exchange the document for items from the LDS Church archives "worth about $20,000."[9]
The Joseph Smith III Blessing
At the time of Joseph Smith's death in 1844, he had not designated a successor to lead the church. There had been talk that Smith had bestowed a blessing on his eleven-year-old son, Joseph Smith III, indicating that he was to be Smith's successor. But due to the son's age, the leaders bypassed him in favor of mature leadership. This led to competing claims between Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon. The December 15, 1844, issue of the Times and Seasons, the LDS newspaper, had an article denouncing Rigdon's claim of leadership.[10] Young soon won the favor of the majority of Saints and assumed leadership.
After the main body of Mormons left Illinois and moved west a number of those who stayed behind, who denounced polygamy and refused to follow Brigham Young's leadership, formed a new church. They called themselves the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.[11] They insisted that Joseph Smith's son should assume his rightful place as president of the church. Joseph Smith III was persuaded to assume leadership of the new church in 1860.
Thus began the long-running dispute regarding who was Joseph Smith's rightful successor, Brigham Young or Joseph Smith III, and which church was the true body of Joseph Smith's followers.
In 1891 the RLDS Church filed suit against the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), another splinter group, claiming title to the parcel of land in Independence, Missouri, that Joseph Smith had designated as the place for a future temple. During this trial the question of Smith's rightful successor was discussed. James Whitehead, Joseph Smith's personal secretary in Nauvoo, testified that "it was declared by Joseph Smith himself that the selection and ordination of his son Joseph as his successor in office had been made, and the people agreed to it, by a vote in the usual way, voting by the uplifted hand."[12] Joseph Smith III also testified that he remembered "being called in his [Joseph Smith's] office, or into a room adjoining his office, and receiving the laying on of hands, and a prophetic blessing or setting apart, whatever it may be called." He then related two more events where Joseph Smith laid hands on his head and appointed him to be his successor.[13]
                                                                                   Joseph Smith III
When Hofmann learned that a blessing had been given designating Joseph's son as his successor, but no copy remained, he set about to fill that void. In February of 1981 Hofmann mentioned to Michael Marquardt, a fellow researcher, that he had seen the original Smith blessing document. Authors Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts wrote:
The document, dated January 14, 1844, began, "Blessed of the Lord is my son Joseph, who is called the third . . ." Farther down, the key sentence read, "For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood; a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right." . . .
Looking for a buyer, Hofmann showed LDS church archivist Don Schmidt a photocopy of the blessing on February 16. Schmidt immediately recognized the importance and potential controversy but kept a poker face. "I'd have to see the original."[14]
Hofmann explained to Schmidt that "It came in a collection I purchased from the Bullock family in Coalville [Utah], from Allen Bullock to be specific."[15] When the LDS Church did not jump at the chance to buy it, Mark contacted the RLDS Church. Their historians expressed interest but needed time to make the arrangements. He promised them the document and agreed to wait until the church could make the purchase. However, he reneged on his promise and sold it to the LDS Church "for $20,000 in trade, again accepting various forms of early Mormon coins and currency."[16]
When Richard P. Howard, RLDS historian, heard that the document had been sold to the Utah church he was shocked. This created a public embarrassment when it became known that the two churches were struggling over who should own the document. Eventually the LDS Church agreed to turn over the blessing document to the RLDS Church in exchange for a copy of the rare 1833 Book of Commandments.
Hofmann's career was in full swing. "During the first few months of 1981, Mark Hofmann had made $52,000 in cash and trade on Mormon documents alone."[17] He continued to "find" more documents, many of which were sold to various collectors but not made public. In January of 1983 Mark met with Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the LDS First Presidency, to offer him a new find, an 1825 letter from Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell, the man who had hired Joseph to use his stone to search for buried treasures. In the letter Smith supposedly told Stowell ". . . since you cannot asertain any particulars you should not dig more untill you first discover if any valuables remain you know the treasure must be guarded by some clever spirit . . ." The letter would give support to the charge of Joseph Smith's involvement in the occult. Hinckley handed Mark a check for $15,000 for the document.[18] In March, Hofmann showed Hinckley another document, the supposed original 1829 contract between Joseph Smith, Martin Harris and E. B. Grandin, relating to the printing of the 1830 Book of Mormon. This in turn was purchased by Hinckley on behalf of the LDS Church for $25,000.[19] Unfortunately for all concerned, these documents would eventually be exposed as forgeries.
The Salamander Letter and Magic
In 1983 Mark Hofmann started telling a few friends that he had uncovered a letter, which was later known as the "Salamander Letter," supposedly written by Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris in 1830. Believing the whole translation of the Book of Mormon was steeped in mysticism and fraud, Hofmann invented a letter that played perfectly off of the claims of magic in E. D. Howe's 1834 book. When Mark read the Salamander Letter to Michael Marquardt, his reaction was that it sounded "more like a Grimms' fairy tale than a Sunday-school lesson: kettles of money guarded by spirits, seer stones, enchanted spells, magic 'spectacles,' ghostly visitations. And instead of a benevolent angel, a cantankerous and tricky 'old spirit' who transforms himself into a white salamander!"[20]
The Salamander Letter would challenge the religious framework of the beginning of Mormonism, casting it in the category of folk magic rather than divine revelation.
Hofmann, possibly worried that he was "finding" too many documents, asked his associate, Lyn Jacobs, to offer the document to the LDS Church in exchange for a gold coin minted by Brigham Young or a copy of the rare 1833 Book of Commandments. But Hinckley was leery of doing business with Jacobs, someone he had just met, and wasn't sure if Jacobs would keep the document and transaction a secret.[21]
In order to avoid directly involving the LDS Church in the procurement of this document (too much publicity), Hofmann worked a deal with a faithful LDS member, a wealthy businessman named Steve Christensen, to purchase the document for $40,000 to prevent it from falling into the "wrong hands." The idea was to allow time to lessen interest in the document and then Steve could donate it to the LDS Church.[22] Historians and researchers were hearing bits and pieces of the newly found letter and anxious to see the original. Little did the church realize that Mark was the deliberate leak on the news stories of his finds.
As soon as Jerald Tanner was able to get a typed transcript of the Salamander Letter he began researching the contents. He soon became concerned that it was a forgery; too many concepts and phrases seemed to be taken from E. D. Howe's book and a letter by Joseph Knight, a friend of Joseph Smith, recently made public in a BYU Studies article.[23]
In the March 1984 issue of his newsletter, the Salt Lake City Messenger, Jerald outlined his doubts. At the same time LDS historians were secretly researching
whether the salamander letter was consistent historically with its time and apparent circumstances. It led [Ronald] Walker, [Dean] Jessee and [Brent] Metcalfe down a road that for the most part had been taboo for Mormon scholars in the past, the study of Joseph Smith's involvement in the occult and money digging. During months of research, they found an abundance of material, ranging from court records of his trials in Bainbridge, New York, to obscure writings by early disciples. This information indicated that during the same period of time Smith claimed to have been led to a buried cache of gold plates by the angel Moroni, he was trying to make his living with claims of supernatural powers which enabled him to locate buried treasures of gold and silver with a seer stone and other superstitious occult practices.
Late in August [1984], almost eight hundred people gathered in a Salt Lake City hotel for the annual Sunstone Theological Symposium. Even before the conference formally opened, the hotel lobby was abuzz with speculation about the secret salamander letter and reports of another secret letter that purportedly linked Joseph Smith to folk magic. . . .
As the church history buffs filed into the meeting, Sandra Tanner stood in the lobby of the hotel handing out a pamphlet headlined, "The Money-Digging Letters," in which her husband expressed strong reservations about the Martin Harris letter.[24]
Jerald expanded his pamphlet questioning the authenticity of Hofmann's find in October of 1984 and reiterated his doubts in the January and June 1985 issues of the Salt Lake City Messenger. But Mark Hofmann had little to fear. Jerald Tanner's arguments, as an apostate Mormon, were not taken seriously.
Oath of a Freeman
By 1985 Hofmann had been busy creating a number of historical forgeries in addition to his documents relating to Mormonism. Many of these had been sold to private collectors, thus not making the news. In spite of all of his document sales Mark was in financial trouble. He was flying back and forth to New York City and other places, supposedly searching for antique documents, and spending money like there was no end to its source. He was also attempting to purchase a very expensive house in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Salt Lake City. Needing a document that would make him more financially secure, in March of 1985 he claimed to find a copy of the "Oath of a Freeman."[25]
                                                                  Mark Hofmann's forged "Oath of a Freeman"
Historically the Oath of a Freeman was thought to be the first document printed in America in 1647. Only one copy was known to exist, making a second copy worth at least one million dollars. When commenting on the unbelievable odds of Hofmann finding such a document by pure chance, after all the other documents he claimed to unearth, one police investigator commented:
"It was as if you had never heard of the Holy Grail. Then one Sunday you go to a garage sale and you find a little silver chalice or pewter cup and you say, 'Hey, far out!' So you pick it up. You also pick up an old Sotheby's catalog. Then on the way home, you're reading through the catalog and you find a notice to the effect that the Holy Grail was lost in whatever A.D. And basically it looks precisely like the item you just picked up. You say, 'Goddam! I just bought that this morning at the garage sale!' "[26]
But the Library of Congress was not quick to accept the authenticity of Hofmann's "Oath." They needed time to do research and tests on the document, time Mark did not have. Unable to wait for the sale of the "Oath of a Freeman," with mounting debts and creditors at his heals, Mark returned to forging Mormon documents.
The McLellin Collection
The McLellin Collection was the fraud that would finally bring Mark Hofmann down. William E. McLellin was ordained an LDS apostle in 1835 but was excommunicated in 1838, becoming an ardent critic of the church.
While retaining a belief in the Book of Mormon, McLellin felt Joseph Smith had brought false teachings into the church, such as priesthood and polygamy. Leaders in the LDS Church had long known that McLellin had letters and papers dealing with controversial issues of Joseph Smith's life. In 1879 the RLDS Church had printed a letter from McLellin to President Joseph Smith III, Joseph Smith's son, in their paper, The Saints' Herald, in which he insisted that Emma knew of her husband's adultery.[27] In 1878 Apostle Joseph F. Smith, who would later become the sixth president of the LDS Church, visited McLellin. This interview is recorded in the 1938 book, Life of Joseph F. Smith. At this meeting McLellin asserted: "Emma Smith [Joseph Smith's widow] told him [McLellin] that Joseph was both a polygamist and an adulterer, . . . He also said Joseph had given a false revelation in 1829, . . ."[28] Due to such accounts, rumor spread that his diaries and papers had been preserved and contained many incriminating documents that would embarrass the LDS Church. But no one seemed to know who owned the fabled collection. Until now.
A month after Hofmann reported finding the "Oath of a Freeman," word on the street was that the McLellin Collection had been located. In order for Mark Hofmann to get top dollar for the collection he had to say it included a laundry list of items. He told one friend it contained part of Joseph Smith's papyri,[29] others were informed that the McLellin Collection contained "Joseph Smith's revelations and letters—actually a good orange crate full of letters and documents—including six little diaries handwritten by McLellin from 1831 to 1836, one for each year."[30] However, Hofmann was unable to forge enough documents prior to the deadline for the sale. The price tag was set at $185,000 and he was simultaneously working several different people, as well as the LDS Church, in the scam.
With President Hinckley out of the country at the time, Hofmann had to look elsewhere for a buyer. He turned to his friend Steve Christensen, the purchaser of the Salamander Letter, and told him he needed $185,000 to acquire the McLellin Collection. Steve contacted Elder Hugh Pinnock, a senior member of the Quorum of Seventy (an LDS General Authority, just under the position of Apostle), who in turn, on June 28, 1985, made a phone call to First Interstate Bank and arranged the loan. Mark simply had to go pick up the check.[31] Evidently, such transactions had been done before. During the police investigation of the murders, Harvey Tanner, head loan officer at First Interstate Bank, told detectives that he "had been reassured that Hofmann was good for the money, the church was behind it, not to worry." He went on to state that "we had done business with Pinnock before, obtaining money for the church without the church being involved."[32]
Hofmann had also borrowed money from several other Mormons with promises of providing the McLellin Collection. Playing both ends against the middle, time was running out. Hofmann was under a great deal of pressure to meet his various obligations. Steve Christensen had entered the picture again as Mark was delinquent on his $185,000 loan arranged by Hugh Pinnock. "The Brethren" had elicited Steve's help to complete the McLellin transaction through a wealthy LDS Mission President in Nova Scotia, Canada.[33]
But Hofmann was becoming more and more desperate in the pressure cooker situation that he had created. Sensing the need to divert attention away from his mounting debts and his inability to produce the fictitious documents, Hofmann began to formulate a devious plan. If he could get Christensen out of the picture then he would not only be relieved of some immediate financial pressure but the ensuing drama of Christensen's death could refocus attention and buy him time to produce more documents.
The Bombings
On Tuesday October 15, 1985, two separate bombs took the lives of Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets. The bomb set for Steve Christensen, left at his office door in downtown Salt Lake City, was especially brutal, being filled with nails meant to shred its victim. Gary Sheets was the intended target for bomb number two; however, his wife, Kathy, found the package containing the bomb outside their home and became the victim of its deadly power. Mark Hofmann later commented: "At the time I made that bomb my thoughts were that it didn't matter if it was Mr. Sheets, a child, a dog."[34]
No one is sure who was the intended victim of bomb number three. Mark Hofmann was in downtown Salt Lake City in the process of delivering the bomb when it went off prematurely in his parked car. Severely injured, but not killed, Mark was initially thought to be another innocent victim; however, the investigation quickly shifted to him as the suspected bomber.
Mark Hofmann's car after a bomb exploded
on October 16, 1985.

                                                                    Photo by Tom Smart/Deseret News
Lying for the Lord
Shortly after the first bomb went off, Hofmann called Hugh Pinnock to inform him of Christensen's death and to assure Pinnock that he was still willing to go through with the McLellin deal and was arranging to pay off the bank loan. After the second bomb went off, Mark calmly met with LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks in his church office and informed him that the bombings must relate to failed business dealings of Christensen and Sheets and had no connection to Mark's documents. Later Pinnock and Oaks met with Gordon B. Hinckley to discuss how to proceed with the McLellin transaction.[35] The day after the explosion that injured Mark Hofmann, Elder Pinnock was interviewed about the crimes:
Police Detective Don Bell interviewed him at 1:12 in the afternoon on October 17, the day after the bomb exploded in Hofmann's car.
"Elder Pinnock, this is the deal," Bell began, notebook in hand. "This is a homicide investigation. Do you know Mr. Hofmann?"
Pinnock paused and reflected a moment. "No, I don't believe I do."[36]
When local news station KSL-TV, owned by the LDS Church, accurately reported that the LDS Church was involved in arranging document deals and illegal loans, the church leaders demanded a retraction. Reporter Jack Ford complained to his boss:
"The Church is upset because we [KSL-TV] said they helped arrange a loan. Well, they did! They say it was an individual, not the Church, but that's baloney. It may have been an individual who placed the call, but he was a Church official, sitting in his Church office, on Church time, using a Church phone, and he did it for the . . . benefit of the Church. Nobody else wanted that McLellin Collection except the Church. And the Nova Scotia mission president doesn't collect documents. He was just a big-bucks guy who said 'If you need help, I'll help you out.' If the Church says they weren't helping arrange any buyers for anything, how do you explain the fact that the Church volunteered to get an armored car to go down to Texas and pick the Collection up?"[37]
When LDS Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley was interviewed by County Prosecuting Attorneys Bob Stott and David Biggs about his multiple dealings with Mark Hofmann, he tried to hide his association with Mark:
Stott and Biggs shifted uneasily in their chairs. With all the time in between to recollect those meetings, he still couldn't remember a thing.
"Was he ever in your office?" Stott asked.
"Probably," said Hinckley.
"Probably!" thought Biggs. Now, he was even forgetting what he had admitted in the press conference. . . .
Surely he remembered the morning, only days before the bombings, when Hofmann came to tell him the Kinderhook plates "might be available for the right price"? He did remember the Kinderhook plates?
"I don't know a whole lot about them," Hinckley said dryly.
Biggs thought, This is Hinckley. He's telling us he doesn't know a whole lot about the Kinderhook plates. My God, even I have learned a little about them in this investigation. He has to know what they're about. . . .
Stott and Biggs pressed. Surely he knew that Steve Christensen had been called by Church officials at all hours of the night to go out and find Hofmann and get him to repay the First Interstate loan?
Hinckley shrugged his shoulders. . . . Hinckley could recall nothing. . . .
After another hour of evasions, memory lapses, and sermonettes, Biggs lost his patience. "President Hinckley. This has been in the news—people have died—isn't there any way we can get some information about your meetings with Hofmann?"[38]
The interview then focused on the upcoming preliminary hearing.
When Bob Stott finally worked up the courage to talk about Hinckley's testimony at the upcoming preliminary hearing, [LDS attorney] Wilford Kirton jumped in.
"President Hinckley doesn't wish to testify at the hearing. We think it would be in everyone's best interests to not have him testify."
Someone suggested that he would have to testify at trial.
"You don't understand," said Kirton imperiously. "President Hinckley does not wish to testify at the hearing, at the trial, at anything."[39]
Hinckley then explained to Stott:
"This isn't that significant, as it relates to Church matters," he said softly. "It's the Church that matters. You have to consider the Church first. I don't wish to testify." . . .
"I think it would be in the best interests of the Church," he added in the same mellow voice, "if you simply dismissed the charge."
Dismiss the charge? Biggs was aghast. It took them a moment to realize that he meant only that Stott should dismiss the charge on the Stowell letter, which would let Hinckley off the hook as far as testifying at the preliminary hearing. . . .
But Bob Stott wasn't ready to do that. "We are not going to drop the charge," he said after he regained his composure. But he did have a compromise suggestion. "If we can get the defense to stipulate as to your testimony, we won't have to call you."[40]
When comparing the notes of the investigators of Hofmann's crimes, there is no doubt that Gordon B. Hinckley was lying to them.
In Utah You Don't Embarrass the Mormon Church
In February of 1986 Mark Hofmann was arrested. The case against Hofmann was overwhelming. In addition to the two murders, he had forged dozens of documents and defrauded multiple people, including the LDS Church, of possibly two million dollars.[41] In January of 1987, he pled guilty to second-degree murder and theft-by-deception to avoid the death penalty. Everyone had been expecting a trial where he would be convicted of First Degree Murder and receive the death penalty for his despicable murders; yet he only received a life sentence, to be served at the Utah State Prison. The question on the streets of Salt Lake City was "Why?"
It was clear to everyone by now that Bob Stott [prosecuting attorney] was determined to avoid a trial no matter what. Said one policeman when the news of the bargain spread though the department like the smell of a gas leak, "Even if we had a confession, Stott would have given Yengich [Hofmann's attorney] anything he wanted.
Later, when a Los Angeles Times reporter flew to Salt Lake City to cover the breaking plea-bargain story, he told Dawn Tracy [Salt Lake Tribune reporter] that the most surprising aspect of the entire case was the attitude of the prosecution. "The typical prosecutor," the reporter said, "goes out and gets the bad guys. He goes out and stirs things up. Here, they're so nice and cooperative. What a nice plea bargain. In any other state, you'd see this thing go on trial, because that's how prosecutors' reputations are made. Going to trial and getting bad guys, big splashes, lots of exposure. Here you have a nice plea bargain."
"Hey," said Tracy, "You don't rise in this state embarrassing the Mormon Church or making them look bad."[42]
The handling of the Mark Hofmann case is an example of Mormonism's attitude toward truth: "faith before facts!"[43]
LDS Church Already Had the McLellin Diaries
In the aftermath of all the negative publicity and books exploring the Hofmann case and early LDS history, the LDS Church announced that its historians had "embarked on a massive study of the books and news articles in an attempt to assemble a master list of errors, misquotes and exaggerations. 'Our response to all the allegations made against the church will be made public in about 60 days,' [Richard P.] Lindsay said."[44] However, it would be another four years before Richard Turley's book, Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, would appear. While the book was seen as mainly a futile effort in damage control, there was one item of interest buried in the middle of the book. On page 248 of Turley's work he states that "March 1986 brought a startling discovery," and goes on to explain that at that time church officials became aware that they already had an important part of the McLellin collection. The McLellin journals for 1831 through 1836 had been gathering dust in the LDS First Presidency's vault. The church, in fact, had the documents since 1908, but not being catalogued, they had been pushed aside and forgotten.[45]
These journals were discovered before Hofmann's preliminary hearing and yet this information was not passed on to the investigators. Thus the church suppressed a key item that would have gone to proving that Mark did not have the McLellin collection, which would have helped to establish motive for the murders. Investigators certainly would have subpoenaed the McLellin journals if they had any idea that the church had them. Evidently the church leaders deliberately kept Hugh Pinnock in the dark about the journals so that when he was questioned during the preliminary hearing he could truthfully say, as far as he knew, the church did not have any part of the McLellin papers.[46] In order to keep Gordon B. Hinckley off the witness stand during the 1986 preliminary hearing, the church submitted a statement that Hinckley "has never seen nor possessed nor has any knowledge of the whereabouts of a document or a group of documents known as the McLellin Collection."[47] However, Hinckley, Oaks, Turley, Dean Larsen, Dean Jessee, Glenn Rowe and staff in the LDS Historical Department, all knew the church had the McLellin papers in the vault.[48]
Writer Robert Lindsey observed: "Whatever else they had done, Hofmann's documents had stimulated a burst of historical inquiry regarding Joseph Smith's youthful enthusiasm for magic and the occult and it did not wither after his conviction . . . 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."[49] Today Joseph Smith's involvement with the occult is generally conceded, even by LDS historians. Over the past twenty-five years numerous historical studies have been published, leaving Smith's occult involvement an unquestioned part of the story.[50]
Will He Ever Be Paroled?
Two months after thirty-three year old Mark Hofmann entered Utah State Prison two inmates reported to guards that Hofmann was planning on having several members of the Board of Pardons murdered. It was claimed that he was offering to pay at least $10,000 for the job. At first Hofmann insisted that the prisoners had invented the story to curry favor at the prison. However, a letter in code from Mark to his wife, Dori, was intercepted. Did this contain instructions for more murders? Investigator Michael George, of the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office, confronted Hofmann with the letter and demanded an explanation:
Yes, he finally conceded, he might have discussed with other inmates the possibility of killing members of the Board of Pardons. Then he admitted that he had done so, but quickly added it hadn't been his idea: Other inmates had proposed the idea to him.[51]
Without sufficient evidence to prove Mark had actively tried to hire someone to kill members of the Board of Pardons, no additional charges were made. With that, however, all hope of receiving a parole vanished like smoke in the wind.
Hofmann and the Mountain Meadows Massacre
Another Hofmann document has come to light this year. An article in the Deseret News for September 7, 2010, announced "For the past 27 years, historians have identified William Edwards as a participant in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. But forensic document examiners now say the 1924 affidavit that implicated Edwards is a forgery linked to convicted bomber Mark Hofmann."[52] The affidavit has been quoted in three books dealing with the massacre: Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Jr., and Glen M. Leonard; Blood of the Prophets by Will Bagley; and Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre by David L. Bigler and Will Bagley.
Can Documents be Trusted?
Hofmann's documents have led some people to dismiss any negative references relating to early Mormonism as possible forgeries. However, those writing on LDS history today are careful to reference documents with a known history. Most early letters and diaries relating to Mormonism have been acquired from known family members or have always been in the possession of a well-established institution. Usually a number of people have been aware of the documents for years. For instance, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, the Smith's neighbors, etc., made statements that were published during their lifetime. On the other hand, Mark Hofmann could not disclose who the previous owner had been or where the document had been stored. Since forensic document examiners are better prepared to test documents for authenticity today than they were twenty-five years ago, it would be very hard for another Hofmann-type forgery to succeed.
[1] Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts, Salamander: the Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), p. 361.
[2] E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834), pp. 238-239.
[3] Howe, Mormoism Unvailed, p. 239.
[4] "Mormonism," New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (New York, 1883), vol. 2, p. 1576, as quoted in Joseph Smith and Money Digging, Jerald and Sandra Tanner (Salt lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1970), p. 21.
[6] Joseph Smith, History of the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), vol. 1, p. 20.
[7] Letter by Charles Anthon, Feb. 17, 1834, as quoted in Mormonism Unvailed, pp. 270-272.
[8] "Utahn Finds 1828 Writing by Prophet," Church News, Deseret News (May 3, 1980): p. 3.
[9] Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The Mormon Murders (New York: St. Martins Press, 2005), p. 110.
[10] Amasa Lyman, "The Saints Scattered Abroad," Times and Seasons, vol. 5, pp. 740-742.
[11] Sometimes referred to as the RLDS Church, it is now known as the Community of Christ.
[12] The Temple Lot Case—"United States Circuit Court (8th Circuit) . . . The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, complainant, vs. the Church of Christ at Independence, Missouri . . . Complainant's abstract of pleading and evidence" (Lamoni, Iowa, 1893), p. 37, Utah Lighthouse Ministry photocopy.
[13] Ibid., pp. 40-41.
[14] Sillitoe and Roberts, Salamander, p. 247.
[15] Ibid., p. 248.
[16] Ibid., p. 249.
[17] Ibid., p. 251.
[18] Ibid., pp. 269-270.
[19] Ibid., pp. 270-271.
[20] Naifeh and Smith, Mormon Murders, p. 154.
[21] Ibid., p. 159.
[22] Ibid., p. 169.
[23] Dean Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," BYU Studies (Autumn 1976): pp. 29-39.
[24] Robert Lindsey, A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder and Deceit (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 135.
[25] Naifeh and Smith, Mormon Murders, pp. 196-199.
[26] Ibid., p. 198.
[27] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), p. 624.
[28] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1938), pp. 238-240.
[29] Sillitoe and Roberts, Salamander, pp. 340-341.
[30] Ibid., p. 342.
[31] Naifeh and Smith, Mormon Murders, pp. 225-228.
[32] Sillitoe and Roberts, Salamander, p. 43.
[33] Naifeh and Smith, Mormon Murders, p. 260.
[34] Sillitoe and Roberts, Salamander, p. 513.
[35] Naifeh and Smith, Mormon Murders, pp. 286-289.
[36] Ibid., pp. 300-301.

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  1. You are hateful people and who trusts anything the Tanner's say.

  2. It is truly you who I sense anger and hatred from.

    Do you want to construct a reasonable argument as to why anything in this post is incorrect? Or can we expect more of your enlightening posts?

    Seeing as hardly any of the footnotes are from the works of the Tanners - well infact one is, and it was a quotation from another source!

  3. Anon, you obviously don't know Sandra. There is not a hateful bone in her body. I find those who hide behind the cloak of anonymousness, only do so to make sweeping comments of those they are not intelligent enough to understand. Try reading up on this issue and then get back. John's comment was right on the money. _johnny

  4. what a load of crock, you both say that there is not a hateful bone in Tanner's bod anyone who is hateful towards mormons cannot follow God at all.

    All these sites are hateful towards mormon's, look at the way both the directors of MMMO deal with people Rocky and Helen attack people at every turn.

    They even attack non-mormons, look how they attack the NCVC and it's director Steve and Sharon and those two arnt even mormons.

  5. Ah, nothing speaks volumes more than someone being so coward, as to hide behind anonymous in order to do their name calling.

    It obvious you have nothing worth while to say nor did you take John or Johnny advice and read up on the issues in this article.

    Resorting to baseless statements about two different ministries is flat out disgraceful.

  6. I stand by my statements about Sandra Tanner. What you have to realize Anon is that our motivation is not hate driven. Being Mormon for many years, I served a mission and the decision to leave was not an easy one. Open your eyes and truly see Mormonism for what it is, and look closely at doctrine and history. Don't believe everything painted by LDS INC. Praying for you, whoever you are.


Rocky and Helen Hulse

Rocky and Helen Hulse
Defending Christianity From Mormon Doctrine