45: Who is Mark Hofmann? The Truth Behind the Salamander Letter Bombings (Part 3)

Troy, Amy, and Clay wrap up their discussion about Mark Hofmann and the Salamander Letter Bombings. They discuss the forgeries and events that lead to Hofmann’s capture; outline the events of his prosecution; and discuss the implications of Mark Hofmann’s actions on individuals as well as the church in general.


***Correction: Brent Ashworth was the “vice president and corporate attorney for Nature Sunshine Products,” according to Sillitoe and Roberts’ “Salamander.” He was not the owner or founder.

***At the end of the episode, Clay starts speculating wildy and mentions papers he is suspicious the church has hid. An overview of the papers that he refers to can be found below. Clay has taken steps to find out what has happened to these papers, but he has not yet been successful.
John Varah Long papers

Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders

The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit and Death

Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case

The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery

Register of the Mark Hofmann Case Collection

The Tanners’ examination of the documents and the Josiah Stowell letter

The Salamander Letter

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View — D. Michael Quinn

Mormon Expression — D&C 8 & 9 for dummies – Part 1

Mormon Expression — D&C 8 & 9 for dummies – Part 2

Reading Church History–Dallin Oaks

Reading Church History–Dallin Oaks (Version distributed to CES)

Letter to Seminary Teachers on how to deal with the Salamander Letter


  1. Expositor's Heather C.

    So, I want to weigh in on the conversation near the end about whether or not the church is culpable in the murders Hofmann committed. I think I’m on the spectrum between Amy and Troy/Clay. But I think I’m closer to Amy.

    While I agree with Troy & Clay that Hofmann was acting on a nation-wide stage and could have gotten into the same kind of trouble with his forging documents like Freeman’s Oath… I also think:

    -The events surrounding the Library of Congress & that particular forgery show that it would have been much more difficult for Hofmann to escalate things the way he did. The Library of Congress was having difficulty authenticating the document because they have greater resources to investigate things. Also, as was stated in the podcast, in the end, they weren’t going to be giving him much money (compared to what the church was giving him). So it’s a definite possibility that his ego and nefarious actions would have been kept in check if he were only dealing with American history, rather than LDS history.

    -THESE PARTICULAR PEOPLE would still be alive if church leaders actually had powers of discernment. Troy said something like, “Who was going to step in and tell Kimball it wasn’t true?” My response would have been, “God should have. This God can supposedly strike people dumb for months on end (Alma the Younger or Abraham?) but he can’t have a “come to Jesus” with his own prophet to set him straight?

    -But you don’t even have to go all the way to divinity. Many believers and/or liberal non-believing participants like to claim that the church teaches people to live by a higher moral standard. If the *leaders* who supposedly teaches a higher moral standard had been acting in line with that moral standard, rather than from a place of self-interest, then they would not have been perpetrating an attempted cover-up. They wouldn’t have been playing financial games and doing shady business deals. So, as a result, THESE PARTICULAR PEOPLE, would still be alive. At the very least, these men are lying hypocrites and have no bloody business standing up twice a year and lecturing others about ethics or morality.

    Bottom line, the church DOES hold some responsibility in this situation. I’m not convinced it’s 50/50. But I don’t think the church deserves to be let off the hook for the deaths of those individuals, either.

    Reply Jul 24, 2013 @ 15:38:31
  2. WonkyAngel

    I hung in there, Amy, Clay and Troy! The three of you did a great job!

    A huge thanks to Amy for articulating so well the points that the Hoffman debacle shows regarding the true nature of this church/corporation. Nefarious is the best description.

    Reply Jul 24, 2013 @ 15:41:23
  3. Megan

    Heather – am I right in thinking you’re saying that the church’s policy of suppression and secrecy was instrumental in turning this from a story of simple greed and fraud to murder? In other words, because they were willing to pay so much and were not in a position to authenticate the documents they inadvertently fed Hoffman’s psychosis in a way that fatally escalated the scam.

    I can see that, although the blame then comes from having a shoddy, unethical approach to their own history rather than actual blame for murder which, IMO, lies solely and entirely on Hoffman’s shoulders.

    So yes, this makes those leaders hypocrites if they then lecture on honesty, at least so far as I can see.

    But I would say that given this story, if they want to come off of it with any sense at all of innocence, they cannot then promote or benefit from a concept that they or other high church officials are, when acting for the church, working under divine inspiration that makes them any less fallible than any other reasonable human being.

    Can’t have it both ways.

    Reply Jul 24, 2013 @ 15:55:18
  4. Expositor's Heather C.

    Megan – The murders didn’t happen because Hofmann had some sort of personal beef with either of the victims that didn’t involve his dealings with the church. They happened because Hofmann got in over his head and thought he found a way out.

    It was unethical of the church to bring Christensen into the picture. It was unethical of them to secure a shady business loan. By acting imprudently in these ways, they created the crucible in which the Hofmann murders were born. They may have done so unwittingly. But that doesn’t render them blameless. They are still responsible for contributing to the problem.

    What would have happened if church leadership had told Hofmann they wouldn’t give him any money until the McLellin collection was in hand? Or if they told Hofmann they would only buy the collection from the imaginary Texan and provide him a finders fee of some kind?

    It’s definitely possible that Hofmann could have ended up in the same situation if the church had done everything on the up-and-up. If they had, I wouldn’t feel they were partially responsible for the murders. But they didn’t. Instead, they contributed to the problem. Their shady business deals allowed Hofmann to create the disaster that lead to him deciding to kill people. Hofmann supposedly sold fake stuff all over the place, right? Why wasn’t he in these huge financial problems with these other organizations like the Library of Congress? What did they do differently? It seems to me the answer is that they did things ethically and above board.

    Reply Jul 24, 2013 @ 18:29:12
  5. Clay

    All good input folks.
    Heather, you have given me a lot to think about. I do not want to give the impression that the church is blameless in this (They acted unethically and possibly criminally). I just am not willing to say, that for this, they have blood on their hands.

    I think it stems from the following. I have a hard time holding others to higher standards than myself, and I think we should ask ourselves the following;

    “Every time we negotiate or deal with someone else (even if that negotiation is no on the up-and-up), should we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this person crazy enough to commit murder?'”

    I don’t think that should be expected from us. There are many of us that may have at one time participated in a less-than-legal transaction. If that transaction went wrong and the person we were dealing with ended killing people, would we be responsible?

    Given the church’s claims to divine guidance, should the church have seen what was coming? Sure. Possibly. But that is a theological failure, not a “co-conspirator charge,” in my mind.

    Should the church be ashamed of what they did and feel like dirty bastards? Yes.

    Reply Jul 25, 2013 @ 08:18:28
  6. Megan

    Thanks Heather, I think I understand better now. So for you it goes beyond the general atmosphere that the church’s approach to those documents created, there’s also the action taken to involve innocent people in order to keep their own hands clean. In other words, by drawing Christiansen in they made him a target – sin of commission rather than omission if you like.

    I suppose I agree with Clay that the church isn’t culpable for the murder itself, at least from a strict definition. When we get into the more granular ethics I’m a bit more iffy. I mean, there’s a whole list of ‘if’s’ that is involved:

    IF the church had been willing to deal with historical problems honestly

    IF they had chosen to take responsibility for their actions as an organisation and not ask an innocent person to get involved

    IF they had done as the Library of Congress did and put in the leg-work to authenticate the documents

    and, on the spiritual end –

    IF they actually had the spirit of discernment or IF they had consulted it (which ever way your faith spectrum swings)

    All of which, bar the last, are ethical choices. So the fact that a series of unethical choices led to quite horrific consequences is very problematic. The question becomes whether the organisation learned from the whole thing and changed the behaviours that encouraged the situation…

    Reply Jul 25, 2013 @ 09:11:32
  7. seasickyetstilldocked

    Troy mentioned that part of his rational is that God puts good ol regular people in church positions and you know, their human so what can you do? Usually, when we talk about the Hoffman fiasco, we rightly say things like, “well, Hinckley and Kimball etc are prophets, seers and revelators so how is it possible that the Lord would not communicate the fraud to them.

    Should we take cover in thinking that well, the Lord just can’t personally micromanage these special witnesses 24/7? We can’t expect that right? I mean should we have expected Jesus himself to invisibly tap Kimball on the shoulder and be like, “bro, dude is a fraud, eject”……I think tbms take comfort in thinking that and in thinking that somehow the forgeries are beyond the personal jurisdiction of Jesus.

    Look, it is way worse than that. So what if the Lord himself seemed to have better things to do EVERY TIME Hoffman interacted with the Church in any way with any number of members…..where was the regular old Holy Ghost? Where was this constant companion that is supposed to help guide you and confirm the truthfulness of all things? It is reasonable to think that every time Hoffman interacted with the Church and every one of HIS representatives at every level that that particular representative at that particular moment was not worthy of the spirit? Did Hinckley have an old Sears catalog dog eared at the women’s underwear section in the bottom drawer of his desk? How is it possible that not only was the Lord personally a no show during the ENTIRE TIME, MONTHS EVEN of this tragic fiasco, but also, the Holy Ghost was MIA with every baptized and confirmed Latter Day Saint that had anything to do with this mess.

    As Amy said, this does demonstrate that the church is not what it claims. The doctrines relating to apostolic and personal revelation failed over and over and over again. Priesthood, Keys, ordinances, covenants, God, Holy Ghost, seering, the power of discernment…I mean it all utterly failed in totality……and as if all this stuff usually works all the time and just did not in this case. Lol.

    …….but the church is still true and Monson is still a prophet and Bishops have the power of discernment and the Holy Ghost is our constant companion and patriarchal blessings are really real and Lehi was a real person and blah blah……blah blah……….blabitty blah. Good grief. It is true, NO MATTER WHAT!!!!

    That said. These three podcasts were amazing and really well done. You guys did not mail it in and delivered a very well informed and fair treatment of this subject. The three of you should pick something else to take on in depth. Much respect to all three of your efforts. Great work!

    Reply Jul 25, 2013 @ 13:56:33
  8. jeanikins

    I’m here to collect and give kudos for all three episodes; well done you guys.
    Couple of thoughts re. Heather’s first comments.

    “The events surrounding the Library of Congress & that particular forgery show that it would have been much more difficult for Hofmann to escalate things the way he did. The Library of Congress was having difficulty authenticating the document because they have greater resources to investigate things.”

    The Library of Congress wasn’t into the “oh shit let’s cover this up” mode that allowed Hoffman to continue to manipulate Church leaders.

    The ‘trust for other Mormons’ attitude that we are accustomed to brings into question a whole slew of things regarding the Mormon Culture of obedience and trust for anyone who is a member of the church. The fact that MLM’s and white collar crime exist in abundance in Mormon culture. The ‘triumvirate’ business and church model (pyramid schemes) is ‘comfortable’ to many church members because they see it as the Lord’s model.

    The Church continuing to play ball with Hoffman despite his poor excuses is evidence that their interest in proving or protecting the Church’s history is paramount. It overrides the truth and is totally immoral.

    Yes LDS Church leaders, that is what immorality means.

    If Church leaders can claim that a young woman may be partially responsible for her rape because she was partially exposed, then they have to own up to the fact that because the Church was partially exposed by their trust and fear, then they are partially responsible for the deaths of those people.

    Reply Jul 29, 2013 @ 14:24:02
  9. My brothers call me Ed

    I also made it through all 3 very interesting discussions. I think (I am NOT going back to re-listen) you left out a huge hole that ought to be discussed.

    TL;DR The LDS church, by it’s own definition is absolutely dishonest about the Hoffman affair.

    From http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-31-honesty we learn “When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by *silence, or by telling only part of the truth*. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

    Here (http://archive.kolobcafe.com/ensign/) we have the claim of the famous Hofmann/Kimbal (with Hinckley to the side) photo and 3 page (74-76) story by Janet Brigham in the June 1980 Ensign.

    Yet, here (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/06?lang=eng) in the electronic copy we can find no such photo nor story.

    Who is right? Did the folks at kolob cafe forge this information, or did the LDS church scrub it?

    Looking in the July 1980 “News of the Church” (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/07/news-of-the-church?lang=eng) online edition we read this interesting paragraph: “The sessions began with an excited buzz over the discovery of the Anthon Transcript, announced only three days before in Salt Lake City. Danel Bachman, LDS Institute of Religion instructor in Logan, Utah, *reviewed the finding of the transcript (Ensign, June 1980, p. 74)* and then compared the characters on the transcript itself with the two other known copies of the characters, the Whitmer manuscript in the RLDS archives, and a Book of Mormon poster (see his article, p. 69).”

    Seems like the LDS did indeed publish the story about the transcript in June of 1980, referenced the article in the July 1980 edition, yet removed the photo and the article from it’s online electronic version.

    LDS leaders, here is another example of your dishonesty. I look forward to any apologist attempt to rationalize this away. Mormons, how many more examples of dishonest leadership do you need before you denounce this corrupt organization?

    Reply Jul 29, 2013 @ 20:43:54
  10. NSP Insider

    One clarification. It was mentioned on podcasts 1 and 2 that Brent Ashworth was the owner of Nature’s Sunshine Products. That’s incorrect; he was an attorney by profession and he was the Chief Legal Officer of Nature’s Sunshine for many years until he retired. NSP was founded and owned by the Hughes Family until it became a public entity. However, the Hughes are still major stock holders.

    Reply Aug 01, 2013 @ 14:48:34
    • Clay

      Thanks, NSP Insider, for the clarification and for keeping us honest. We appreciate yout input.

      Reply Aug 01, 2013 @ 15:37:55
      • NSP Insider

        No harm done. Well, maybe there is. If certain information is presented as factual, I wonder what else that was said is not correct or it is partly correct. I don’t doubt that you guys are honest and that you mean well, but the concern is still there, not just with this podcast but with others.

        Reply Aug 02, 2013 @ 05:26:25
        • Clay

          I think that you bring up a good point, NSP Insider, but I think that it is a point that applies to not only podcasts but any information source at all. Misinformation is a problem no matter what. At Mormon Expositor we try to mitigate that problem by listing the sources that we used and being transparent about where we are retrieving our information. I have issued the following correction on all the Mark Hofmann podcast pages and have released the correction on our podcast Facebook page–

          ***Correction: Brent Ashworth was the “vice president and corporate attorney for Nature Sunshine Products,” according to Sillitoe and Roberts’ “Salamander.” He was not the owner or founder.

          As always, we appreciate your input and corrections where necessary. However, if you are on the hunt for an information source that is never in error (whether that source be inside or outside the church, or inside or outside mainstream media), you will surely be hunting for a very long time.

          Reply Aug 02, 2013 @ 11:50:46
  11. Boudreaux

    I remember Baby Huey Pinnock from my mission. What a blowhard. I died laughing when you mentioned his name. Great trilogy of podcasts.

    Reply Aug 04, 2013 @ 23:40:06
  12. Boudreaux

    I’ll just add why I think it’s so funny. He came to speak at our mission (ore-gone) and he came across as a pompass [insert term here]. He gave the most hypocritical church talk I’ve ever heard. He reamed all of the missionaries for not being “professional” and using slang in discussions. Then he had the nerve to call us all “dickey-birds”. I remember looking at my comp at the time and saying “Who is this guy? What a raging hypocrite.

    Reply Aug 05, 2013 @ 16:50:16
  13. Troy

    Thanks for sharing Boudreaux. Do you know if Pinnock is still alive?

    Reply Aug 05, 2013 @ 20:53:48
  14. Aaron

    Hi all,
    I’m an ex-mormon who just discovered this fascinating podcast. I left the church about 20 years ago as a teen, but never heard a lot of this stuff before.
    Can someone do me a favor? The whole concept of “Correlation” is new me. Could someone please point me to a podcast episode or other source where I could get a comprehensive explanation/history of correlation?

    Reply Aug 06, 2013 @ 06:47:54
    • Clay

      Hi, Aaron. Thanks for chiming in. Here is the short version, and then I can send you a paper that is more exhaustive:

      The church (pre-McKay era) had much more latitude on what was taught and resources that you were allowed to teach about. Furthermore, church auxiliaries such as the Relief Society, were much more autonomous. The correlation committee is now in charge of screening all manuals, teaching materials and essentially maintaining the “party line.” That is a very simplified version of what “Correlation” is. I’ll point you to some more in depth info soon.

      Reply Aug 06, 2013 @ 10:25:21
    • Clay

      It appears like episode #150 (part 2 of a 4 part series) over at mormonstories.org deals with it on some level. That may be a good spring-board.


      Reply Aug 06, 2013 @ 10:36:28
    • Clay Painter

      Hi, Aaron.
      Below is a 1985 Sunstone article that is a fairly concise overview of the Correlation Committee.


      Reply Aug 06, 2013 @ 12:04:10
  15. Aaron

    Thanks for the thorough response Clay. I’m really enjoying your archives. Consider me a new fan.

    Reply Aug 06, 2013 @ 14:39:24
  16. Nate G

    Thank you so much, you guys, for doing such a thorough and thoughtful job on this. I agree with Brandt that we should just go ahead and call this Mormon Expositor’s “Award-Winning” Mark Hoffman Series.

    Reply Aug 09, 2013 @ 09:07:14
  17. Ziff

    Sorry I’m late with the feedback, but I just listened to the whole series and I loved it. Wonderful work! Thanks so much for doing this!

    Reply Aug 22, 2013 @ 20:43:01
  18. Randy H

    I just discovered your podcasts and especially enjoyed this series. Wow, so fascinating. I’m out of the church for years but was in the Mormon bubble when all this was going down. I remember reading the Church News and Oak’s statements in the Ensign so it was “nothing to see here” for me. I never looked deeper. So thanks!

    Reply Oct 09, 2013 @ 22:06:45
    • Clay

      I am glad that you found us, Randy H, and thanks for listening and commenting!

      Reply Oct 10, 2013 @ 10:07:03
  19. Omar

    Listened to this on my 12 hour drive today with some friends. Well done, we loved it.
    Our concensus was that the church absolutely had Chrstensen’s blood on their hands as they got him involved.

    If any of the ‘prophets, seers, and revelators’ had an ounce of the spirit of discernment the whole thing would’ve been squashed before it even began. Sad sad story.

    Reply Jul 05, 2016 @ 04:06:49

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