The psychotic ego of Mark Hofmann in Murder Among the Mormons
The title of, and the trailer for, this latest three-part Netflix original docuseries is sensationalist and a tad misleading. Yes, there was murder. Yes, Mormons were involved – directly and indirectly.
But despite being hinged on two fatal bombings in 1985 in Salt Lake City, Utah, bastion of the Mormons, who pioneered and built this city (not on rock ‘n roll), the series is less about those incidents and more about fraud, historical document forgery, faith and one enormously psychotic ego.
“His ability to deceive was unparalleled”
The ego in question belongs to Mark Hofmann, described by his friend Shannon Flynn – and generally recognised – as one of the most accomplished forgers to have manipulated paper and ink.
“Just explain he was very good at what he did, possibly the best ever,” prompts the off-screen interviewer as the final episode draws to a close.
Flynn, who is a fascinating character in these events, wears a three-piece suit and speaks breathlessly throughout his interviews. He was implicated in Hofmann’s crimes at the time, and doesn’t have a pristine past, either. At one point of his interview, he exhibits so many blatant signals and gestures that the textbooks tell us indicate that he’s lying that it’s almost a caricature.
“I don’t recall” is one of the flimsiest fibs there is, especially if you’re talking about the day before your buddy set off a bomb.
Flynn answers, immediately glancing away, with fluttering hands: “Please don’t make me answer that…I don’t want to make a hero out of him.”
And then he promptly (perhaps this was edited in post) continues by saying: “Because he was fantastic. No one. Has come close. To doing. What he has done. The depth and knowledge of understanding and his autodidactic ability was unprecedented. His ability to deceive, unparalleled. I should have suspected. We all should have suspected.”
How Hofmann moved from forgery to murder
Hofmann is the son of devout Mormons who, in adolescence, discovered not only a talent for forgery, but a love for deceiving people. The bigger the con, the better.
Now, the foundation of the Mormon faith (more formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) can be explored more fully elsewhere but we know that, like all religions, its teachings are based on the writings of mortals.
In his quest to shatter the core beliefs of the Mormon Church, Hofmann forged documents that would disprove the teachings, and in fact, lead to many members turning away from it. Which is pretty mean, if you think about it.
This show is “a combination detective story, crime thriller and artistic triumph of nonfiction cinema” – Wall Street Journal
This is a story that unfolded over several years. Fronting as an antiquities dealer, which was secondary to his raison d’être (fooling as many people as much of the time as possible), Hofmann continued to forge letters and documents, including those attributed to Abe Lincoln and a poem by Emily Dickinson, among others.
Heck, he even fooled his wife, whom he roped in as an accessory to one of his early “discoveries”. This is what he did: he “found” ancient documents, often after someone had mentioned the possibility of their existence. Yet no one questioned his uncanny ability to do this. In fact, there were many things no one thought to ask. Like how did Hofmann beat the polygraph with the unlikeliest highest score achievable?
Then one day Hofmann woke up, found himself in a bit of a pickle as his cons were about to implode, he was deeply in debt (“easy come, easy go,” he says) and he was being investigated. He got together the ingredients for pipe bombs, and succeeded in killing two people on purpose (they weren’t simply innocent bystanders in the vicinity of the bomb).
Then he blew himself up too, accidentally on purpose; the attempted “suicide” was probably intended to throw the authorities off the scent but it had the opposite effect: Hofmann become a suspect in the previous bombings.
“Co-directors Jared Hess and Tyler Measom keep it a tight, bizarre but well-told story.” – Globe and Mail
Going from white collar fraud, wrong as it is, to deliberately making pipe bombs wrapped in lethal nails then planting them on doorsteps, is something any avid armchair crime fan will tell you is quite the escalation.
He declined to be interviewed, but we still hear him confessing
The first two episodes of the series are very talky-talky, with endless interviews with investigators, historians, experts, old Shannon Flynn, and other characters in the cast of Hofmann’s play, and I must confess to not exactly being enthralled.
In the final episode, we get to hear Hofmann spilling all the beans, and all the worms, in a recorded interview detailing his past and his crimes. This was for me the most interesting part, in an attempt to understand what made him tick. Surprisingly, for someone with such an inflated sense of self-importance, Hofmann declined to be interviewed for the series.
“Ultimately, Murder Among the Mormons is about faith. Faith not just in the teachings but in the verification of the teachings – the hand of a prophet, the authority of the historian, the insistence of the leaders of the congregation,” says Men’s Health. “Mark Hofmann’s forgeries weren’t just illegal and heretical; they fundamentally questioned the structure of knowledge on which all religious institutions are based.”
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