Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Genius Bomber: The Mormon Forgery Murders

First Blast

Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah

It was a Tuesday morning, October 15, 1985, when the police in Salt Lake City, Utah, were called to the Judge  Building in the business district.  They were to check out an explosion that had occurred on the sixth floor just after 8:00 a.m., with an apparent fatality.  It was not clear if this was an isolated incident—a single bomb—or whether there might be more bombs in the building, so to ensure that the area would be safe for a search, the dispatcher called for the bomb squad to bring bomb-sniffing dogs.

The Judge Building, police and fire departments on the scene
The Judge Building, police and fire departments on the scene

Patrol cars and fire engines arrived at the building, but everyone had to wait for the special team to go inside first.   This incident had occurred before terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden found violent ways to promote their agendas in the U.S., and while the Unabomber had sent several random mail bombs, only during that year had he actually killed someone, so no one in Salt Lake City that day was quite certain what was going on.  Some officials thought the explosion came from a boiler in the building—an accident, not a planned act.  They would soon learn the worst.  In The Mormon Murders, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith describe the situation:

The Mormon Murders
The Mormon Murders

The building's elevator was turned off, just in case, so arriving police officers took the stairs.   On the ground floor, several witnesses described for investigators the people they had seen in the building that morning, including a man who had gone up the elevator at about 6:45 a.m. with a package clearly addressed in black ink to Steve Christensen.  A father and son who had been on the elevator said the man had been dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a green letter jacket without a letter.  They had gotten off before him, but according to Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts in Salamander, he had requested that the button be pressed for the fifth floor, not the sixth.  The two men offered details for a composite drawing, but could not agree on whether or not he'd had a moustache.

A secretary who had come into the office early had seen the package propped up by the door of room 609 and had spotted a man in the hallway who looked back at her in an unsettling way. The man made her nervous, so she had locked herself in her office. An hour later, the package was still there, and she was about to pick it up when she remembered a phone call she had to make first.   Just as she went into her office, she heard the explosion.  Flying glass came through the door and cut her leg.  She rushed into the hall and saw a wounded man lying there.  She recognized him as a man who worked on the floor, not the original man she had seen.  He must have come into the hallway the moment she'd walked into her office.  Frightened, she instructed someone to call for an ambulance and then left.

A quick appraisal indicated a single victim, with the primary damage in the hallway, rather than in any offices.   After ascertaining that the victim was beyond assistance, the bomb squad organized its approach to preserving the crime scene. 

Categories
Advertisement