Forgeries, Bombs, and Joseph Smith: The Rise and Fall of Historical Documents Dealer Mark Hofmann

by JESSICA L. ONEIDA

October 15, 1985, began just as any other crisp, fall morning in Salt Lake City, Utah. Steven Christensen, a businessman who was described in the January 23, 1987, edition of the Deseret News as “an avid collector of Mormon documents,” made his way to work in the Judge Building located downtown. At the same time, Kathy Sheets, the wife of Christensen’s former business partner, J. Gary Sheets, began her day in the quiet suburb of Holladay, located 20 minutes south of the city. When two bombs, which killed both Christensen and Kathy Sheets, suddenly exploded within mere hours of each other, the entire valley was shocked. Newspaper headlines in the days following the bombings, such as, “Bombings shatter area’s composure: ‘It’s beginning to seem like Lebanon,’” found in the October 17, 1985, issue of the Deseret News, indicated that fear was a tangible issue within the community. This is a very telling piece of historical evidence that shows the seriousness of the event and its influence. This intensity and mystery maintained itself throughout the two-year-long journey that included the investigations, trial, and eventual conviction of Mark W. Hofmann for the murders of Steven Christensen and Kathy Sheets.

The book, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders by Allen D. Roberts and Linda Sillitoe, describes the early years of Hofmann and his upbringing in Utah during the 1960s and 1970s. His family was active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and he took an interest in some unique hobbies as a child, including performing magic tricks. Even though Hofmann was raised in the Mormon religion, he concluded that he did not believe the teachings of the church and secretly rejected the religion as a whole by the time he reached his teenage years. Since his family was still very active, Hofmann kept his newfound beliefs and feelings to himself and managed to convince his peers that he was still interested and involved. He kept up the act by serving a religious mission and marrying within the church. An amused Hofmann took pleasure in tricking his family and fellow church members about his involvement, which could stem back to his early years. Roberts and Sillitoe discuss his childhood and how he “loved tricking people and practiced his illusions diligently.”

After he married, he began to discover and collect historical books and documents, mostly regarding the history of the Mormon religion and the early development of the LDS Church. During the course of his collecting, he began to come across ancient Mormon documents among the pages of some of the books. One of the most controversial and most discussed letters that Hofmann brought to light was the Salamander Letter. This letter called into question the seriousness and validity of Joseph Smith’s discoveries and translations during the beginnings of the religion. Smith founded the LDS Church after discovering ancient writings near his home in western New York.

As Hofmann became more involved with his collecting, he connected with Christensen, who also enjoyed finding these rare documents having to do with Mormon history. The set of documents that sparked the bombings and the controversies was called the McLellin Collection, written by William E. McLellin.

"Mark Hofmann watches as Mormon leaders inspect some of Hofmann's documents." Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

“Mark Hofmann watches as Mormon leaders inspect some of Hofmann’s documents.” Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

McLellin was “an early church apostle who later left the church,” according to the Deseret News on October 27, 1985. The article reported that he left the church because he had issues with some of the beliefs and practices taking place and that he “came into frequent conflict with church leaders.” The desire for this collection stemmed from the actual content within the letters. The Deseret News reported the basis of this content as giving “some of the first accounts of President Smith’s involvement in plural marriage.” On October 27, 1985, the Deseret News wrote, “The collection has proven elusive over the years, prompting some to dispute its existence. Yet it’s believed by many scholars and historians to exist.” This brought about the initial controversial nature of the documents and called into question some of the other documents Hofmann collected and sold.

While many of the documents he produced were questioned for authenticity and accuracy, Hofmann was talented enough that he had many experts defending their quality. One such example, as reported by the Deseret News on October 17, 1985, was Leonard Arrington, who was a professor of Western history at Brigham Young University. He said “documents discovered previously by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he doesn’t believe they are forgeries.” Over the course of Hofmann’s activities, he sold many of his forgeries to collectors and the LDS Church alike. It was only a matter of time before the validity of his career was threatened.

Many motives were suggested as to why Hofmann orchestrated the bombings that led to the deaths of Christensen and Sheets. One of the most recurring ideas, however, was the motive of Hofmann covering up his shady dealings. The January 23, 1987, edition of the Deseret News reported, “Police and prosecutors believe that Christensen … may have discovered the fraud and threatened to expose Hofmann.” Hofmann must have felt the pressure and the article further suggested that, “Rather than risk a lucrative career in documents dealing, Hofmann killed Christensen and then planted another bomb at the home of J. Gary Sheets.”

"Mark Hofmann sits with his lawyers during the trial." Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

“Mark Hofmann sits with his lawyers during the trial.” Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

The whole scheme came to a breaking point when a third bomb was prepared but malfunctioned and exploded in Hofmann’s car with him inside on October 16, 1985, the very day after the initial bombings. Officers found similarities between both bombings as reported by the Deseret News on October 17, 1985: “The bomb that injured Hofmann is almost identical in connection to devices that killed Steven F. Christensen and Kathy Webb Sheets.” The article continued, “Wednesday’s bomb apparently did not contain the shrapnel that sprayed in all directions in the first two blasts.”

The case took one year and three months to be compiled and executed. While it wasn’t until April 1986 that Hofmann’s role as a suspect was confirmed, he didn’t actually go to trial until January 1987. On January 23, 1987, the Deseret News reported the outcome of the trial. The judge overseeing the trial concluded that, “Due to the indiscriminate nature of the killings and the type of devices employed … I want you to serve the rest of your natural life in the Utah State Prison.” Hofmann pleaded guilty on “two counts of second-degree murder” and because of his confession, “prosecutors dismissed more than two dozen other complaints charging the documents dealer with theft by deception, communications fraud and bomb construction.” Hofmann is currently serving his life sentence in the prison located in Draper, Utah.

Jessica Oneida is in her fourth year at the University of Utah. She is majoring in Strategic Communication with minors in Business Administration and Design.

Sources

Jerry Spangler, “Booby-trapped bombs claim 2 in S.L. area,” Deseret News, October 15, 1985.

Brett DelPorto and Jerry Spangler, “Officers sifting evidence for clues to killer and motive in fatal bombings,” Deseret News, October 16, 1985.

Ellen Fagg and Jerry Spangler, “3rd bomb victim faces criminal charges,” Deseret News, October 17, 1985

Jerry Spangler, “Police focus on evidence, not theories,” Deseret News, October 18, 1985.

Brett DelPorto, Kathy Fahy, and Angelyn N. Hutchinson, “Hofmann retreats from statement; 2 bomb victims are eulogized,” Deseret News, October 19, 1985.

Marianne Funk, and Jerry Spangler, “Police sift documents to build Hofmann case,” Deseret News, October 23, 1985.

Jerry Spangler, “Hofmann wouldn’t get fair trail in Utah, attorney says,” Deseret News, October 25, 1985.

Linda Sillitoe and Jerry Spangler, “Still unseen McLellin Collection a mystery within murder mystery,” Deseret News, October 27, 1985.

Jerry Spangler and Jan Thompson, “Hofmann identified as the man who carried box into building,” Deseret News, April 14, 1986.

Jerry Spangler, and Jan Thompson, “Judge wants life in prison for Hofmann,” Deseret News, January 23, 1987.

Roberts, Allen D. and Linda Sillitoe, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988.

Turley Jr., Richard E., Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case. Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

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From Street Cars to Shooting Spree: a History of Utah’s Trolley Square

by KYLE K. LEETE

It was a typical Monday night in Salt Lake City, Utah, until gunshots echoed off the one hundred-year-old floors at Trolley Square Shopping Center. Six people were killed including the rampaging shooter, and four were injured; nothing would be the same for people everywhere. This tragedy would become part of the history of Trolley Square, Utah, and the nation.

The Salt Lake Tribune article, “Trolley Square: A Brief History,” gives a summary of Trolley Square: “It is in a historic area of Salt Lake City that Brigham Young in 1847 designated as the 10th Ward when he was gridding the city into neighborhoods.” The area also served as territorial fairgrounds until 1908 when Union Pacific Railroad executive E.H. Harriman made it the base for his new trolley car system. Harriman would invest $3.5 million (roughly $88 million in 2012 dollars) to build the complex including a carbarn building to house the trolley cars, a repair shop, and a paint shop.

The Utah Light and Railway Company was formed and author Jack Goodman noted, The company grew from a merged trio of streetcar companies whose rails once laced the city. One of those antecedent companies had used horsecars at its birth.” (Goodman, 146) The Salt Lake Tribune reported on February 17, 2007: “At one time, more than 144 trolleys operated from mission-style car barns erected at the site.” The new company and street cars went all over Salt Lake and beyond with 146 miles of track. They served the public until they were shut down in 1945.

After the decommissioning of the streetcars, the buildings were used for various purposes. According to “Trolley Square: A Brief History,” “Trolley persisted as a decaying garage for Utah Transit Authority buses and Utah Power maintenance vehicles and the historic block was littered with junk vehicles, old tires and trash contained within barbed wire.” The site became decrepit and was close to being torn down until developer Wallace A. Wright, Jr., was inspired to completely renovate the buildings into a shopping mall with boutique stores. Utah Stories Magazine describes the work:

“The renovations included removing the yellow paint to restore the original brick exterior, adding a second floor to the main building to utilize its height, and decorating the mall with scavenged parts from various locations. These parts included the doors from the Gardo House, balustrades from the ZCMI building, an old elevator from East High School, and a stained-glass dome from the Long Beach First Methodist Church. Perhaps the most unusual second-hand part was a conveyer trestle from an oxide mill east of Tooele, which became the skywalk spanning 600 South. The total cost of renovations was $10 -12 million.” (Razavi)

The renovations transformed a dirty car barn in an old lot to a beautiful shopping destination.

News outlet KSL noted that the 97-foot-tall, 50,000-gallon water tower was changed into a landmark and is now used to indicate the local weather forecast. Goodman noted that Trolley Square Mall had one of Utah’s first skybridges that spanned 600 South to get pedestrians safely from the parking lot, across the busy street, and to the complex. (Goodman, 146) In 1973, after the renovation, Trolley Square was added to the register of historical sites by the state of Utah. It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Four years ago, in 2008, the mall celebrated its centennial anniversary. The Square quickly became and remains one of the state’s most popular attractions, offering unique shopping, dining and entertainment in a charming, historic atmosphere. KSL reported, “Trolley Square welcomes over 3 million customers each year. Approximately 30% are tourists, making Trolley Square the second most visited tourist site in the city.” With two major malls/shopping districts being constructed since that article was written, that number has surely decreased, but Trolley Square is still a special shopping destination with stores found nowhere else.

Various stores changed throughout the years and specialty shops moved in. Every day was business as usual for Trolley Square Mall, which was why no one expected Sulejman Talovic, an 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, to walk in and open fire with a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver. On February 12, 2007, at roughly 6:45 p.m., “Talovic parked his car in the west parking lot and walked into the mall, encountering two people, whom he shot. He then walked further into the mall and shot a woman,” Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank told The Salt Lake Tribune in the article “Killer identified as 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic.”

This was the first part of this horrible crime. Talovic, it was discovered, killed a father and wounded a son in the parking lot and then ten steps into the mall shot at a man, a young woman and an unarmed security guard. As he roamed the mall, he then killed a young woman, according to the official Salt Lake City Police Department report. The shooter continued through the mall firing his guns and reloading constantly. People ran and hid in fear hearing shots, breaking glass and screams. In “Trolley Square: Emotionless killer gunned down victims randomly,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported, “The gunman made his way down the hallway, where he opened fire once again, this time into a gift shop with several people inside. Gunshots shattered the storefront glass, striking and killing at least three people.” Patrons of the mall fled in fear as the gunshots continued to roar throughout the building.

After the massacre in the gift shop Talovic came across an off-duty police officer and his wife. The Deseret News reported on February 18, 2007, that his wife “called 911 and explained to dispatchers that her husband was a police officer, giving them a description of what he was wearing.” Once the police officer was engaged, the standoff began. The officer ordered Talovic to drop his weapon, but he refused. Multiple shots were fired between the police officer and the shooter.

During this time, the Salt Lake Police were in action with officers en route and one already at Trolley Square. The solo officer entered the building, witnessed the standoff and came to the aid of the off-duty police officer. The shooter took cover in a nearby store while the officers hid behind posts. Occasional shots were exchanged between the officers and the gunman. Orders were given and ignored by Talovic.

Finally SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officers entered from behind the shooter and witnessed him shoot at the other policemen. They opened fire and ended Talovic’s killing spree. Pat Reavy of the Deseret News reported on February 18, 2007, that “it was just seven minutes from the time the first person was shot in the west terrace parking lot to the time the gunman was killed, the district attorney’s office said.” In that brief seven minutes, six people, including a 15-year-old teenager, were dead, and four people were hospitalized with serious injuries.

The Deseret News article, “Mall Massacre,” reported, “Police officers in full SWAT gear went through the mall, discovering more and more frightened people huddling in back rooms, dressing rooms, closets, bathrooms and anywhere else they could hide. One group of people locked themselves in a freezer to stay safe.”

Forensic teams closed off the entire four-block area and started piecing the puzzle together. Police investigators did not have leads as to what Sulejman Talovic’s motives were. The Deseret News reported, “Detectives as of Friday had found no evidence that violent video games may have influenced Talovic. In fact, Talovic did not even own a computer or a video-game system…. Investigators also had not ‘found anything that has religious or political motivation’ or shown that Talovic’s ethnicity was a factor.” (Reavy) His family was deeply saddened by his actions and could not understand why he committed the crime. KSL reported on March 3, 2007, “The family of Sulejman Talovic buried him in his native Bosnia” that same day.

The community was shocked and outraged, but joined together and held candlelight vigils, placed flowers, and raised funds for the victims. Members of the community stood united and mourned together. The victims were honored by the government, by flying flags at half-staff and opening the Senate’s floor session by remembering the victims, as reported on by the Deseret News February 16, 2007. Mall owners eventually opened their doors and people gradually began to shop and dine again at Trolley Square. Attendance and business increased as citizens showed their support.

Recently the incident has been studied extensively and is now being used as an example of police procedure. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on March 20, 2012, “The way Salt Lake City officers and one off-duty Ogden officer responded as Sulejman Talovic shot shoppers and patrons has been considered such a good example of intercepting what police call an ‘active shooter’ that it’s been taught across the country.”

Stores have changed, consumer business has fluctuated and Trolley Square was even sold to new owners, but things are looking up. The new owners are investing more money and have since remodeled and built a massive new parking garage. A large anchor store has also moved in and a popular local bookstore has relocated to Trolley Square. The dark day will always remain in the history of Salt Lake but the future looks brighter for the residents and business owners in the area. Trolley Square will continue as a fixture in Salt Lake City.

Kyle K. Leete is a junior at The University of Utah studying mass communication with a new media emphasis.

Sources

Nate Carlisle, “Police around the nation learn from Trolley Square shootings,” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 20, 2012, 1.

Zacharia Razavi, “Trolley Square—A Salt Lake City Icon,” Utah Stories Magazine, November 6, 2008.

Pat Reavy, “Police, DA give further details in Trolley shooting,” The Deseret News, February 18, 2007, 2.

Pat Reavy, Linda Thomson and Joe Bauman, “More details emerging on Trolley Square gunman and victims: State officials, business owners, clergy extend sympathies, offer help,” The Deseret News, February 16, 2007, 5.

Ben Winslow, Pat Reavy and Wendy Leonard, “Mall massacre: Gunman at Trolley Square kills 5, wounds others before he’s slain,” The Deseret News, February 16, 2007, 3.

“Killer identified as 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic,” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 13, 2007, 1.

“Trolley Square: A Brief History,” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 13, 2007, 1.

John Goodman, As You Pass By: Architectural Musings on Salt Lake City: a Collection of Columns and Sketches from the Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995).

KSL 5 Eyewitness Weather Tower at Trolley Square,” KSL News.

Trolley Shooter Laid to Rest Today,” KSL News, March 3, 2007.

Trolley Square Shooting Incident Investigative Summary,” Salt Lake City Police Department.

The Ogden, Utah, Hi-Fi Murders: April 22, 1974

by KRISTINE CHILD

A heinous crime was committed in the quiet community of Odgen, Utah, on the night of April 22,1974. Little did those at the Hi-Fi store in town know what was going to happen.

Dale Selby Pierre and William Andrews, who were United States Air Force airmen, entered the shop where two employees, Stanley Walker and Michelle Ansley, “a pretty 19-year old who had been hired as a store clerk only a week before,” were working. (Spangler) Pierre and Andrews took them down to the basement, tied them up, and then they started to rob the store. When Cortney Naisbitt came into the store to talk with Stanley Walker, the robbers took him down to the basement also. (DelPorto) Later, Orren Walker came looking for his son, Stanley; Carol Naisbitt went to the store, too. Both were taken to the basement.

Outside, Keith Roberts, another airman, waited for Pierre and Andrews to rob the store. After forcing the hostages to drink liquid Drano, Pierre raped Michelle Ansley. (DelPorto, Lund) Then, deciding that it was taking too long for the hostages to die, Pierre shot each of them in the back of the head. Orren Walker survived, only to be tortured and have a pen kicked into his ear. (Wade) The men then loaded up their van with the stolen equipment and left.

Gary Kinder described the scene in his book, Victim: The Other Side of Murder:

When Stan had not shown up for dinner, Mr. Walker had driven to the shop to see if he had had trouble with the utility jeep they had just bought. Mrs. Walker began to worry when two hours had passed and neither had returned home. A little after ten she and the younger boy had gone to the shop. The boy, a strapping sixteen-year-old, had rung the buzzer in back. When he heard his father yelling for them to call the police and an ambulance, he had reared back and kicked in the locked door. (Kinder, 52)

Stanley Walker and Michelle Ansley were dead when they were found.  Carol Naisbitt made it as far as the ambulance ride, but was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Benedict’s Hospital in Ogden, Utah. Cortney Naisbitt was not expected to survive, but he pulled through with serious and permanent brain damage, and was hospitalized for 266 days. (Delporto) Orren Walker survived as well, but had extensive burns around the mouth and face, along with major ear damage from the torture.

Within hours of the crime an Air Force officer who supervised Pierre, Andrews, and Roberts, called in a tip to the Ogden City Police Department. When two teenage boys found wallets and other personal belongings of the victims in a Dumpster near Hill Air Force Base, a crowd of airmen gathered and after some theatrics and keen detective work, the three men were taken in as suspects.

All three were tried together for first-degree murder and robbery. (Lund)  The Deseret News reported on August 28, 1987: “Because of emotion and tension surrounding the case, it had been moved to Farmington from Ogden in a change of venue. Still within the same judicial district, Ogden Judge John F. Wahlquist heard the case.” (Wade) Walker was able to testify as the star witness. Naisbitt, on the other hand, suffered from amnesia due to his injuries and did not go to the trials, but his father, Dr. Bryon Naisbitt, did testify.

Because Roberts was waiting in the van and was not in the store at the time of the murders, he was only convicted of robbery and sent to prison. He was paroled in 1987.

Pierre and Andrews, on the other hand, were found guilty on both accounts of robbery and murder in the first degree. A journalist covering the trial reported on November 11, 1974: “The decision came from an 11-man, one woman jury after a day-long sentencing hearing in Second District Court.” (Lund)

At the time of the original sentencing the death penalty choices were by hanging or by a firing squad. Gilbert Athay and John Caine, the attorneys for Pierre and Andrews, appealed the verdicts with help from the NAACP and Amnesty International. The NAACP became involved because all three defendants were African American. During the process of selecting jurors, the candidates were intensely questioned in regards to their views on black people and their opinion on blood atonement.

A reporter present during the trial reported, “The undercurrent of emotion erupted one afternoon when juror James Weaver received a napkin at a Bountiful restaurant on which were written the words, ‘Hang the niggers.’ Court bailiff Tom Lenox, an ex-military intelligence officer and a Davis County deputy, reported to [Judge] Wahlquist that only two or three of the other jurors had seen the note, which Weaver had turned immediately over to the bailiff.” The defense pushed for a mistrial at that point, but Wahlquist gave a stern reprimand to the still unknown writer of the note. (Wade)

Amnesty International held a candlelight vigil on the night Pierre was put to death. In the article, “Amnesty plans vigil to protest Aug. 28 execuation of Selby,” the reporter stated, “State coordinator Michael Spurgin said the human rights group opposes the death penalty because it does not deter violent crime and is biased by race and economic class.” (Amnesty) Pam Wade reported, “News reports that day said Selby and Andrews  sat silent and emotionless as the verdicts were read but as Andrews left the courtroom, escorted by guards, he turned briefly, stared and clenched his fists at Orren Walker.” (Wade)

While in prison, Dale S. Pierre legally changed his name to Pierre Dale Selby. (Bernick) Selby was put to death by lethal injection, the first in Utah, on August 28, 1987. Gary DeLund, executive director of the department of corrections, was the man who gave the order to execute Selby. DeLund said, “It was remarkably different than the way his victims died. This execution was very calm, very peaceful. It (lethal injection) is probably the most humanitarian way to end a life.” (Spangler)

Andrews had the chance to appeal again after Selby was put to death. He believed he shouldn’t die, that he was a victim of circumstance, error, and youth. (Bernick) Earl Dorius, the assistant attorney general at the time, described Andrews as “… very slick, almost warmhearted, and sounds somewhat sorry for what he had done. But I’ll tell you, he is very methodical in his answers. It’s clear to me he’s been prepped to go just so far.” (Bernick 4A) William Andrews also was executed by lethal injection, on July 30, 1992.

Kristine Child is a senior at The University of Utah.  She is majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in strategic communication.

Sources

“Amnesty plans vigil to protest Aug. 28 execution of Selby,” The Deseret News, July 15, 1987, 10 A.

Bob Bernick Jr., “Selby’s final footsteps are echoing harbingers of fate awaiting Andrews,” The Deseret News, August 28, 1987, Metro, 4A.

Brett DelPorto, “Daughter’s death is avenged but bitter memories live on,” The Deseret News, August 28, 1987, Metro, 4A.

Brett DelPorto, “Hi Fi survivor aiming to leave ‘fame’ and victim status behind,” The Deseret News, August 28, 1987, Metro, 5A.

Jerry Spangler, “Selby Pays for 1974 Hi Fi Murders: Injections painlessly end life of killer by 1:12 a.m.,” The Deseret News, August 28, 1987, Metro.

Pam Wade, “Web of evidence tightened inexorably in the Hi Fi trial: Grisly event pieced painstakingly slowly,” The Deseret News, August 28, 1987, Metro, 4A.

Wanda Lund, “Hi Fi 2 guilty of murder,” The Deseret News, November 16, 1974, Metro, 3A.

Wanda Lund, “Jury Decrees Death for Hi Fi Slayers,” The Deseret News, November 11, 1974, Metro, B.

Gary Kinder. Victim: The Other Side of Murder. New York: Delacorte Press, 1982.