“In October 1985, three bombs exploded in Salt Lake City, killing two innocent people & injuring a third, Mark Hofmann. Subsequent investigations revealed that the young documents dealer, Mark W. Hofmann, had planned and executed the bombings to cover up a five-year trail of deceit and forgery. Over twenty years have passed since Hofmann began his notorious career and while Hofmann spends his days at the Utah State Prison, his forgeries continue to appear in the marketplace and claim new victims.”
The above paragraph led the announcement of a symposium that was held, recently, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Living in south-west Wyoming, less than 200 miles from the site of the murders in late 1985, I can certainly remember the news of the bombings, the ensuing investigations, the trial, and the aftermath. Even though the news was sensational, at the time, I never felt that those events would ever have the potential to involve me. I even read some of the books (see ‘Suggested Reading’ – at the end of this article) about the events, and still I never thought that any of this could possibly be of any significance to me, other than just a passing interest. My belief was based on a false assumption that Mark Hofmann had only been involved in the forgery of Mormon (LDS) related items. I wonder how many other book and document dealers, if they have even heard of Mark Hofmann, suffer under that same assumption.
The first challenge to my belief came a little over a year ago, during a visit to Ken Sanders Rare Books, in Salt Lake City. During one of our conversations, Ken related how he had been called in to evaluate a book collection, for potential purchase. One of the items in the collection was a ‘signed’ copy of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Ken said that he “was hardly able to sleep for the next 24 hours” – until he realized that the signature was a Hofmann forgery, because it had been detailed on a list of items known to have been in Hofmann’s possession. Ken went on to tell me of further known, and suspected, Hofmann forgery items.
During another recent visit to Ken’s store, I learned that he was hosting a symposium on Mark Hofmann and his ‘works’. I made certain that my schedule would allow me to attend the event, where I was certain that I would obtain some valuable knowledge – in hindsight, that was quite an understatement.
Simon Worrall’s book The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery had just been published – and I was able to obtain and read a copy before I attended the symposium. A very fascinating book, and it further served to help me learn that there is a great quantity of non-Mormon Hofmann forgeries – but, still nothing like I was to learn during the symposium.
Ken is on the right and collector Anthony Marks is on the left. More about Tony Marks, and his purchase, later in the article.
The event officially began on Friday, September 13 th at 7:00 p.m. Ken had originally planned to host the symposium in his store. Interest in the event, though, quickly showed that this would be highly impractical. Ken was able to make arrangements with the nearby Broadway Theater to house the lecture portions of the event.
Preliminary to the first session, Simon Worrall read the introduction of his book to a small audience, in Ken’s store. He also read a magazine article that he wrote,Tracking Mark Hofmann , relating his experiences in Las Vegas while tracking the ‘provenance’ of the ‘Emily Dickinson poem’ that is the subject of his latest book. The serendipity of that trip would make for a marvelous movie script, but no one would believe it. Simon, with an infinite amount of journalistic luck, just happened to be in the offices of Todd Axelrod’s Gallery of History when couriers in a rented limousine delivered the ‘Emily Dickinson poem’, being returned from Sotheby’s – the auction purchaser having discovered that it was a forgery. Simon emphasized the point that “if Sotheby’s didn’t know that the Emily Dickinson poem was a forgery, they certainly should have, at least, checked on the provenance of the piece.”
The symposium officially began with Ken Sanders making a brief statement of the purposes of the event – stating his hope that the book and documents trade could begin a registry of known and suspected Mark Hofmann forgery items. He also pointed out the fact that we should remember the Sheets and Christiansen families as the primary victims of Mark Hofmann: “they lost family members, while others only lost money.”
Will Bagley, noted Utah historian, whose most recent book is Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows , then took over as moderator of the symposium. Will stated that the Mark Hofmann story “bedevils historians,” that separating fact from fallacy will be an “immense challenge to determine the hallmarks of truth.” He then introduced the first speaker, Kenneth Rendell, noted autograph and documents dealer.
Kenneth Rendell, author of Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters & Documents , started his remarks by stating that he was attending as a member of a “club I’d rather not belong to,” being one of those who lost money and valuable, genuine, inventory to Mark Hofmann. Ken called Hofmann “the greatest forger of the 20 th century” and, having established himself as a collector and specialist of Mormon documents, Hofmann then began dealing in books and documents not related to the Mormons. One of Hofmann’s most audacious forgeries was that of the ‘Oath of a Freeman’ – the first document ever printed in the U.S. The Library of Congress came very close to purchasing this forgery from Hofmann, for an amount in excess of $1 Million. The method that Hoffman used to establish the provenance of this document, while beyond the scope of this article, gives insight into the true level of the sophistication of Hofmann’s deceptions.
Part of the secret to Mark Hofmann’s success as a forger lay in the fact that he always used contemporary paper – stealing these by removing end-papers and the like — from books of the same period as the forgery he wished to produce. Hofmann also learned how to manufacture inks using the same components and methods used by contemporary artisans.
Although Hofmann took many people for a lot of money, there has never been an accounting of just where the money went. Mark Hofmann was imprisoned for the 2 murders, but no one has ever pursued Hofmann for the fraud aspects of the case.
Kenneth Rendell concluded his remarks by stating that “Hofmann is gloating over the fact that we are meeting to discuss his work.”
Will Bagley then introduced Richard Turley, noted historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), author of Victims: The LDS Church and the Hofmann Case .
Mr. Turley told the audience that the LDS church has identified 446 items in their possession that have been associated with the list of known Hofmann forged signatures. He then read a list of Mormon and non-Mormon names known to have been forged by Hofmann. See the end of this article for a list of the non-Mormon names. For those interested in the Mormon list, please see page 348 of Mr. Turley’s book. Richard went on to say that there will probably never be a complete list of Mark Hofmann forgeries, but that any books or documents that have any Hofmann association should be highly suspect, that book and document dealers “need healthy skepticism of all new documents regardless of content.”
The next speaker, introduced by Will Bagley, was Steve Mayfield of the Salt Lake City Police Crime Lab.
Steve Mayfield reviewed some of the history of the case, how detectives and forensic experts had been able to determine that many of the Hofmann books and documents were forgeries. Much of the work was just good detective procedure – comparing dates, looking for contradictions of time and place, looking for obvious flaws. He showed an example of one Hofmann forgery, with multiple signatures, with one of the signatories having died before another was born.
Mr. Mayfield stated that dealers in books and documents should always ask, “Who had this article, where has it been?”
Steve’s final advice to collectors, “If you are going to buy a document, buy the cheapest one, because it’s probably fake anyway.”
The next speaker was George Throckmorton, a leading forensics investigator, and author of A Forensic Analysis of Twenty-One Hofmann Documents .
George Throckmorton and others of his staff developed the ink and paper tests that were finally able to prove that many of the signatures and documents sold by Hofmann were indeed forgeries. Of all the symposium speakers, Mr. Throckmorton seemed the most jaded regarding the case, almost certainly due to the fact that he has been called upon to testify and speak about the affair innumerable times over the past 17 years. George went into great detail regarding his background, his training, his experience – and that of the other members of his department. He also gave a not-so-gentle scolding to ‘experts’ who have stated, in public, the methods that can be used to determine Hofmann forgeries. He stated that he has never publicly listed the entire battery of methods that he and his staff used to declare the Hofmann documents as forgeries.
He also went on to state that he thought that most book and document dealers “were concerned with a quick buck, rather than establishing a good reputation.” He stated that a signature alone on a book or document should always be suspect – the signature, by itself, is insufficient to establish authenticity.
His final, albeit highly questionable, advice to collectors – “If you think it’s authentic, then what difference does it make if it’s a forgery.”
The final speaker of the evening was Jennifer Larson, antiquarian bookseller, owner of Yerba Buena Books, noted expert on forgeries and those of Hofmann, in particular.
Jennifer Larson started her presentation by noting that the Mark Hofmann forgeries were not exposed from within the rare books and documents trade; they were exposed as part of a murder investigation. She showed examples of a number of known and suspected Hormann forgeries. She urged caution and careful scrutiny of every item – but especially those that have any known involvement with Hofmann. She also noted that Hofmann is not the only forger – there is a currently active forger producing fakes of Sinclair Lewis related items.
After Jennifer’s presentation, there was time for a short question/answer period involving all the speakers.
One of the interesting, but very worrisome, points that was made is that there seems to be a market beginning for Mark Hofmann forgeries – that the forgeries, themselves, are now being sought by collectors. This led to one panelist to remark that now we have to worry about someone “forging Mark Hofmann forgeries” – what a conundrum that would be.
Another point made during this question/answer session was that forgeries are not always done for immediate financial gain, as many might suspect. The forgeries may be done to establish precedence and/or provenance for future forgeries – forgeries may also be done to alter or establish historical perspectives of events.
On Saturday, September 14, the symposium’s second session began at 1:00 p.m., again in the Broadway theater. Prior to the start, I overheard some of the attendees remarking on the symposium and on the career of Mark Hofmann. One particular remark stands out: “. . . too bad about what he did, especially since it involved ‘The Brethren'” – you probably would have to live in, or close to, Utah to appreciate the full irony of that statement.
After a few ‘house-keeping’ items, Will Bagley introduced the first speaker of the afternoon, Brent Ashworth, well known rare book, document, and autograph dealer/collector. Ashworth lost a small fortune, and significant portions of his genuine autograph collection, to Hofmann. It has also been speculated that Hofmann’s third bomb was really intended for Mr. Ashworth.
Brent Ashworth stated that he did not come to the symposium “to pay homage to Mark Hofmann.” He “came to pay respect to the victims, Kathy Sheets and Steve Christiansen” and the other victims “past, present, and future.” Financially, Mr. Ashworth was probably Mark Hofmann’s primary personal victim, with only the Mormon church being taken for more.
Brent said that many of the Hofmann items were “almost produced to order” – Mark and Brent, in conversations, would discuss the importance of a particular document, especially of Mormon history, if that document were ever found. Within a few months, Mark Hofmann would ‘produce’ the document. Hofmann was good at “supplying dreams” – ‘finding’ documents that other LDS historians had been seeking for decades.
Mr. Ashworth also read a list of known Hofmann forgeries that are now ‘missing’ – no one knows the current location of these items: a ‘Billy the Kid’ letter, a Joseph Smith, Sr. note, Brigham Young ‘Truth will Prevail’ item, Eliza R. Snow poem, an ‘inscription’ by Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Butch Cassidy letter to Josie Bassett on Union Pacific letterhead, and a Francis Scott Key item.
Brent Ashworth did not originally believe that Mark Hofmann was guilty of the murders – and of the forgeries. He said that the moment that he knew Hofmann was guilty was when he finally saw Hofmann’s bombed-out car. Inside the car were numerous unopened book, document, and autograph catalogs. “No legitimate dealer has unopened catalogs – we, in the trade, immediately open every catalog we get.”
The next speaker of the afternoon was Al Rust, owner of Rust Rare Coin and author of Mormon Money , who was taken by Hofmann for some $200,000.
Al Rust stated that he was “reluctant to participate” in the symposium, but did so in the hope that collectively the group might come up with information of use to others. Mr. Rust considered himself a friend of Mark Hofmann, traveling with him to book shows and auctions. Rust was assisted by Hofmann in his historical research on Brigham Young and early Mormon money. “It was great,” according to Rust, “but I was gullible.” Rust remembered thinking, during the early parts of the investigation, that Hofmann couldn’t be guilty. “He couldn’t have forged, couldn’t have murdered.”
Mr. Rust also made a very similar comment to that of Brent Ashworth, that Hofmann produced items almost “made to order.” Whenever a question of provenance or authenticity came up, Hofmann “always had an answer.”
Seventeen years later, Al Rust has “hardly any answers” – he just had to put the entire Hofmann affair behind him.
Next to speak was Dr. Anthony ‘Tony’ Marks, a Boston cardiologist, who owns a ‘Daniel Boone’ item that has recently been declared to be a probable Hofmann forgery.
Tony Marks came to the symposium to relate his own “tiny little vignette” regarding the Mark Hofmann story. Mr. Marks purchased a Daniel Boone document in 1984 (while still a med student) from noted autograph dealer, Charles Hamilton. Over the years, Tony would occasionally take the document from its place in a safe deposit box, admire it, show it to friends, and return it to safe storage. While on a recent vacation, Tony’s wife gave him the Scott Worrall book to read, with neither Tony, nor his wife, knowing what would be revealed by the book.
When Tony read the part about Mark Hofmann using Charles Hamilton’s business to authenticate and sell some Nathan Hale related items, he immediately began to suspect that his Boone item might also be a forgery. He eventually contacted Jennifer Larson, who suggested that he write to Hofmann at the Utah State Penitentiary. Jennifer told him to include a small quote from the document, then ask Hofmann to provide additional details – the theory being that if Hofmann had forged it, he would know the contents of the document. Hofmann wrote back to Dr. Marks, supplying sufficient detail, including a misspelled word, to convince Tony that he did, indeed, own a Hofmann forgery.
Tony has really taken a quite interesting position on learning that his Boone item is actually a forgery. He stated that he has had more “fun” with it since learning that it is a fake than he did in all the time prior. “Even if it’s a forgery, it’s more interesting than owning WorldCom.”
The final speaker, of the day, and of the symposium, was Simon Worrall, who once again read the forward to his book, this time to the much larger symposium audience.
After the reading, Simon expounded upon the Mark Hofmann affair. He stated that Hofmann, in producing the Emily Dickinson poem, used the research of eminent Dickinson authority Ralph Franklin to produce an item that would ‘fool’ any Dickinson expert, including Mr. Franklin himself. Dickinson’s handwriting changed considerably over her lifetime, and Hofmann used that information to produce a fake that “was right for the period.” Although he used contemporary paper, Hofmann did not have to fake the ink in this instance. The fake poem was written in pencil, which Dickinson used for all her writing except for final drafts.
Many people have stated that the fake Dickinson items is a ‘poor poem.’ Worrall disagrees, stating that it is “not a bad poem.” Hofmann himself has stated “If the poem is not as good as her best, it was at least better than her worst.”
Worrall went on to state that he thinks the “internal splits and divisions of his childhood” were responsible for Hofmann’s crimes of forgery and, ultimately, that of murder. Hofmaan, says Worrall, “. . . felt most comfortable when Mark Hofmann was being someone else, most at home when he was pretending to be someone else. Money was a factor, but it wasn’t the most important. Forgery brought intrigue and excitement into his life. He enjoyed re-writing history as he thought it might have been. For a brief moment, he became Emily Dickinson, or Abraham Lincoln, or Joseph Smith.”
The symposium ended at approximately 4:30 p.m., after another brief question/answer period. Robert Stott, of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, answered a number of questions from the audience regarding the case, the evidence, and Hofmann’s ultimate confession to the murders. Mr. Stott was the lead prosecutor in the murder case against Mark Hofmann. Doralee Olds (the former Mrs. Mark Hofmann) put in a surprise appearance. She stated that although she no longer speaks with Mark, that Hofmann does telephone their children every Wednesday night from the Utah State Prison – where he is serving a life sentence for those two lives that he took during those autumn days of 1985.
I came away from the symposium, with a much greater knowledge that Hofmann forgeries run the gamut of literary persons of note – and of various media: books, documents, scraps of papyrus, and more. I just hope that he didn’t forge any of Bruce Kiskaddon’s signatures – otherwise I’m going to have a very unhappy collector in southern Colorado!
The following is a list of non-Mormon-Church related names that Hoffmann, either by self-admittance or via strong suspicion, is associated with in regards to known or suspected forgeries.
John Adams, John Quincy Adams, William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid), Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, John Brown, Emily Dickinson, Button Gwinnett, Nathan Hale, John Hancock, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Abraham Lincoln, Jack London, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Herman Melville, John Milton, Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), William C. Quantrill, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Haym Solomon, Myles Standish, Mark Twain, George Washington, Martha Washington, and . . . ?
Suggested Reading: Lindsey, Robert – A Gathering Of Saints: A True Story Of Money, Murder And Deceit (Personal Note: The paragraph at the top of page 295 (hard cover edition) has provided me with a great deal of amusement, over the years.)
Sillitoe, Linda & Allen Roberts – Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders
Naifeh, Steven & Gregory White Smith – The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death (Note: This book and ‘Gathering’ were competing for the ‘most sensational’ prize!)
Turley, Richard E. Jr. – Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Note: Regarded by many as the best researched book on the Hofmann affair, regarded by others as an attempt at ‘vindication.’)
Rendell, Kenneth W. – Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents (Note: One chapter on Hofmann; also covers other famous forgers and forgeries.)
Worrall, Simon – The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery (Note: The first ‘Hoffman’ book that doesn’t focus, primarily, on the Mormon aspects of the case.)