Mark Hofmann is a world-renowned historian, document collector, forger, murderer — and Aggie.
The new documentary, “Murder Among the Mormons,” is about Mark Hofmann and the crimes he committed and their effect on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.
His biggest forgery is known as the White Salamander Letter. It tells how a magical salamander guided Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, to golden plates he translated into the Book of Mormon. This conflicted with the previously accepted accounts of Smith being guided by an angel named Moroni and, according to Patrick Mason, a professor and historian on Mormon history, it caused a crisis of faith for the members of the church.
“One of the things Mark Hofmann was a genius at was recognizing where the gaps are in history,” Mason said. “That’s what led him to be able to see where the gaps are by walking the shelves of the USU library.”
According to Daniel Davis, a curator at Utah State’s Special Collections and Archives, Hofmann spent hours in the old library and in the old Special Collections reading and having discussions about Latter-day Saint history and documents.
Although he may have begun experimenting with forgeries while a student at Utah State, the only artifact Hofmann left behind is an old chair that sits in a hallway in Special Collections.
“He was good friends with A.J. Simmonds, the director of the Special Collections at that time when he was going to school,” Davis said.
Hofmann especially liked to talk with the director sitting in that chair talking about Latter-day Saint documents, some he may have forged himself.
Documents like the Anthon Transcript, one of Hofmann’s first and biggest forgeries. His forgery is based on a real document containing a series of characters said to be reformed Egyptian from the golden plates. They were sent to a scholar named Charles Anthon to verify the characters’ validity. Special Collections has a copy of the forgery which was given to Leonard Arrington, who Davis says was the best-known Mormon historian in the world at the time.
However, the caption on the back of one of the pages might be even more interesting than the copy itself.
“It clearly says this transcript was discovered by Mark Hofmann,” Davis said. “So Arrington believes this to be an authentic document.”
After killing two people to cover up the Salamander letter forgery, many of Hofmann’s forgeries were discovered and he was arrested. He was moved out of maximum security in Draper in 2015 and is now locked up in the Gunnison state prison.
“Murder among the Mormons” is available for streaming on Netflix.
William Bultez is a broadcast journalism major from Idaho. He is a film fanatic, dog lover and music enthusiast who enjoys the outdoors.
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