Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Genius Bomber: The Mormon Forgery Murders


The car and surrounding area were now a crime scene and had to be investigated like any other bombing, although the investigators were sure that, once the car had burned, much of the evidence had been destroyed. Bomb expert Jerry Taylor came in from San Franciscos ATF offices to assist.   He joined Swehla at the smoldering car, still parked where it had burned, although the incinerated brake system had let loose and the Toyota had rolled a few feet down the street.   They could still see the impact rut on the asphalt, and from the way fragments and pellets had shot from it they could tell the direction of the explosion.

The scene was divided via chalk marks on the ground to map and tag in the same manner as the first two incidents.   A team went over the scene, getting items for the lab.  Taylor picked out the pieces that seemed like evidence, and sent men far and wide searching for any randomly blown fragments.  He even checked into the storm drains. 

They were told that Hofmann had said that he had opened the door and when the package had fallen out of the drivers seat to the floor he had reached to catch it. 

First they examined the bomb fragments to decide on the type of bomb they were dealing with.   All three from the past two days had been made with smokeless gunpowder, and a model rocket igniter had been inserted through a hole drilled into the cap, connected to a mercury switch.  When the switch was tilted in such a way that it contacted the battery pack, that action completed the circuit and detonated the explosive.  Taylor determined from this signature, or unique construction, that the same person had designed all three bombs and that they were different from any other bombs in the country.  Yet in some ways, they were also different from one another.  The first one had nails, the other two did not.  The one in the car had been a different size from the other two, slightly larger, and because of the fire it was difficult to determine if the package had been addressed like the others to a particular person. But they all shared the same type of pipe for a casing, the same type of gunpowder, switches, battery packs, igniters, wiring components, and brown paper packages.

After he examined the scene, Taylor concluded that Hofmann had lied. 

Based on an indentation on the right side of the seat, at the time of the explosion, the package had been there, tilted against the console that separated the front seats.   It had not fallen to the floor.  The scenario that made the most sense to him was that Hofmann had picked up and dropped the bomb by mistake and then had made up the story he was telling now.  If the bomb had been on the floor when it detonated, it would have blown straight down and there wouldnt be an impression on the seat.  The door had to have been ajar or else Hofmann would have gone right through the roof.  Taylor had seen it many timesvictims inside cars who went straight up.

He figured that the bomb had probably been in the back.   Hofmann had knelt on the seat, reached into the back to arm it and pick it up, but by mistake had moved it in the wrong way or jarred it and that set the detonation into motion.

Taylor quickly declared that the third "attack" had been an accident and that this victim was himself the bomber.

Witnesses questioned at the scene confirmed that Hofmann had been inside the car when the bomb had exploded, not outside as he had claimed.   One woman even said that she had seen him lift something up from behind the front seat on which he was kneeling. 

A search of what was left of the trunks contents turned up a pipe elbow of the same material used in the three bombs, a black magic marker (like the one that had been used to address the other two packages), two rubber surgical gloves, a crinkled piece of paper (papyrus), and many other papers that were now burned and drenched from the fire hoses. 

But where had Hofmann been taking the third bomb?   Who had been his next target?  The water-damaged car yielded no clues.  He had mentioned an attorney.  They needed to find out who that person was.  And if Hofmann was in fact the bomber, they needed to determine his motive and get some evidence.  That meant they needed a warrant to search Hofmanns home in Holladay, the same town where Kathy Sheets had met her tragic fate.

The warrant specified that they could look for bombs or bomb-making materials, and for the letterless letter jacket.   Hofmanns photo was compared to the composite drawing made at the first scene and it looked similar.  They conducted the search with some degree of confidence.

The police went into Hofmanns office in the basement and found many documents, but left them alone.   They seized a tape recorder (could be used to construct a bomb) some gun parts, and an Uzi machinegun manual.  They dismantled the security system, because those parts could be used in the manufacture of bombs.  Then they found a nice surprise: in a closet hung a green letter jacket without a letter, turned inside out.  Just as the witnesses had described.

They believed they had their man, but they did not have a motive.   Hofmann appeared to have a lot going for him and too much to lose, with little at stake.  To get a capital murder conviction, Sillitoe and Roberts point out, they had to link him to the bombs and provide a compelling motive.  No one realized then just how complicated it would all become.

Mark Hofmann
Mark Hofmann

However, the focus of the investigation had shifted.   Whereas they had been looking at disgruntled CFS clients and professional hit men, now they were looking more closely at the nature of the documents, specifically the controversial document that Hofmann had sold to Christensen---the notorious salamander letter.

It wasnt long before they turned up the fact that Hofmann was deeply in debt.   Hed bought a half million-dollar house, had run up bills on numerous trips at expensive restaurants and hotels, and he owed a lot of people money.  He clearly had creditors trying to get paid.  But what did that have to do with Christensen and Sheets?  Especially after Sheets, when asked, claimed he had never met Hofmann.

Somehow it all came down to those documents, but it wasnt clear yet just how. 

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