Murder Among the Mormons: the story behind the bizarre Netflix true-crime documentary – and where Mark Hoffman is now
Mark Hoffman forged the infamous White Salamander Letter
Murder Among The Mormons is the latest documentary off Netflix’s true crime conveyor belt, exploring a bizarre tale of murder, forgery and mormonism.
The documentary, created by filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jared Hess, details the desperate attempts by Mark Hoffman to stop his forgery business from unravelling, ultimately leading to the death of two people.
Set in 1985 Utah, the bombings were one of the darkest chapters in Mormonism’s history, shaking the religion to its core.
Who was Mark Hoffman?
Mark Hoffman was a renowned forger and counterfeiter, who created documents relating to the Latter Day Saint movement, a collection of church movements which trace their founding to a Christian Restorationist movement established by Joseph Smith.
In 1985 when on the verge of being outed as a forger he set off three bombs in Salt Lake City in 1985.
The first two bombs resulted in the deaths of document collector Steve Christensen and the wife of Christensen’s former employer Kathy Sheets.
The third bomb was set off by Hoffman accidentally, injuring himself and linking him to the first two explosions.
Evidence of his forgery business were uncovered following a police investigation and in January 1986 he was charged on 27 counts, including first-degree murder, delivering a bomb, constructing or possessing a bomb, theft by deception, and communication fraud.
Hoffman confessed to the forgeries in court in return for the dropping of additional charges. He was sentenced to five years to life in prison, with the judge recommending he spend his life in prison.
What documents did he forge?
Co-director Measom describes Hoffman as “the best forger who’s ever been caught.”
His forged documents deceived renowned document experts and his works were accepted by scholars for years.
In 1980 he forged a document that became known as the Anthon Transcript forgery. He claimed to have discovered a folded up piece of paper in a 17th century King James bible. The folded paper was a forged document presented as a transcript which Smith's scribe Martin Harris presented to Columbia Univerisyt professor Charles Anthon. The original document featured several lines of characters which Smith had claimed derived from the golden plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.
In 1981 Hoffman presented the Church of Mormon with a document which designated his son Joseph Smith III as his successor, instead of Brigham Young. He sold the item to the church in return for $20,000 worth of items.
The White Salamander Letter is arguably Hoffman’s most notorious forgery.
Joseph Smith the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement claimed to have been met by an angel who told him about the buried ancient record which would become the Book of Mormon.
The White Salamander Letter is a letter from convert Martin Harris to William W. Phelps claiming that Smith was in fact met by a white salamander.
The aim of the letter was to cast doubt on the spiritual experience of Smith. Initially accepted the document shook Mormonism to its core and resulted in many departing the religion. Itwas later found to be a forgery.
When in debt he brokered a deal to sell what he called the “McLellin collection”, a series of documents written by an early apostle of the church who broke with the movement. The pressure by those he had promised documents and previous debtors led to the bombings and murders of Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets.
Where is he now?
Hoffman remains in prison.
He is currently being held at Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.