Mark William Hofmann, born Pearl Harbor Day, 7 December 1954, in Salt Lake City, Utah, became by age thirty one of the state's most notorious, complex, and successful criminals.
A double murderer, Hofmann is considered by forensic experts to be the best forger yet caught. He specialized in Mormon holographs and currency but also forged other Americana. Hofmann successfully duped manuscript experts nationwide, including those within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, and--a prime customer--the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The second of three children and only son of William and Lucille Hofmann, Mark Hofmann was raised in Salt Lake City and in Buena Park, California. He received an Eagle Scout award, filled a mission to England for the Mormon Church, attended Utah State University in Logan, and married Doralee Olds in 1979 in the Salt Lake Temple. He fathered four children, the last as an accused murderer.
On 16 October 1985 Hofmann was critically injured by an exploding pipe bomb in his sports car. He quickly became the suspect in two bombing murders the previous day which had killed Steven F. Christensen, thirty-one years old, and Kathleen Webb Sheets, fifty. Investigators learned that Hofmann and Christensen had been scheduled the morning of the murders to close the "sale" of the McLellin Collection, a purportedly controversial document collection that turned out to be non-existent.
Christensen was a facilitator in the snarled deal that involved top LDS Church authorities, one of whom had arranged an unsecured $185,000 bank loan for Hofmann. The loan was in arrears. A mission president in Nova Scotia had agreed to buy the collection as a favor to the Mormon church, keep it for a year or two, then donate it to the church for a hefty tax write-off. Church leaders had agreed to accept the collection, which was described by Hofmann as very inflammatory. Christensen, a history buff, wanted the papers studied by Mormon historians and had ensured his opportunity to see them by volunteering to authenticate the collection at the time of sale.
In fact, Hofmann had been selling various non-existent collections all year in a lucrative scam that was threatening to topple, leaving him pressed by irate creditors. Meanwhile, certain Mormon document forgeries, particularly the "white salamander letter" that Christensen had earlier bought, authenticated, and donated to the Mormon Church, had projected a revisionist view of history that stimulated historical review and attracted wide media attention. In the spring and summer of 1985, the LDS Church had endured a series of embarrassing document-related media stories, including news reports that an inflammatory collection was headed for secret church vaults.
Christensen, who had left a floundering investment company and was facing bankruptcy, resolved to enforce Hofmann's promises on the church's behalf even as church authority Elder Hugh Pinnock, who had arranged Hofmann's bank loan, offered to help Christensen survive his financial dilemma. When Christensen locked up a supposed piece of the McLellin Collection, which Hofmann was trying to sell separately, Hofmann began buying bomb parts.
About 6:30 A.M. on 15 October Hofmann placed the first bomb, packaged in a cardboard box, at the home of Gary Sheets, Christensen's former boss and company president. He then placed a similarly packaged bomb--this one laced with nails--outside Christensen's office door. Although Sheets's wife Kathleen was killed rather than her husband, Hofmann had successfully linked the bombing motive with the failing CFS Financial Corporation.
However, this diversion worked too well; that afternoon a church leader simply replaced Christensen in the McLellin deal and rescheduled the closing for the next day. Being of course unable to close the deal, Hofmann drove ninety miles to buy bomb parts under several aliases and returned to Salt Lake City with a third motion-sensitive bomb, which he dropped while stalking another victim. This he hoped would alarm church officials sufficiently to deter them from pursuing the McLellin Collection.
The murder investigation uncovered the forgery/fraud scheme. Forensic history was made in detecting Hofmann's method for chemically aging ink that was then applied to old paper. Following a five-week preliminary hearing, Hofmann was bound over for trial on thirty felonies, including two capital murders. Because he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of second degree murder and to discuss his crimes, the prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other charges, to accept a reduced sentence on the Sheets homicide, and to allow concurrent sentences. Thus, Hofmann was sentenced to serve one five-years-to-life sentence in the Utah State Penitentiary. Parole was indicated at seven years for someone with Hofmann's first-offender status. Hofmann rewarded the prosecutors with a four-hundred-page transcript on forgery but refused to discuss the murders.
In January 1988, one year after he entered prison, Hofmann attended a hearing before the Board of Pardons. When the board explored his thinking regarding the homicides, his responses convinced them to refuse to set a parole date. Shortly after the hearing, coded letters threatening the board were found in Hofmann's cell, and investigators learned that even before the hearing he had threatened their lives in conversations with other inmates. Following the hearing, Hofmann twice attempted to commit suicide, overdosing on drugs obtained from other inmates; however, in both August 1988 and August 1990 he was unsuccessful.
See: Linda Sillitoe and Allen D. Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (1988); and Richard E. Turley, Jr. Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (1992).