Subject: For newbies and lurking TBMs -- a review of the Hofmann case.
Date: Feb 09 15:05
Author: Stray Mutt

This is a review of the Mark Hofmann affair for those unfamiliar with it. I also want to try to lay forth the reasons we disbelievers see it as an important faith-demoting event. I’m doing this from memory, so feel free to correct any mistakes.

Mark Hofmann was a forger and shrewd observer of human behavior. Like any good con man, he knew part of his success manufacturing and selling fake historical documents depended on willing victims – people who wanted to believe his claims.

Growing up Mormon, Hofmann realized he was surrounded by credulous people who were trained to trust those who presented themselves as authorities. He also saw they were nuts about their sacred history and legends. There was a situation ripe for exploitation.

Hofmann’s method was to learn what kind of documents people really wanted to find and then he would “find” them. Producing what people already wanted assured a lucrative market. Or he would create things no one imagined existed because it was harder to challenge their authenticity.

Hofmann had a grudge against the church, so he took special glee in selling bogus church-related documents. It was one thing to fool collectors, it would be quite another to fool the supposedly inspired leaders of the church. Besides, they had deeper pockets.

From his years of poking around old documents and studying church history, Hofmann knew there were skeletons in the Mormon closet. Authentic LDS history is far murkier than the official version. He also knew the church was interested in acquiring potentially embarrassing documents so they could suppress them. Again, the situation was ripe for exploitation.

Like most inactive Mormons, Hofmann was pretty sure the brethren had no special divine light, no powers of discernment. They did have access to document experts, though. So Hofmann tested the waters with some minor forgeries. The fish took the hook.

Hofmann knew Joseph Smith and his family had been heavily involved in ritual magic, astrology and alchemy. He knew they believed in charms and incantations, in ghosts and shape-shifting creatures. And he knew that the brethren knew and that they didn’t want others to know, because it wasn’t faith-promoting.

So Hofmann concocted the “salamander letter,” an account of JS encountering a talking salamander that turned into an angel. The forgery neatly connected the Smith family’s occult practices with the origins of Mormonism.

The fact church leaders accepted the salamander letter as authentic tells us several things. First, they didn’t say, “Joseph Smith, the Lord’s chosen prophet of the restoration, never saw any talking salamanders. That would never have happened, so this document is obviously fake.” Rather, they accepted that JS might have had such a vision because they knew there were even weirder things recorded.

Secondly, we know none of the brethren involved said, “Um, wait, something’s not quite right here. I’m having a stupor of thought, a bad feeling.” Either the brethren didn’t consult the Lord about the document and its “finder” (contrary to the claim they don’t spend a dime of the Lord’s money without his blessing) or they were insufficiently in tune with the Spirit to get the message, or the Lord didn’t care, or there was no divine force out there to give them a clue.

How is it that church leaders could meet several times with Mark Hofmann and never discern the dark spirit inside him? How could they not recognize the devil within their midst? And how many times before had they failed at similar challenges? How many more times would they fail?

Yet, in the meantime, a member of the church, with far lesser credentials than the brethren, began to suspect Hofmann was a forger – based on personal experience, facts and research rather than feelings or divine guidance. Hofmann realized he might be exposed, so he blew the guy up with a letter bomb. To throw the investigation away from himself, he tried to blow up the first guy’s business associate, but unintentionally killed the associate’s wife instead. He was trying to deliver a third bomb, but it blew up on him.

Two innocent people died because the supposedly inspired brethren didn’t have a clue they were dealing with a criminal. (I don’t know, but I suspect Hofmann was smart enough to wear garments and a thin shirt when meeting with the brethren. A “smiley” is all the recommendation some Mormons require.) If they had discerned Hofmann’s character earlier and exposed him, two families wouldn’t have suffered the loss of a parent. And the brethren would have looked exceptionally inspired instead of like unexceptional business guys with exceptional opinions of themselves.

What about the church’s document experts? Well, they turned out not to be so expert. (Who hired these guys? Oh yeah, the brethren.) Besides, as many church employees know, their duty is to sustain the brethren, not to tell them they’re wrong.

Before Hofmann started blowing up people, the church trumpeted the salamander letter as a marvelous, wonderful new find while carefully spinning its content. After law enforcement forgery experts declared the salamander letter a fake, however, the brethren had to spin their way back out without making it look like they had been duped and swindled. Furthermore, they resisted cooperating with the investigation out of fear their ineptitude would be further exposed.

The Hofmann case was a shameful moment of ecclesiastical bungling. I don’t imagine it’s an isolated case. The brethren work pretty much in secret, with no checks and balances, answering to no one, except each other and the still, small voices they hear in their heads.

Subject: As long as we're on the subject of the Hofmann forgeries...
Date: Feb 09 20:07
Author: brandnewtatoo

Let's see what the real damage was...besides the obvious high price in loss of innocent life. Here is a highlight list of documents Hofmann either sold or traded to the Church [or Hinckley’s go-betweens] over a five-year period. This list it by no means conclusive as newly discovered Hofmann forgeries are still popping up occasionally, including a faked Emily Dickinson poem that surfaced at an auction just a couple years ago.

1. May '80--Hofmann trades the Anthon transcript to Hinckley for $20,000 worth of other authentic old documents from the vaults. This is the one that appeared in all the newspapers with Hofmann, Hinckley, Kimball and others sitting around the table together. Kimball was examining the document while holding a magnifying glass. Guess he should have used a seer stone, eh?

2. Feb '81--father's blessing from Joseph Smith the prophet to Joseph Smith III, stating that the young boy was next in line to lead the church. $10,000+ cash.

3. Mar '81--"Valley Notes" early Mormon currency certificates, $20,000.

4. Mar '82--Martin Harris Testimony, $20,000 in trade for other authentic historical documents.

5. July '82--"Lucy Mack Letter", $30,000+ in trade for other authentic historical documents.

6. Sept '82--"Maid of Iowa" riverboat tickets, $7,500.

7. Jan '83--"Stowell Money-Digging Letter to Joseph Smith", $15,000 cash received directly from Hinckley with the parting comment- "this is one letter that will never see the light of day."

8. Jan '84--"Salamander Letter", $40,000.

9. Oct '84--"Betsy Ross letter" $12,000.

10. Nov '84--"Jim Bridger signatures", $10,000.

11. June '85--"McLellin Papers" $185,000.

12. July '85--"Martin Harris Personal Copy of 'View of the Hebrews'" sold directly to Hinckley for an undisclosed amount.

13. Aug '85--"David Whitmer Letter", sold directly to Hinckley for an undisclosed amount.

14. Oct '85--Hinckley extends $500,000 line of credit to Steve Christensen to locate and purchase damaging documents with Hofmann's assistance.

15. Oct '85--"Kinderhook Translation", Direct offer from Hinckley to purchase for $150,000, but due to the bombings the sale was never completed.

As you can see, Hofmann took the Church [and Hinckley's go-betweens] for a long and twisting roller coaster ride to the tune of nearly a million dollars in sales, trades, and offers. If Hofmann hadn't gotten greedy towards the end, who knows how long he could have rubbed "the Brethren's" noses in it. In fact, who knows how many more Hofmann creations they still have sitting in their vaults right now that they are just too embarrassed to mention?

Discernment my a$$!

Subject: This is very important.
Date: Feb 09 20:49
Author: Stray Mutt

The brethren can almost be forgiven for falling for one document. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. But this shows a pattern of not knowing what the hell they were doing.

Subject: And don't forget the as yet undetermined...
Date: Feb 09 20:49
Author: Eldersquorumprez

reason why Hofmann had a trunk full of authentic Egyptian papyri scraps in his car the day he blew himself up.

Perhaps he had even greater schemes and scams planned out for the future....

Subject: Sometimes one just has to admire criminal genius.
Date: Feb 09 20:54
Author: Stray Mutt

Particularly when you see how well Hofmann was playing his marks.

Hey, look everyone! Original Book of Abraham papyri!

I chuckle.

Subject: Re: Where can one find a non-biased book on the subject?
Date: Feb 09 15:44
Author: Stray Mutt

I read "The Mormon Murders" about ten years ago. It approached the story from a journalistic point of view. I don't remember any particular biases. There are several others book on the topic, but I haven't read them. Look up Mark Hofmann at, read the reviews, see what you think.

Subject: Very little in religion is objective, but here are the three I read:
Date: Feb 09 15:45
Author: Hopping Through

--- SALAMANDER: THE STORY OF THE MORMON FORGERY MURDERS. Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts. Signature Books, SLC. 1988.

--- A GATHERING OF SAINTS: A TRUE STORY OF MONEY, MURDER AND DECEIT. Robert Lindsey. Simon and Schuster, NY. 1988.

--- THE MORMON MURDERS: A TRUE STORY OF GREED, FORGERY, DECEIT, AND DEATH. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, NY. 1988.

I also got a copy of the transcripts of the interviews with Hoffman after his arrest:


This was a major issue with me. How could this happen? Certainly not through revelation? How could the General Authorities lie about these documents? How could they be deceived when they "had the spirit?" Why would our own leaders cover up our history? What were they so afraid of?

I still remember a picture of Kimball with a big magnifying glass "studying" the documents with Hoffman and several other GAs.

Subject: Re: Question
Date: Feb 09 17:41
Author: Hopping Through

The accounts are that he was pretty smart. But it's great reading.

I'd check out the books. Deconstructor might be right on A GATHERING OF SAINTS. I enjoyed that one and SALAMANDER. THE MORMON MURDERS seemed a bit sensationalistic and sloppier than the other two.

Subject: Roger, I have read that forgers ....
Date: Feb 09 18:22
Author: Skunk Puppet

get authentic, antique paper by cutting out the blank sheets at the fronts and backs of old books.

I don't recall if that is specifically what Hofman did, but he very well may have.


Subject: I highly recommend this as the best book...
Date: Feb 09 16:43
Author: Deconstructor

Of all the books on the Hoffman fiasco, I found A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey to be the best. Lindsey is a non-Utahn, Non-Mormon investigative reporter that came at it from a outsider's view. Lindsey also gained access to police investigative archives that the other authors did not have.

Lindsay's book does the best job going behind the scenes, quoting bombing victim's journals, church memos and most of the people involved.

It's a fascinating read and you can get it used on Amazon for less than $4.

Subject: A Reader from Tucson writes...
Date: Feb 09 20:59
Author: Mrs. Eszterhas

a review on (I'm not making this up!)

More fiction than fact., July 27, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Tucson, AZ USA
This book is based on the murderous actions of Mark Hoffman, and in this regard is fairly accurate. However, when it comes to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the Church's founding prophet Joseph Smith, and current Church leaders and doctrine, this book is slanted, twisted and just plain wrong. Its inaccuracies cause the book to end up being more fiction than fact. If you are really interested in learning the truth about the Mormon religion you should read The Book of Mormon, visit with some missionaries, and pray to know the truth. Reading this book is not the answer unless you wish to be misinformed.

Subject: Great synopsis! Succinctly and cogently states the facts and their relevance to the veracity of the Church
Date: Feb 09 16:21
Author: Gunshy

I felt compelled to use words like "succinctly", "cogently", and "veracity", because I can't write as well as you can, but I can dredge up the occasional big word.

Keep up the good work Stray Mutt!

Subject: Re: For newbies and lurking TBMs -- a review of the Hofmann case.
Date: Feb 09 16:30
Author: notapioneer

My dad had the Mormon Mysteries book on his bookshelf, and I found it when I was maybe 16 or so? (Can't remember exactly) I read it in secret, and it disturbed me for a while. The writer was a journalist, and didn't seem to have an agenda, so I couldn't understand what motive he would have for lying about what church leaders said and did. I was more concerned about boys than I was about the church at that point though, so I just put it out of my mind. That's a book I'd like to re-read.

Dad's bookshelf was actually a treasure trove of anti-mormon stuff, now that I think back on it. He had a Mormon or Mason book (something like that). If only I'd read THAT before I went through for the first time. I'm sure my mom tossed all of his anti books when he died.

PS: Stray, I emailed you.

Subject: I may get bashed for posting this but
Date: Feb 09 17:27
Author: tbm eavesdropper

I'll do it anyway.

Scroll down to where it says Salamander Affair.

Subject: I'm not going to bash you whatsoever
Date: Feb 09 17:39
Author: Hoosiergirl

I have no desire to bash you. After reading what was on that link though, I have to say that plan C uses so much circular reasoning.
The premise starts with: Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet and God communicates to and through him.
So, because of above premise, it must have happened this way. Explanation of plan C. (Now, I could be wrong, but I've never heard President Hinckley come out and say that things transpired in the way plan C describes, so it seems pretty hypothetical based on the above premise.)
After plan C is described, based on the premise above, the conclusion is: Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet and God communicates to and through him.


Subject: Didn't the guy who started leave the church? - Yes he is now an ex-Mormon

Subject: You are right
Date: Feb 09 17:54
Author: tbm eavesdropper

It is just circular reasoning, the author is proposing a possible scenario. Certainly there is nothing I am aware of that states this is the exact way it happened. But it does make sense and is possible.

Subject: Spare Us The Nibleyisms; BTW, Hinckley Wasn't Even Church President . . .
Date: Feb 09 20:21
Author: SL Cabbie

During the Hofmann affair. Steve's grandfather was, and Steve's got a few stories about his mental state at the time . . . shoot if those guys had a shred of intelligence and lack of guile, they'd just say, well ETB wasn't himself and the messages from God kind of got garbled . . .

Of course that would mean acknowledging the veracity of Steve's reports about his grandfather . . .

Plus a few about how church leaders stonewalled the Hofmann investigation . . .

BTW, upperclassman, if you check your yearbook, there are pictures of Hofmann's sister and his best friend. I knew 'em both . . .

Subject: Nope.
Date: Feb 09 20:35
Author: Eldersquorumprez

Benson wasn't the main man until Nov. 85, shortly after the third bomb went off. Kimball was in charge [nominally] during the entire six year period of document purchases and cover ups from early '80 thru '85.

Subject: I Stand Corrected . . .
Date: Feb 09 20:49
Author: SL Cabbie
Mail Address:

So I should've suggested God was having a little trouble making the prophetic connection with SWK . . .

Drat, now FARMS won't send me my consultant check.

Subject: Re: I may get bashed for posting this but
Date: Feb 09 17:50
Author: Hopping Through

No bashing, but even the prophet didn't claim he got a revelation to let this slide.

The facts are that they bought documents they thought might be true, and, if true would tarnish the reputation of the church and it's claims to revelatory roots. They hid many of those documents in the vault and lied about having them. My recollection (could be wrong) is that they lied to the police and they lied to their fellow apostles (or at least consciously didn't tell them). They appeared to believe the documents to be authentic or purchasing them would have been a waste of time and money (the lord's annointed certainly would not waste the tithes and offerings of his people, would they?).

The reason they purchased, hid, and lied about them is that they were afraid they were true and and would destroy the church. There appears to be absolutely no confidence on the part of church leaders that they can trust members to deal with the truth and make their own decisions. The church leaders -- a patently paternalistic lot -- must save the "saints" from their own weaknesses and immaturity.

From the site:

"In summary, the Lord chose plan "C." He was able to protect the reputation of the church by allowing the criminal Hoffmans to hoist himself on his own petard. Far from damaging the reputation of president Hinckley, if we have eyes to see, we can see the hand of the Lord inspiring and assisting his prophet."

Using this logic, the Lord allowed two innocent people to be killed so the FBI could come up with a new way of detecting forgery? Why not just reveal it to them? Why not kill Hoffman? Why not reveal it to Hinckley? This kind of rationalization is very, very hard to swallow.

Subject: Re: I may get bashed for posting this but
Date: Feb 09 18:01
Author: Trooper 8
Mail Address:

Despite what this website says about how the Church's reputation was restored as a result of the "Plan C" scenario, that is hardly the case. Whether you want to admit it or not, the whole affair made the Prophet of the Church look like an idiot to the whole world. How does this "restore the Chruch's reputation"?

What the salmander affair really show is that the Prophet's so-called "powers of discernment" do not exist. Period.

Subject: How about this option? (edited)
Date: Feb 09 18:08
Author: Stray Mutt

God tells the prophet, “This letter is a forgery and Mark Hofman is a criminal who will do far worse things if not stopped. Call in the authorities, tell them you’re going to buy the letter and turn it over to them as evidence.” So that’s what the prophet does.

Word gets out that the church questions the authenticity of Hofmann’s document. Some people, particularly document experts who vouched for his work, think it’s preposterous. Others, who have paid good money for Hofmann documents, resubmit their documents to other experts. Some even call in law enforcement for their opinion. Because that's how people who live in the real world behave. They don't just take someone's word, they check it out. They don't see the world divided into those who support them without question and those who are their enemies, intent on doing evil to them at every turn. If I'm in charge of a university library or other collection, proper stewardship and fiduciary responsibilities obligate me to find the truth, no matter how embarassing. I have to answer to others, unlike the brethren.

Forensic and forgery experts in the FBI expose Hofmann’s forgeries, arrest and convict him. He never gets a chance to blow anyone up. Or, knowing he's about to be exposed, he flees the country. Or he blows himself up.

Those who once criticized the prophet now acknowledge his exceptional powers of discernment. Some even investigate the church, wondering about this remarkable man called a prophet.

But it didn't happen that way, did it.

Subject: I kind of like the reasoning in plan A...
Date: Feb 09 18:15
Author: Melanie

The key point is that nobody outside of the church believes in the prophet anyway (forget the fact that people in the church will follow him wholeheartedly). We pretend that the experts we had look at the documents are the best in the world (although it did turn out that the forgery experts in the FBI were a little smarter). And then we remind the members that everyone outside of the church is led by Satan and they never would have been as smart as the GAs and realized the documents were forged.

Which leads us to Plan B:
The only way to stop Hoffman is to pretend to go along with him so that we can gain control of the letters and hide them away (even though we have a lot of practice with this, somehow it would not have worked in this situation). We pretend that critics don't already know that the church tries to suppress information when the truth is we don't want the faithful to have reason to believe that we suppress information. And Hoffman, being totally unlike other criminals and remarkably satisfied with this one success, decides to retire.

So plan C totally makes sense now
The prophets are convinced by God to making a joke of modern day revelation. To limit the field day that the critics have, we hush up the trial and reportedly even try to help Hoffman to speed things up. Since God has his GAs busy with the tough stuff, he has to inspire little people to take on Hoffman. Because this success is obviously not as satisfying as the success in scenario B. Then, miraculously, the FBI come the GAs rescue and they are able to reveal God's true plan for the Salamander letters to the people.

I love how God is so simple. He always makes so much sense, if you just stop to think about it.

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