The Hofmann Maze: Review Essay

LINDA SILLITOE and ALLEN D ROBERTS. Salamander: The Story of the of the Mormon Forgery Murders, with a Forensic Analysis by George J. Throckmorton. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988.

STEVEN NAIFEH and GREGORY WHITE SMITH. The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1988.

ROBERT LINDSEY. A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Murder and Deceit. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

For those seeking a guide to the labyrinth that is Mark Hofmann, there are now three volumes that promise a map of his complex life and crimes as well as to the society in which these occurred. Each offers the reader a detailed reconstruction of the stories of forgeries and murders and the subsequent investigation that became such a controversial topic of discussion after the first bombs exploded in Salt Lake City on 15 October 1985. All three volumes offer new and useful bits of information about the Hofmann case, but the discerning reader will sense that some of the maps are less reliable than others, and in some cases the cartography is simply not to be trusted. None of these volumes provides the reader with source citations, and all of them suffer from the problems inherent in writing contemporary history.

The first published study, Salamander, appeared in April 1988. Both Sillitoe and Roberts are familiar with the culture out of which Hofmann came, and they use this knowledge to good advantage in their detailed reconstruction of the Hofmann case. Bits and pieces of this work had surfaced before the volume appeared as the authors had given talks and published essays in such places as Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and Utah Holiday. But for those who have followed these presentations, there are still surprises in this volume. The authors have chosen a biographical approach, focusing on key individuals and their families. By using this approach, the authors broaden the context and humanize the impact of Hofmann’s activities. The volume itself is divided into three parts with a technical “appendix” on some of the key forgeries by forensic specialist George Throckmorton at the end. The first part, chapters 1 through 6, details the critical events from the initial bombings to the attempts to unravel the crimes by the various individuals and agencies assigned to the case. The second section, chapters 7 through 14, takes the reader back in time into the lives of the key players as they entered and became part of the life and activities of Mark Hofmann. The third section, chapters 15 through 19, treats the preliminary hearing, the plea bargain, and the interviews with Hofmann after his imprisonment, and concludes with the parole hearing in January 1988.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 29:1
Purchase this Issue