Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Genius Bomber: The Mormon Forgery Murders

In Hot Water

The McLellin deal had been complicated, with Hofmann giving one story after another about why he couldn't deliver the papers on the agreed upon date.   Christensen had pressured him to deliver, but he couldnt because the collection did not really exist.  The loan had come due, the papers were not there, and Christensen had had to vouch for Hofmann to bank officials.

Emily Dickinson, portrait
Emily Dickinson, portrait

Hofmann kept asking for time.   He was showing a new discovery of Americana to the Library of Congress and expected to get at least $1 million for it, but the purchase had been delayed.  He'd already sold an original letter from Daniel Boone that proved certain legends to be true, poetry by Emily Dickinson, and pieces from Mark Twain.  Recently he had found a long-lost, postcard size document called the Oath of a Freeman, dated to 1639 in Massachusetts.  A copy of the text was available, but the original had long been lost.  That is, until 1985 when it "came into" Hofmann's hands.  He hoped that if they paid him, he could pay off the McLellin loan, along with another impending loan that he owed to someone else, and then claim he was unable to get the nonexistent McLellin collection.  All would be well.

But he was gambling, and because the Library of Congress was not going along as expected, reducing its offer to $350,000, it was becoming clear to him that he was losing.  He would have to pay up the $185,000 loan, but could not.  He was also being pressed by a group of investors in his other forgeries for half a million dollars, which he also did not have, and he would have to start paying $4,000 a day in interest.  He tried to borrow from business associates, but his credit had run out.  It was too late to find other investors.   He had purchased a piece of papyrus (the one found in the trunk of his car) to try to make a forgery as a token of good faith, but then Christensen contacted his New York seller of that piece to come to Salt Lake City to authenticate it.  Things were not going well.  He was going to be exposed once and for all.  He would lose everything.

Since Hofmann was known as something of a double-dealer with a history of writing bad checks, the bank was nervous and the church wanted that collection, so Christensen set up a meeting with everyone in his office for the morning of October 15.   He expected Hofmann to be there.  Hofmann had to do something drastic.  He had an idea, and by 8 that morning his problems had diminished: Christensen was dead.

That afternoon, Hofmann met with church leaders and they assured him that Christensen could be replaced.   They assumed, as Hofmann hoped they would, that, with the second bomb getting Kathy Sheets, the violence was related to some business transaction unassociated with the church.  That had been Hofmanns sole motive for setting a bomb at the home of Gary Sheets.  It bought him some time while they sought a replacement for Christensen.

But that happened faster than he expected and he had still not collected from the Library of Congress.   By the next day, he had to come up with the McLellin collection.  In a dilemma, he made a third bomb, but this one got him, and that was the end of his career as a forgeror as anything.  Since there were burned documents in the trunk of his car, it was assumed that he had expected to say it was the McLellin collection, now damaged beyond repair.  However, the entire scheme eventually went bad and he had to admit to his part.  But he insisted that the third bomb had been intended for him.  He was going to commit suicide.  (He told someone in prison it had been meant for a business associate, but then he reverted to his original explanation.)

Mark Hofmann
Mark Hofmann

Once he was finished with his confession, Mark Hofmann pleaded guilty to several counts of murder and fraud in exchange for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.  At the age of thirty-two on January 23, 1987, he went into Utah State Prison.  He was convinced that within seven years he would be out, but his smug attitude as he talked about his crimes diminished any chance of a quick parole.