SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Netflix on Wednesday premiered a docu-series called “Murder Among the Mormons,” which after nearly four decades brings back vivid memories for Utahns.
The series, about the infamous scam artist Mark Hoffman, details his forgeries of church documents — and the hand-made bombs he used to silence those whom he feared would make his secrets public.
Ken Sanders, who has worked around rare and historic books for decades, remembers meeting Hoffman when the forgery artist tried selling him items that Hoffman said were from the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Finding any one of the numbers of startling things that this young punk — wet behind the ears punk kid came up with — would have been the find of our lifetimes. He’s finding them every month, every week, and as time went on — every other day,” said Sanders, who owns Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake.
Hoffman, he says, began forging at just 14 — and quietly honed his craft during the 1970s. By the early ’80s, some of his most infamous forgeries propelled him to meetings with top church leaders. After all, Hoffman claimed to have found The Salamander Letter — which claims a white salamander led Joseph Smith to the gold plates.
“He developed, in my opinion, a vendetta against his church. Against the LDS church,” said Sanders.
“Martin Harris is one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and he allegedly wrote the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript that’s been lost. By establishing his forgeries of Martin Harris as authentic, his ultimate goal was far beyond the Salamander Letter or any of the other Mormon forgeries he made. He was going to find those 116 pages of the Book of Mormon and they were going to destroy the church,” said Sanders.
In October 1985, Hofmann planted two hand-made bombs to target those who might expose his secrets. One of the two fatal bombings killed the intended target’s wife, and Sanders remembers a feeling of terror in the community because of how random it all seemed.
“People were scared. We were all scared,” said Sanders.
Hofmann, Sanders says, was better at selling — or conning — than he was forging. Sanders says Hoffman preyed on members of his own church, leveraging trust, as his forgeries sold for millions of dollars.
Ultimately, the fatal bombings — and a bomb that exploded when Hofmann opened his own trunk that left him injured — ended his crimes. But the legacy of Mark Hoffman, as documented in the Netflix series, continues to pain those who knew him or lived through that time.