Events in the Mark Hofmann Case


March 1984: LDS Bishop Steven Christensen confirms existence of the "Salamander Letter," which he had purchased from Mark Hofmann, a document dealer, for $45,000 (some accounts say $40,000) the previous January. This letter, which later turned out to be a forgery, was presented as being written by Martin Harris, one Salamander of the "Three Witnesses" whose names and testimonies appear in the front of every Book of Mormon. Harris was also the person who financed the original printing of the BoM. The letter purports to speak of Joseph Smith's dealings with a magical salamander that appeared when he was trying to dig up the "golden plates" that were supposedly the source of the BoM, thereby showing Smith's involvement in occult practices. Although the Salamander Letter was a forgery, many genuine documents and testimonies establish Smith's association with the occult. The LDS church, believing it to be genuine (since the higher authorities knew about Smith's early dealings in magic and deceptions), desired to suppress the document. To that end, Bishop Christensen was told to buy the document and then turn it over to the LDS authorities so that it would never be published.


Jan. 1985: Jerald Tanner, in the Salt Lake City Messenger (SLCM), presented a long argument about why the Salamander Letter and the 1873 Martin Harris letter (both obtained from Hofmann) did not look authentic.(1) The LDS church declared the Salamander Letter as "almost certainly authentic," as quoted in the Deseret News.(2) Gordon Hinckley, "also accepted the judgment of the examiners, that the letter was not forgery."(3) Hinckley was a member of the "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles" of the LDS church. He became the church's president in 1995, a position which he held until his death in 2008. As president, he was officially known as the prophet, seer, and revelator of the church. Hinckley had personally bought two documents from Hofmann.(4)


After publication of Gerald Tanner's doubts about the Salamander Letter, Hofmann came to the Tanners' house and said he was hurt that they were casting doubts on the letters.(5)


One of the forged documents purchased by Hinckley was a letter, allegedly from Joseph Smith. Hinckley paid $15,000 for this document.(6) Hofmann said Hinckley told him the letter "would never see the light of day again." The church exchanged valid documents for Hofmann's forgeries.(7)


"The Prophet Will Never Lead the Church Astray" said Ezra Taft Benson, president of the church from 1985 to 1994.(8) Yet Mark Hofmann led astray the LDS leaders. Hofmann said that he may have been trying to change the history of the LDS church.(9) This was suggested earlier by Jerald Tanner.


Joseph Smith, Jr.

Hofmann decided to exploit a weakness that he perceived in the Mormon leadership: "that they were trying to hide the true history of the church from their people."(10) He thought the church leaders were "easy marks" for his blackmailing by means of forgeries. "His modus operandi was to profess great loyalty for the church leaders while he was in reality stabbing them in the back."


The purpose of Steven Christensen in purchasing the Salamander Letter was so it could be suppressed.(11) Christensen was very incensed when the Tanners published parts of it. The sale of the Salamander letter set the stage for Hofmann to try sell the McLellin Collection, a series of documents by one of the early Mormons who was well acquainted with Joseph Smith, but whose writings had somehow been lost in the course of time. McLellin was one of the original members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. The church prompted one of its wealthy members to offer Hofmann $185,000 to try to obtain the McLellin Collection so it could never be made public.


In the Book of Mormon, Amulek in book of Alma had power of discernment to catch someone in a lie, as did Nephi in Heleman 9:25-41. So did Peter regarding Ananias and Sapphira.(12) Mormon leaders have claimed that they have all the power, discernment, and authority of the original apostles.


October 1985: Hofmann murdered Bishop Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets with package bombs. A third bomb exploded in Hofmann's car. It may have been intended for the Tanners.


Detective Jim Baker, a chief investigator of the murders, said of the "cooperation" he got from LDS leadership: "They're hiding something; the church is doing everything it can to make this as difficult as possible. I've never seen anything like this in a homicide investigation." (13)


Mark Hofmann

1992: In response to several books about the Hofmann murders which were very damaging to the LDS hierarchy, Richard Turley, Managing Director of the Church Historical Department, wrote a book attempting to absolve the LDS leaders in their handling of the Hofmann affair.(14) Nevertheless the book includes this bombshell: The church had an important part of the McLellin Collection in the First Presidency vault, where it had been since 1908. Church officials became aware of this in March 1986, according to Turley. At this time the government was trying to gather evidence to build its case against Hofmann. The church faced a dilemma: if they admitted they had the McLellin papers all along, it would prove the charge that the church suppresses historical information and important documents. On the other hand, the existence of the collection would be a great help to investigators in their case against Mark Hofmann. It would have given the motive for the murders: Hofmann did not have the collection to give to Christensen on the day appointed for their delivery. This was made known to Richard Turley, to Apostle Dallin Oaks, who had been a member of the Utah Supreme Court, and to members of the First Presidency, including Gordon Hinckley. Although the first two of these were trained as lawyers, no one revealed the existence of the collection to the prosecution to help them prepare their case for the coming trial of Hofmann. It was not until Turley's book was published six years later that this information came out.


February 1986: Apostle Dallin Oaks expressed doubts that the prosecution case was strong enough to convict Hofmann. (15) This is according to Turley's book, p. 243. This makes very culpable Oaks' action in not disclosing that the church had the McLellin Collection when it was found in the next month. This would have provided the motive the FBI needed to indict Hofmann. The church's hiding of this knowledge allowed a murderer (Hofmann) to continue free on the streets for a time.


If the existence of the McLellin Collection had been made known, the prosecution may not have settled on the plea bargain that avoided a trial and the possibility of a death penalty for Hofmann. The LDS hierarchy gained a lot by this plea bargain: Gordon Hinckley was never called to testify, and they were spared the embarrassment that cross-questioning would have produced regarding the church's consistent cover-ups, stonewalling, and hiding of documents. The plea bargain was therefore a victory for the LDS church, and one has to wonder if it wasn't brought about by undue influence of the church in the legal processes of the state of Utah.


In all, however, the entire Hofmann affair has greatly damaged the credibility of the Mormon church with many people. And if they are so open about everything as they claim to be, why don't they publish the McLellin papers?


"Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie proclaimed that church leaders have the gift of discernment: "...the gift of the discerning of spirits is poured out upon presiding officials in God's kingdom; they have it given to them to discern all gifts and all spirits, lest any come among the saints and practice deception...""(16) If this had been true of the church's leaders, they would have seen the character of Hofmann's deception. Yet despite repeated meetings with him, none of them saw through it, and the chain of events led to the murder of two persons. Hofmann even met with Apostle Dallin Oaks just hours after Hofmann killed Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, and Oaks still believed Hofmann was an honest friend.


The apostles of the church were therefore deceived regarding Mark Hofmann's character and his forged documents. These were not just any historical documents--they were documents dealing with the doctrines and "revelations" foundational to Mormonism (but, of course, not foundational to genuine Christianity). Since Mormon leaders were fundamentally wrong and deceived regarding the character of Mark Hofmann and his documents that dealt with the basis of their church, could they also be fundamentally wrong and deceived about Joseph Smith's character and his documents?


For more information about the Mark Hofmann murders and the multiple deceptions involved (Hofmann's of the LDS church leadership, and the LDS leadership's repeated deceptions of government investigators, the news media, and the general public), see the "Mark Hofmann" entry in Wikipedia.



(1) Salt Lake City Messenger (hereinafter SLCM), Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, No. 55 (January 1985) pp. 1-13. This issue and issue 57 are not available online.


(2) Deseret News for April 28, 1985, article "1830 Harris letter authenticated."


(3) SLCM 57 (June 1985) p. 12.


(4) SLCM 59, (Jan 1986) p. 14. This and the issues of SLCM subsequently cited are online, although the online version does not include page numbers. Use your browser's search facility to find quoted texts. To access issue 59, click here.


(5) SLCM 58 (January 1986) p. 4. For online version, click here.


(6) SLCM 83 (November 1992) p. 3. For online version, click here.


(7) SLCM 61 (October 1986) p. 9. For online version, click here.


(8) Ibid. p. 13.


(9) SLCM 64 (September 1987) p. 5. For online version, click here.


(10) Ibid., p. 7.


(11) Ibid., p. 12.


(12) Ibid., p. 18.


(13) SLCM 70 (January 1989) p. 12. For online version, click here.


(14) SLCM 83 (cited above), p. 2. Richard Turley's book is Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1992).


(15) Ibid., p. 7.


(16) Ibid., p. 12.


If you are interested in the early history of Mormonism, especially with regard to information that is not generally made available to members of the LDS church because it is covered up in the same way that the McLellin papers are hidden by LDS leadership, you may contact me at rcy888 @ yahoo . com. I have copies of the Book of Mormon as originally printed (differs significantly from present editions) and other original resource materials. I would be glad to discuss these with you if you are interested enough, and open minded enough, to investigate these original materials for yourself. I can read Spanish, French, and Russian, so you could write in these languages, but my reply would probably be in English.