BOREN'S WHITE FROG
In the Messenger for June 1985, we reported that we had learned that someone had "been making up material and attributing it to Joseph Smith. Since such an individual has the ability to create the text of a document like the Salamander letter, we are making a very serious investigation into this matter. We hope to have more to report on this in the next issue of the Messenger."
The following is a summary of the investigation I conducted (for a more detailed study see my booklet, Mr. Boren and the White Salamander). On Oct. 6, 1984, a man by the name of Kerry Ross Boren wrote a letter to Dean Jessee, the noted Mormon scholar who was making a critical examination of the Harris letter to determine whether it was authentic. In this letter, Mr. Boren offered important new information which could help Professor Jessee verify the Salamander letter:
"I am an inmate at Utah State Prison,...My purpose in contacting you at the present time is due to the recent publicity pertaining to the letter of Martin Harris....Joseph Smith was my second great grandfather and I have access to, and have had the privilege of, examining some papers and personal effects of Joseph Smith which have never before been seen or published.... One of the important things that the information clarifies are the facts behind the Martin Harris letter....I have an expanded version of the 'white salamander' story from Joseph's own account."
Dean Jessee visited Mr. Boren at the prison and also sent him nine different letters. By January 9, 1985, Mr. Jessee seemed to be rather enthusiastic about the matter: "In reading over the material you have sent I see its importance more than ever for a proper understanding of the Harris letter...the most harmful thing we can do right now is to remain silent if there is information available that will put Joseph Smith in a better light....there will be all kinds of questions asked, and much criticism brought against the Church. The best ammunition for facing this issue comes from the material you have presented." (Letter dated Jan. 9,1985)
Even though Dean Jessee seemed to be impressed with the copies of the documents Mr. Boren provided, he did note that "some of the phrasing and usage of words is foreign to Joseph Smith's literary style. There are also a few contradictions of fact....Being able to see the actual handwriting of the documents would possibly provide answers to these questions." (Ibid.) Mr. Boren only provided his own handwritten copies of the material, and when Jessee asked for xerox copies, Boren replied that he could not "gain access to the original materials until such time as I am released from this place, and therefore can only provide copies of the information..." (Letter dated March 17,1985)
On May 23, 1985, Mr. Boren wrote a letter to us in which he made some incredible claims: "I have access to many unpublished records which Joseph Smith had put away before his death in the safe-keeping of my third great-grandfather, Isaac Morley. Through these, I have access to information concerning Joseph Smith which is available no place else, including some of the papyri, translations of portions of the plates, letters, personal history, genealogy, etc." While I had serious doubts about these claims, I was very interested in any material relating to the forgery of Mormon documents. At that time I was unaware that Mr. Boren claimed to have material similar to the Salamander letter. In any case, I provided a researcher with the information I had about Kerry Ross Boren, and he was able to obtain copies of documents Boren had previously given to Dean Jessee.
One of the documents which Boren provided was his handwritten copy of an account of Joseph Smith's early visions, which was supposed to have been authored by Smith himself! The account of the First Vision in this document is similar to Joseph Smith's "Strange Account" of the First Vision (see MormonismShadow or Reality? pages 145-46). It goes on, however, to say that the Lord revealed "a curious stone" to Joseph Smith which he was to use to find the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. The Lord also told him that when he arrived at the place where the records were buried he would be given "a sign" of a "lowly frog but not just a frog but a white frog..." On the appointed day, Joseph Smith went to the hill and "saw a frog of the purest white I had ever seen proceed forth out of a hole in the ground at the bottom of a large stone..." Joseph removed the stone and saw "a large room or cavern" which contained "plates of gold" and other "ancient items of curious workmanship..." Before he could go into the cavern, however, Joseph "again saw the large white frog and immediately above it in the air a shaft of brilliant light descending [and] an angel appeared in the midst... and then said unto me behold my name is Nephi..."
Mr. Boren also provided a copy of a letter which was supposed to have been written by Joseph Smith to Isaac Morley in 1835, In this letter Joseph Smith detailed some of his early money-digging experiences. In another manuscript which is eight pages long, Mr. Boren gives a summary of a document written by Joseph Smith. This is also filled with material concerning Joseph Smith's money-digging.
Mr. Boren provided other documents and a list of 52 different items he has had access to. He claims that in the collection he has seen the "Mummy" of Pharaoh Necho, three rolls of papyrus, thirteen separate pieces of papyri, a revelation on polygamy that is "more lengthy and detailed" than the one published by the Church, a large stack of "correspondence between early Church figures, including many by and to the Prophet," a translation of the lost "Book of Lehi" and other lost books, a translation of the Book of Abraham which contains "much not found in the present published version," and what appears to be original manuscripts of "Newton and also da Vinci."
Although I was only able to examine copies of a small portion of this purported collection, it did not take me long to conclude that it was spurious. I could plainly see how material was plagiarized from different portions of published material and combined to give some very unique interpretations. Michael Marquardt also examined the purported documents and reached the same conclusion. A week after we published the booklet, Mr. Boren and the White Salamander, Dean Jessee apparently wrote a letter to Mr. Boren and informed him that he did not believe his claims. In a letter dated August 1, 1985, Mr. Boren responded: "I am in receipt of your letter of July 17 in which you question my credibility....were Joseph Smith in this institution at this time, he would not be believed nor would he be supported by the Church which he founded....I have no doubt that he would be rejected. And so, I feel that I am in the best of company.
In all fairness to Mr. Boren, I should say that I do not know for certain that he made up the documents. He claims that Joseph Smith gave them to his "third great-grandfather, Isaac Morley" for safekeeping and that they have passed down to one of his relatives who has them stored in the basement of a house in California. Although it seems very unlikely, Mr. Boren could have made his copies from material in someone else's possession. In any case, there is not the slightest chance that the documents could be genuine. They bear all the earmarks of fabrication.
On June 18, 1985, Sandra and I had a personal interview with Kerry Ross Boren at the Utah State Prison. While much of his story is very difficult to believe, some of his statements seem to have some basis in fact. One of his claims is that he was a ghost writer for the historical part of Robert Redford's book, The Outlaw Trail, which was published in 1979. While it does not prove his assertion, I found him mentioned at least fifteen times in Redford's book. In the Forward, Robert Redford gives "special thanks" to "Kerry Boren," and on page 24 he refers to "Kerry Boren, our historian." I have found that Mr. Boren has coauthored a book entitled, Footprints in the Wilderness: A History of The Lost Rhoades Mines, and has also written a number of articles for magazines. On page 173 of her book, Butch Cassidy My Brother, Lulu Parker Bentenson refers to "Kerry Ross Boren, a recognized authority on outlaw history, National Center for Outlaw and Lawman History, Utah State University, Logan, Utah." While some historians do not have much respect for Mr. Boren's work, it must be conceded that he has a great deal of ability as a writer.
Mr. Boren's contention that the material he has copied helps clarify "the facts behind the Martin Harris letter" must be completely rejected. As I have already pointed out, the material Boren has presented bears unmistakable evidence of falsification. Furthermore, he has not produced any real evidence that the original manuscripts even exist. While Kerry Ross Boren sets his material forward with the claim that it supports the Salamander letter, it could raise the question of whether Boren himself had the ability to produce such a document. In his letter of Jan. 9, 1985, Dean Jessee mentioned an important similarity between the Salamander letter and Boren's material: "...the reference to Harris's having a dream and waking with a coin in his hand, and upon seeing the cavern, throwing the coin back (which is also mentioned in the Harris letter), is very important right now for my work on the Harris letter." The reference which Professor Jessee speaks of reads as follows in the Harris letter: "I later dream I converse with spirits which let me count their money when I awake I have in my hand a dollar coin which I take for a sign Joseph describes what I seen in every particular says he the spirits are grieved so I through back the dollar."
The statement in the Salamander letter seems incomplete. It does not tell how Harris threw the coin back. It would be very difficult to throw the coin back into the dream or into the spirit world. Mr. Boren's material seems to provide a logical answer to this question. In Boren's summary ("not a verbatim account") of a manuscript written by Joseph Smith, we find the following:
"Martin Harris and Joseph Knight, Sr. came down from Manchester together soon after the treasure was discovered. Harris had had a dream about the Treasure and had awakened with a silver coin in his hand. Taking this to be a sign, he went forthwith to Colesville....
"Harris had expressed to Knight that he thought Joseph Smith was a fake, and had stolen the treasure from them...but when they confronted Joseph, he related Harris' dream in detail without being prompted.
"Harris would not be content until he had seen the Treasure for himself, to be content that Joseph had not removed any of it. After much persuasion, Joseph agreed to take Harris as far as the place where the buckets of silver coins were located...Upon seeing the place, Harris was content and tossed the coin back into the lot, swearing an oath that he would never reveal anything which he had seen."
The parallels between the two accounts are too strong to be ignored. If it could be established that Boren's material was in existence before the Salamander letter was discovered in late 1983, it would seem to show that it (the Salamander letter) is a condensed version of the material Boren provided us with. The other explanation, of course, is that the Salamander letter provided structural material for someone with a vivid imagination. In this case it would not reflect on the Harris letter. Mr. Boren insists that his material is genuine and predates the discovery of the Salamander letter.
While I have not yet found any compelling evidence that Mr. Boren's material does predate the discovery of the Salamander letter, there are some stories in a book he coauthored with Gale R. Rhoades which sound like the account of Harris throwing the coin back. According to Boren and Rhoades, Joe Walker told of going into a sacred mine with Butch Cassidy. He claimed he found a rock that "shinned like almost solid gold." Cassidy, however, "told me anyone who took any part of that gold would have the curse of God placed upon him...
"I slipped a small piece of that gold in my pocket but when we stepped outside, Butch drew his gun and told me to put it back....I went back and put that piece of rockabout the size of my handon top of one of those leather bags,..." (Footprints in the Wilderness: A History of The Lost Rhoades Mines, page 355)
The account of Cassidy chastising Walker for taking the sacred gold sounds similar to Joseph Smith rebuking Harris in the Salamander letter for taking the spirits' coin. On page 378 of the same book, we read of a man named Joseph R. Sharp who went to the mine and tried to remove the gold. As he "prepared to climb from the mine," he was met by two Indiansapparently "apparitions delegated to watch over the sacred Ute gold." One of them "spoke with a voice of authority; calm, yet loud and in perfect English, saying: 'Put the gold back, Leave here and never return or you will surely die."
"As quickly as the Indians had appeared, they disappeared, and with no apparent means of departure; vanished, as it were, into thin air! Mr. Sharp was taken aback by this weird display and he tossed the gold back into the mine..." (Footprints in the Wilderness, page 378)
The reader will notice that Mr. Sharp "tossed the gold back into the mine." In the Salamander letter, Martin Harris throws "back the dollar." While my copy of the book was not printed until 1984, I have located a copy printed in 1980 which contains the same stories. This would be at least three years before the Salamander letter was discovered.
As I have already pointed out, the Salamander letter contains some striking parallels to Mormonism Unvailed (published in 1834) and a manuscript written by Joseph Knight (first published in BYU Studies, Autumn 1976). When I examined the Boren manuscript, which contains the report concerning Martin Harris' dream, I found parallels to both of these publications! Furthermore, in a note to Dean Jessee, Mr. Boren specifically mentions the "Willard Chase affidavit" which was published in Mormonism Unvailed and contains important parallels to the Salamander letter. The parallels between Boren's manuscript and the Joseph Knight account are so strong that they cannot be explained away as mere coincidence. Some of the parallels are even to footnotes which Dean Jessee has provided to go along with Joseph Knight's account. One of the more interesting parallels (which is also similar to the Salamander letter) is found on pages 5 and 6 of Boren's manuscript:
"...the angel instructed him that he could remove the plates one year from that date, if he would obey certain commandments and follow certain instructions. He would be required to bring someone with him. Someone who would be able to remove the plates.
"When Joseph inquired as to whom that person would be, the angel told him only to look to the stone for instruction. Upon doing so, he saw Emma Hale,..."
The reader will notice how similar this is to Joseph Knight's account:
"...and the personage appeard and told him he Could not have it now. But the 22nt Day of September nex he mite have the Book if he Brot with him the right person. Joseph says, 'who is the right Person?' The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale (Brigham Young University Studies, Autumn 1976, page 31)
Perhaps it is only a strange coincidence that both the Salamander letter and the Boren material have parallels to Joseph Knight's account and Mormonism Unvailed, but the parallels do raise the question as to whether Mr. Boren or someone who has seen his material could have written the Salamander letter.
As I have pointed out before, one thing that should be of great concern to scholars is the fact that there seems to be an obvious attempt in the Boren material to duplicate the spelling errors of Joseph Smith. This, of course, shows that there has been a very serious study of the writings of Joseph Smith with intent to deceive.
Earlier in this book I suggested the possibility that a master forger could have been responsible for the Hofmann documents produced before late 1983. After that time the beautiful handwritten documents seem to almost disappear and printed forgeries and crude productions like the Spalding-Rigdon document and the Betsy Ross letter take their place. Since Boren has been incarcerated since August 1983, he could fit into such a theory. It is true that August 1983 is about three months before Hofmann was supposed to have told Lyn Jacobs about the Salamander letter. On the other hand, we will probably never know exactly when it was forged. It could have been produced any time between 1976 (when the Joseph Knight account was first published) and November 1983. In any case, if investigators found any well-written documents in the process of being created in Hofmann's home or car, it would certainly tend to rule out Boren as the master forger. Perhaps Hofmann's trial will throw some light on the subject.
The Deseret News reported the following on November 8, 1985:
"The Deseret News has also identified a third person currently under investigation who may have valuable information about what police believe is a scheme to forge documents relating to early Mormon church history.
"Kerry Ross Boren, an inmate at the Utah State Prison serving time for murder...has claimed on numerous occasions to possess never-before-seen historic documents relating to the Mormon church. Scholars have dismissed his documents as blatant forgeries.
"In a letter to 'The Salt Lake City Messenger,' an anti-Mormon publication, Boren states, 'I am an inmate at the Utah State Prison....Joseph Smith was my second-great-grandfather and I have access to, and have had the privilege of examining, some papers and personal effects of Joseph Smith...I have an expanded version of the 'White Salamander' story from Joseph's own account.'
"Jerald Tanner, publisher of the Salt Lake City Messenger, dismissed Boren's materials as nothing more than plagiarisms....
"Police now want to look at the documents and to question Boren, who some say was the 'imaginative mind' behind the Martin Harris letter. Many investigators have been convinced for some time that the controversial letter is a forgery, and Boren's claims have solidified suspicions that forgery may be a motivating factor behind the murders.
" 'We believe he can provide some valuable information about this case, the motivating factors that may have led to the bombings,' said one official. 'It's obvious he has a creative mind, and he may have been the impetus for these hundreds of documents that Hofmann claims to have found.'
"Police emphasize Boren is in no way connected to the bombings,..."
The following day (Nov. 9) the Deseret News printed the following information about Mr. Boren:
"Convicted killer and one-time Utah history buff Kerry Ross Boren was questioned by police Friday about his associations with principals in the recent Salt Lake bombings, he had little to offer investigators, police report.
" 'He said he had never met (Mark W.) Hofmann or any of the other players,' said Salt Lake Police Chief E.L. Willoughby. 'We are verifying his story, but there is nothing he could add to what we know, nothing more he could really give investigators.'...
"Police questioned Boren in connection with statements published in the Salt Lake City Messenger, an anti-Mormon publication, that described a number of documents Boren claimed to have in his possession, including a historical account similar to the one described in the Martin Harris letter...
"Boren claims to have access to what he called 'the Joseph Smith papers,' a collection of documents...
"Jerald Tanner, who has never accepted the [Salamander] letter as authentic, wrote in his monthly newsletter that he believed Boren was perhaps the creative imagination behind the Martin Harris letter.
"Police wondered if Boren might have been the impetus for a large-scale document fraud involving others.
"Boren said those conclusions were 'pure nonsense. People have drawn conclusions that are totally paranoid.'
"Police wanted to know of any association between Hofmann and Boren either before Boren's 1983 imprisonment for murder or following his claims about historical documents while in prison.
"According to one official, Boren told investigators, 'I don't know this Hofmann. I don't know (documents researcher Brent) Metcalfe. And I've never talked to Tanner about this. I do a lot of reading on Mormonism, but I don't know these guys.'
"In an interview with the Deseret News, Boren said he did meet with Tanner and with an LDS historian regarding the 'Joseph Smith papers' he claims to have started researching 20 years ago. He said the papers were brought to Utah by 'his third grandfather' Isaac Morley, whose daughter Lucy, Boren said, was a polygamous wife to Smith. Recently, the papers have been in the care of family members who do not want them released, Boren said.
"Like Tanner, the historian concluded that Boren's claims were fraudulent.
"Boren said the police had interviewed him as an expert on document collecting, not because he was associated with the bombings....
"Boren said he has refused to cooperate with police concerning the 'Joseph Smith papers' and their whereabouts. 'The papers are not connected to their case. I don't owe any explanations to anybody.' "
The article which appeared in the Deseret News on Nov. 8, 1985, said that "Kerry Ross Boren...was an associate of Hofmann and others before his imprisonment." In the same article the following appeared: "Police emphasize Boren is in no way connected to the bombings, only that he is an associate of Hofmann and other document collectors and historians associated with Hofmann." While it is possible that the police have something they are not telling us about, I have never found any evidence to prove that Kerry Ross Boren was an associate of Mark Hofmann. In a letter dated June 15, 1985, Boren stated: "I have had no connection whatever with Mark Hofmann, although I am aware of who he is; additionally, I do not know Lyn Jacobs nor have I ever heard of the latter....my contact with persons involved in all of this recent 'discovery' is limited;..." When we talked to Hofmann on August 24, 1985, he brought up the subject of Mr. Boren. He said that he felt that he should tell us that he had known of Boren before we published Mr. Boren and the White Salamander. He did not say that he knew him personally, but only that he had been called in to look at some forged Butch Cassidy material. When I asked him if it was a good forgery, he replied that it was a very poor job. It is interesting to note that a photograph of a portion of an important letter Boren discovered relating to Butch Cassidy was published in the Westerner, May-June 1973. One thing that is a little suspicious about the letter is that Boren chose to suppress the names of both the writer and the recipient (see pages 41 and 62). At the time I wrote the booklet on Boren, I commented: "As far as I know, Mr. Boren has never been charged with forgery, and he has not offered to sell me any old documents." Although I still am not aware of any criminal charges being pressed against Boren for forgery, one of his former associates told me that Boren had sold him what purported to be an ancient map. He discovered, however, that it was a forgery. He felt that he could have filed charges against Mr. Boren, but instead he decided to talk to him in the presence of his lawyer. He claimed that Boren admitted that the map was spurious and said that there was someone else involved in the forgery. This man claimed that he lost about $5,000 on the transaction.
Mr. Boren claims that he is "not an expert in document authentication." He maintains, however, that "as a genealogist and researcher I have spent most of my life working with such items and am fully capable of recognizing them as being of the period and scope in question." (Letter dated June 15, 1985) Mr. Boren was apparently at home with old letters and journals. In his manuscript, "The High Uintas," he spoke of the "Kerry Ross Boren Collection" of documents, which contains letters going back to the 1830s. Mr. Boren even claimed to have the only authenticated Jesse James letter. When I asked Hofmann about Boren's claim concerning this letter, he said that there were a number of original letters by Jesse James and the last one sold for over $20,000. Although I cannot remember it, Mr. Hofmann gave the exact figure the letter sold for. This made me wonder if Hofmann might have been involved in selling outlaw material.
While I am very suspicious of Kerry Ross Boren's relationship to old Mormon documents, I cannot prove that he has the ability necessary to do the handwriting. All of the material I have seen which has come from Mr. Boren is hand printed or else typewritten. As I have stated before, I cannot even prove that Hofmann and Boren were acquainted. There is a possibility' however, that they could have met at the library at Utah State University when Hofmann was attending there. According to the Spring 1975 issue of the Newsletter of the National Association and Center for Outlaw and Lawman History, Mr. Boren was "association president." On page 4 we read that this center "was officially inaugurated on June 10, 1974, with ceremonies on the campus of Utah State University, Logan. Utah State University's Merrill Library will house the National Center for Outlaw and Lawman History, where all acquired materials will be housed and displayed..." Although Mr. Boren was no longer president, the newsletter states that the organization was still functioning out of Utah State University in January 1980the year Mr. Hofmann found the Anthon transcript. Some time during that year there was a problem, and by October 1980 the newsletter reported that the organization was looking for a new home. Although A. J. Simmonds does not recall seeing Mark Hofmann and Kerry Ross Boren together, he saw both of them in the library on various occasions. Because both Hofmann and Boren did research with regard to genealogy and Mormon history they also could have met at the Genealogical library or in the Church Historical Department.
One of the items which Kerry Ross Boren sent to Dean Jessee is a purported "copy of the Joseph Smith letter to Isaac Morley dated Kirtland, Ohio, December 1st, 1835." It goes into Joseph Smith's involvement in money-digging and magic and is an obvious fake. Boren, of course, claimed that Morley was his "third great-grandfather." It is interesting to note that in his suit against Mark Hofmann for selling him forgeries, Brent Ashworth lists a letter dated March 6, 1833. This letter also mentions Issac Morley:
March 6th 1833
Brother Williams has this day received word from Brother Morely that we should commit the cross plow unto the hands of the poor you will therefor please to trust it to Brother Williams by his hand I send this I subscribe myself your Husband
Mr. Boren claims that he had access to a journal of Joseph Smith which had an entry that is obviously related to the Hofmann letter. I quote the following from Boren's typescript:
"March 6th (1833)....... Brother Williams has this day brought word fro[m] Brother Morely that the Farm is progresing and that if we are to fulfill the needs of the poor we should commit the cross plow into his hands as soon as posible I sent by the hand of Brother Williams to my Wife Emma that she should deliver up to him the cross plow and deliver it to Brother Morely directly......"
If it could be established that Mr. Boren made this typescript prior to the time that Mr. Hofmann "discovered" the letter, it would go a long way toward proving that the Hofmann letter is a forgery which is related to the Boren item. As it is, however, there is no way to prove that the typescript dates back prior to the time Mr. Boren went to prison, and it is certainly possible that Boren could have seen a photograph of this letter in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith and created his so-called Joseph Smith journal entry from it.
Issac Morley was a prominent Mormon and it would not have been out of character for Joseph Smith to mention him in a letter. Nevertheless, if the Hofmann letter is a forgery as Ashworth has charged, it is very interesting that it would mention Kerry Ross Boren's "third great-grandfather."
Although I cannot prove any relationship between Hofmann and Boren at the present time, there are many parallels between the two men:
This list of parallels could probably be expanded. While most of the parallels could be explained away as only Mr. Boren's attempt to capitalize on Mr. Hofmann's growing reputation, some of them are a little more difficult to explain in this manner. At the present time I do not claim to have any final answer to the problem, but I do feel that the matter should be pursued. If anyone has any information on this subject I would appreciate knowing about it.
I may never know whether Mark Hofmann or Kerry Ross Boren was the first to pretend to have access to a very special collection of Mormon documents, but their claims remind me of a story that appeared in The Sunstone Review, Nov.-Dec. 1983. I quote the following from that article:
"It was too good to be true. When Brigham Young University Archives learned Diana Hanson claimed to have a collection of ten letters from Brigham Young and Joseph Smith dated 1825 to 1843, and eleven volumes of Emma Smith's diaries, archivists and historians were beside themselves. It could turn out to be 'one of the great finds of 20th century Mormondom,' said Chad Flake, curator of the Special Collections Library at BYU.
"An agreement was signed which would pay Hanson $20,000 down for the collection two Salt Lake City appraisers say could value $500,000 to $5 million.
"Hanson never received any money. BYU never received the momentous materials. The reason is they never existed.
"Hanson purported to have the materials at her home in Bozeman, Montana. However she consistently hedged when it came to actually showing them to anyone. Then, when she returned from two weeks at National Guard camp, Hanson claimed all the items had been stolen during her absence.
"All was not lost, however. Hanson said the journals of the prophet's wife, Emma Hale Smith, were in storage at her sister's home...However, though Hanson claimed the boxes were sent from her former home in Hawaii in 1982, they were not to be found.
"Because of the value of their contents the FBI was called in...When FBI agents confronted Hanson about her story, she admitted there were no letters, there were no boxes, there had been no burglary, and though the diaries were by a woman named Smith 'There's no reason to believe in any way it's related to Emma Hale Smith or her descendants,' reports the Billings Gazette October 20, 1983.
" 'I made up the list from my own imagination,' acknowledged Hanson during FBI interrogation. 'I'm sorry this happened. I got caught up in a story which I was unable to stop.'...
"Hanson pleaded guilty October 18, 1983 to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report and was given a six month sentence, a $75.00 fine and is receiving court-ordered counseling."
A STRANGE OFFER
One of the real mysteries of the Hofmann affair is his dealings with Brent Ashworth. I have already mentioned how Hofmann sold the Jonathan Dunham letter to Dr. Richard Marks for $20,000 when he could have sold it to Ashworth for $30,000. Hofmann then bought the letter back through Deseret Book for $110,000 and resold it to Ashworth for $60,000. In his testimony, Brent Ashworth told of some incredible offers Hofmann made to him. The reader may remember that Hofmann traded the letter by Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, to Mr. Ashworth for items Ashworth valued "at around $33,000." Ashworth claimed that Mark Hofmann later offered to buy the letter back for almost a quarter of a million dollars:
"...He said that he was representing an out of state buyer who was offering $120,000 for Lucy Mack Smith's letter. I was kind of astounded at the amount....and then at the end of our discussion...he said...I've really got to have that letter. The man I represent really wants to have it. Would you take twice that for it? And I told him,...'Well, now, that one has got me thinking. I'm going to have to get back with you on that. Your talking near a quarter of a million dollars.' "
Ashworth claimed that Hofmann later "called me up, I believe it was in August, and he said, 'Brent I've firmed this up....my man is willing to pay a quarter of a million dollars for [the] Lucy Mack Smith letter. He'll send you 10% down[a] $25,000 check and pay the rest within a short period thereafter.' I believe he said 10 days." Still later Hofmann called again and presented an offer of almost half a million dollars for eight items from Ashworth's collection. Ashworth testified that Hofmann told him..." 'my man would like to buy the important items from your collection,' and he listed the eight items... A few days later he called me and indicated that it [would] be, as I recall, somewhere around $450,000.... he told me the gentleman would send me [a] $50,000 check and the rest...in a short period of time..."
Why Mark Hofmann would offer to buy back the forgeries for such an unbelievable price is only a matter of speculation. One theory is that Mr. Hofmann feared Brent Ashworth might show the documents to document dealer Kenneth Rendell and that he would recognize that they were forgeries. Since the transaction never went through, it could also be possible that Hofmann was only trying to set Ashworth up for an even bigger deal. If he could convince Mr. Ashworth that the documents he had sold him had greatly increased in value, Ashworth might be interested in investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an item like the Oath of a Freeman.
THREE OR FOUR BOMBS?
Less than an hour and a half after Mark Hofmann's car was destroyed by a bomb, another explosion was reported:
"...as police were sifting through the charred remains of Hofmann's vehicle, an explosion was reported in the Holladay area on Walker Lane, about one mile from where Kathleen Webb Sheets was killed Tuesday.
"Residents told Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs they heard a loud explosion about 4 p.m. Though teams of deputies combed the area, no evidence was found of a bomb.
"Jon Larson, a Walker Lane resident said he has lived in the area for 20 years, 'and I've never heard an explosion like that before.'
"The blast rattled his kitchen windows, and sounded similar to fireworks. Neighbors congregated along the street, and dogs started to bark." (Deseret News, October 17, 1985)
Although we did not know it at the time, this explosion occurred in the area of Hugh Pinnock's home. (Pinnock, of course, is the Church leader who was upset at Hofmann for not repaying the loan he had helped him obtain.) The man who reported the explosion, Jon Larson, lived less than a block from Pinnock. The Deseret News, Nov. 30, 1985, printed this statement: "Shortly after Hofmann was injured...a boom shook windows on Walker Lane near Pinnock's home. Although people in the area were convinced the sound was an explosion, investigators have said they have found no evidence of one."
I do not know whether police realized at the time that the explosion was in the area where Pinnock lived or whether they searched his home and garage for evidence of damage. In any case, they were unable to determine the cause of what Jon Larson described as the worst explosion he had heard since he moved into the area 20 years before. At the preliminary hearing, Detective Jim Bell testified that "The Sheriffs office sent approximately 15 cars, maybe 20, up to that address on Walker Lane." Whether or not a fourth bomb actually exploded in the area where Pinnock lives, he has been considered a "possible target" of the bomber by some people (see Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, page 43).
There has also been a great deal of speculation with regard to the question of who was to be the target of the third bomb. The potential victim may have had the letter a in his or her last name. The Deseret News for Nov. 11, 1985, reported: "A witness who saw a package burning in Hofmann's blasted car told police a block letter 'A' was visible on the package, presumably in a last name, according to a police official. As described by the witness, it resembled writing on the paper police recovered after the packages exploded in the other incidents."
At first it was suggested that someone who worked in the McCune Mansion might be the target. The Deseret News for Oct. 17, 1985, reported that just before Hofmann was injured by the bomb, he had come out of "the McCune Center." The article also stated: "Detectives learned upon questioning witnesses... that Hofmann was seen carrying a briefcase or package into the building. Another witness said he returned to his car with the item. Police now speculate that the package he carried may have been a bomb, and that when he placed the bomb into his car, it detonated,..." According to Detective Jim Bell's testimony at the preliminary hearing, Bell asked Hofmann "if he had been to the McCune Mansion, and he said he had not." Bradley Robert Christensen's testimony supported Hofmann's story. When Christensen (who was near the scene of the bombing) was asked if Hofmann came from the McCune Mansion, he replied that "he didn't come from that direction." Lyn Jacobs, on the other hand, claimed that he talked to Mark Hofmann in November and " 'Mark said that he was coming from the McCune Mansion... and that, despite what we've heard, that his hands were empty,'..." (Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 21, 1985) Allen Roberts and Fred Esplin claim that "Workmen on the roof of the McCune Mansion...later reported seeing Hofmann leave the mansion and return to his car. No one in the mansion, however, has yet verified seeing Hofmann in the building." (Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 53) While the testimony appears to be contradictory, if it could be established that Hofmann really did carry a bomb into the McCune Mansion, it would make me suspect that the target might have been a member of the Deseret Foundation. This foundation was mentioned in the Deseret News on Nov. 17, 1985:
"During the time Christensen was Sheets' right hand man at Coordinated Financial Services, he employed [Andrew] Ehat as a researcher through the Deseret Foundation,..."
I have not been able to learn much about the Deseret Foundation. According to the Articles of Incorporation, it is a "non-profit corporation" set up for "charitable, educational and scientific purposes." It was founded Jan. 18, 1974, by J. Gary Sheets [whose wife was later killed in the bombings], Robert Raybould and C. Dean Larsen. Although I do not know when Steven Christensen became involved in the organization, a report dated Jan. 14, 1983, shows that "Steve Christensen" was a trustee in the organization at that time. While I do not know if it means anything, reports submitted to the State of Utah for 1984-85 show that three members of the Board of Trustees (Steven A. Apple, C. Dean Larsen and Wayne A. Jenson) had offices at "200 North Main" in Salt Lake City. This is the address for the McCune Mansion. If it could be established that Mr. Hofmann was in the mansion just before the bomb went off, it could raise the question of whether Hofmann had some secret dealings with the Deseret Foundation. A receipt from Waldenbook found at the scene of the explosion, however, might make a person wonder whether Mark Hofmann would have had time to have visited the McCune Mansion and make it to his car. On May 7, 1986, the Salt Lake Tribune, reported:
"Mr. Ashworth also testified he regularly met with Mr. Hofmann in the Crossroads Mall near Waldenbooks on Wednesday afternoons. On Oct. 16, the day Mr. Hofmann was critically injured when a bomb exploded in his car, Mr. Ashworth said he had altered his schedule and was not in Salt Lake City. However, a receipt found in Mr. Hofmann's car indicates he was at Waldenbooks about 11 minutes before the explosion.
"Investigators have named Mr. Ashworth as a possible intended victim of that third bomb."
As the article in the Tribune indicated, Mr. Ashworth testified that he usually met with Hofmann in "the open area just around from the Walden Bookstore in the Cross Roads Mall" on Wednesdays at "2 or 2:30 [p.m.]." It would appear that Hofmann was waiting for Ashworth that day and finally left the bookstore about 2:30 p.m. Firefighters were called to the scene of the explosion at 2:40 p.m. Mr. Ashworth testified that Hofmann called him that day on the telephone but his wife answered the call. Whether Hofmann was planning on killing Mr. Ashworth is just a matter of speculation. It could be that investigators will clarify this matter at the trial. We do know that Brent Ashworth had had a strained relationship with Mark Hofmann since the time he had accused Mr. Hofmann of lying to him concerning the sale of the Dunham letter. One thing that could relate to the matter is that document dealer Kenneth Rendell had told Mark Hofmann that he was planning to come to Utah to visit collectors. Brent Ashworth would undoubtedly have been one of the collectors Mr. Rendell would have called on. Ashworth testified that Kenneth Rendell was "an old friend of mine and I'd known Ken for 15 years or more." Mr. Rendell maintains that if Ashworth had shown him the documents Hofmann sold to him, he would have certainly uncovered the forgery scam. It seems logical to believe that Mark Hofmann would have been concerned about Kenneth Rendell examining Brent Ashworth's documents. David Hewett points out that Rendell's life may also have been in danger:
"Sometime in early October, Ken Rendell was getting ready for a later mid-October visit to the West. He planned to stop in Utah and visit a couple of customers, Brent Ashworth and Mark Hofmann....
"On October 10, a strange series of events happened in Newton, Massachusetts, where Ken Rendell has his documents office. Someone began calling the office wanting the home address of Rendell. Rendell had recently gotten married and was, in fact, out of town on his honeymoon. The caller said he had a present for Rendell and wanted his home address so it could be delivered. The office refused the request.
"After thinking the matter over, they called the police. There was some worry someone might be planning a burglary of Rendell's house. Once the events of October 15 and 16 occurred in Salt Lake, another possible explanation for the calls arose." (Maine Antique Digest, July 1986, page 7-C)
MARK HOFMANN IS "DEEP THROAT"
In Appendix A I stated that I was suspicious that Mark Hofmann may have been the "Deep Throat" source who told the Los Angeles Times about the Oliver Cowdery history. Just as we were preparing to go to press, Dawn Tracy published an article in the Salt Lake Tribune which tends to show that Hofmann was indeed the secret source:
"Accused murderer Mark Hofmann has told several associates he was shown a secret history written by a close colleague of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith that challenged official accounts of how the church began.
"That is the claim of Brent Metcalfe, a former confidant of Mr. Hofmann....Metcalfe says Mr. Hofmann confided that he had examined a secret history Mr. Hofmann assumed was written by Oliver Cowdery, scribe to Smith for most of the Book of Mormon. Mr. Metcalfe said Mr. Hofmann claimed that the history had Alvin, rather than Joseph Smith, finding the golden plates.
"Thursday, Mormon Church officials issued a press release saying they have concluded there is no substance to 'widely circulated rumors that the church owns a very early history of the church written by Oliver Cowdery.'...
"Ron Barney, a worker in the Church History Department, said morale in his department has been low because high church officials have delayed so long in allowing their own workers to examine the documents.
"While the announcement is an attempt to squelch rumors about documents locked up in several church vaults, speculation continues about what those vaults contain, and if the documents contain references to folk magic or to Alvin playing a role in the founding of the Mormon Church. Brigham Young University historian Michael Quinn, for instance, cites one historical reference that suggests the church may own a secret history written by the church found himself.
"For the Cowdery history, Mr. Metcalfe said he arranged an interview between Mr. Hofmann and Los Angeles Times writer John Dart in June of 1985 to discuss the secret documents, with the stipulation that Mr. Hofmann's identity remain anonymous....
"Mr. Metcalfe said that Mr. Hofmann claimed President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency was present at a meeting in which Mr. Gibbons showed him a secret history. LDS Church spokesman Jerry Cahill said that Mr. Hofmann couldn't have been shown any documents because it would have been against church policy....
"BYU historian Quinn said there is one historical reference to Smith writing a history church members haven't so far seen. In an entry of the First Presidency Office journal dated Feb. 22, 1893, then-church President Wilford Woodruff refers to a history written by Smith in which the church founder describes finding a seerstone. Dr. Quinn said he knows of no history presently published or known about in manuscript form containing such an account (Salt Lake Tribune, October 17, 1986)
On the morning of January 23, 1987, word began to circulate in Salt Lake City that a major development had occurred in the Mark Hofmann case. That evening the Deseret News reported the following:
"A grim-faced Hofmann entered the courtroom about 11 a.m. Friday and with little fanfare entered guilty pleas to two counts of second-degree murder in the slayings of Steven F. Christensen and Kathleen Webb Sheets. Hofmann had been charged with first-degree murder, which carries a possible death sentence, but in the plea agreement prosecutors agreed to allow Hofmann to plead guilty to lesser charges.
"He also pleaded guilty to one count of communications fraud and one count of theft by deception involving the Martin Harris letter, better known as the White Salamander letter, and the William McLellin collection, a collection of documents Hofmann sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars but in actuality never possessed.
"Tension and emotion flooded the courtroom as Hofmann stood to answer each of the judge's questions.
" 'Did you intentionally and knowingly cause the death of Steve Christensen?' questioned Rigtrup.
" 'Yes,' replied Hofmann in a soft, quiet voice.
" 'Did you intentionally and knowing[ly] cause the death of Kathleen Sheets?' the judge intoned.
" 'Yes,' the defendant replied.
" 'Do you desire to enter these guilty pleas because you are in fact guilty?' the judge asked.
" 'Yes,' Hofmann replied.
"Hofmann made similar admissions of guilt involving the documents transactions." (Deseret News, Jan. 23, 1987)
Judge Rigtrup sentenced Mark Hofmann to one prison term of 5 years to life and three other prison terms of 1-to-15 years for his role in the bombing deaths of two people and the forgeries and frauds that led to those murders." (Ibid.) The judge pointed out the "indiscriminate nature" of the murders. (Mrs. Sheets was killed instead of her husband and a woman in the Judge Building almost picked up the "booby-trapped shrapnel bomb" which killed Steven Christensen.) Rigtrup then said to Mr. Hofmann: "...I will recommend that you spend the rest of your natural life at the Utah State Prison." (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 24, 1987) After the hearing Mark Hofmann was handcuffed and transported to prison.
In making a plea bargain agreement Mr. Hofmann escaped the possibility of the death penalty and was assured that the federal government would drop its charge of possession of an unregistered machine gun. In addition, New York authorities promised that they would not charge him with selling a forged copy of the Oath of a Freeman in their state.
Mark Hofmann had kept absolutely silent concerning the crimes up to the time the plea bargain was being worked out. Jan Thompson reported that at that time he opened up and confessed how he had committed the crimes:
"An interview with Mark W. Hofmann was the strangest and most fascinating experience Robert Stott has had as a criminal prosecutor....
" 'It was chilling to have Hofmann look me in the eye and say he killed Steve Christensen and Kathleen Sheets,' Stott said in a Deseret News interview Saturday.
"As Hofmann disclosed the details of how he made and delivered the bombs and how he manufactured the salamander letter and persuaded buyers to invest in the so-called McLellin Collection, Stott compared the information with the state's evidence. Hofmann's version of his crime matched the theories and evidence of prosecutors.
" 'It was disconcerting to realize that this man I was sitting across from had committed these terrible crimes in such a unique fashion. He was brilliant in forging documents and in manufacturing the bombs.'
"Hofmann enjoyed sharing the details of his fraud scheme, Stott said.
" 'When he talks, he doesn't act like a madman or say nasty things, so it's easy to forget that he's a violent killer and to treat him as a nextdoor neighbor. I had to remind myself that, foremost, Hofmann is a killer, and secondly, he is a swindler and a cheat.
" 'That's what makes him so dangerous. When he's triggered, he can be devastating.'
"Hofmann showed little emotion during the interview." (Deseret News, January 25, 1987)
As part of the plea bargain agreement Mr. Hofmann agreed to meet with investigators and reveal the details concerning how he forged the other documents. The prosecutors maintain that they will make this material available to the public.
As Sandra and I sit back and reflect about the Salamandergate scandal, we just feel fortunate to be alive. Brent Ashworth, the Mormon bishop who claimed Mark Hofmann sold him $225,100 worth of forged documents, has been quoted as making this comment about Hofmann: " 'When I called him a liar or if I questioned one of the documents, he'd lose his temper. Nothing else seemed to make him mad.' " (Salt Lake Tribune, January 25, 1987)
As I related in the first part of this book, Utah Lighthouse Ministry had printed a great deal of material which questioned both Mark Hofmann's documents and his honesty. Beginning as early as 1984, we suggested that the Salamander letter might be "a forgery" and noted that if this were the case, "it needs to be exposed" (Salt Lake City Messenger, March 1984). By August 1984 we had printed the first part of the booklet, The Money-Digging Letters, in which Mark Hofmann's major discoveries were questioned and his document dealings condemned. Sandra distributed copies of this material at the Sunstone Theological Symposium. Mr. Hofmann attended this symposium and was grieved when he learned that his integrity was being questioned. The day following the publication of this material (August 23, 1984) Mark Hofmann came to our home and had a long talk with Sandra. He seemed very distressed and hurt that we, of all people, would question his discoveries. He had expected that opposition might come from those in the Mormon Church, but he was amazed that Utah Lighthouse Ministry had taken a position which was critical of him. Mr. Hofmann seemed to be almost at the point of tears as he pled his case as to why we should trust him.
We, of course, knew that it was risky business to publicly question any forger, but we had no idea he was so devious that he would plant a bomb that killed Kathleen Sheets merely as a diversion to cover up his involvement in the murder of Steven Christensen. In retrospect, it appears that we were very fortunate that Mr. Hofmann arrived at our house armed only with arguments as to why we should trust his documents rather than a pipe bomb surrounded with nails. It may very well be that the thing that saved our lives was simply that few people believed what we were publishing. Mr. Hofmann apparently felt that Christensen, who was a Mormon bishop with a great deal of influence, could destroy his Mormon document empire, and therefore he found it necessary to eliminate him. While we have always thought there was a possibility of being assassinated by someone opposed to our work, we never even considered that a well-mannered man like Mark Hofmann, who professed to be friendly to our work, would turn out to be a cold-blooded killer who would stop at nothing to shut the mouth of his opponents. We just thank God that he was not triggered by the exposÚs we published concerning his document deals.
Recently it has been noted that Mark Hofmann was able to fool almost everyone with his dual life. Even his best friends now feel that they were used to further his selfish desire for wealth and fame. While Mr. Hofmann was once honored by Mormon and non-Mormon historians, he is now considered a villainperhaps one of the greatest con men of the 20th century. On February 11, 1987, the New York Times published an article by Robert Lindsey which contained the following:
"According to criminal investigators here and court documents, the 32-year-old Mr. Hofmann fooled not only senior members of the Mormon hierarchy but also scores of document collectors around the country and virtually all of the nation's top forgery experts.
" 'Mark Hofmann was unquestionably the most skilled forger this country has ever seen,' said Charles Hamilton, a New York document dealer who is widely regarded as the nation's preeminent detector of forged documents....
"Mr. Hamilton said Mr. Hofmann 'perpetrated by far the largest monetary frauds through forgery that this country has ever had,' adding, 'He fooled mehe fooled everybody.'...
"Among those fooled by Mr. Hofmann's documents were hundreds of specialists in Mormon history....
"Investigators have said that Mr. Hofmann was as successful in selling forged documents in New York as he was in Utah. They say he may have collected more than $2 million selling rare documents purportedly written or signed by such literary and historical figures as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jack London and Jim Bridger....
"After examining the white salamander letter, experts working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they could find no evidence that it was forged, a conclusion also made by Kenneth W. Rendell, a Newton, Mass., document dealer who is often ranked with Mr. Hamilton among the nation's leading detectors of forged documents....
"Concluding his assessment of Mr. Hofmann, Mr. Hamilton said: 'In a way, two murders are pedestrian crimes. But to fool me, to fool Ken Rendell, to fool the whole world, requires not only forgery but a packaging of himself. He packaged himself as a bespectacled, sweet, unobtrusive, hard working, highly intelligent scholar dedicated to the uncovering of history. Now we know he's more than he appeared to be."
Mark Hofmann's admission of guilt will undoubtedly have a far-reaching effect on Utah Lighthouse Ministry. Many people have tenaciously held to the theory that the Salamander letter is authentic and that Hofmann was being framed on the murders. Some people apparently felt that we had gone off the deep end or had sold out to the Mormon Church. Although our reasons for believing Hofmann was probably guilty were clearly laid out in this book, only a limited number of people were interested in reading it. When the story broke concerning Mr. Hofmann's plea bargain, however, the situation was entirely reversed. A local radio station asked us to come on the air and discuss the situation, and we were able to publish a large advertisement for the book in both of the newspapers in Salt Lake City. After that we were flooded with orders for Tracking The White Salamander.
On pages 104-108 of this book, I discussed some important information regarding the possibility that Mark Hofmann was planning to forge (or had forged) the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon. Hofmann had told me of a copy of the 116 pagesi.e., the book of Lehiwhich was in Bakersfield, California. He also told the Mormon bishop Brent Ashworth concerning this manuscript. According to Mr. Ashworth, Hofmann originally represented to him that the manuscript was genuine but later said it was a forgery. It is interesting to note that Ashworth realized that even if the manuscript were a 19th century forgery, as Hofmann maintained, it would be a unique forgery which would be of some value. He offered Mr. Hofmann $10,000 for the forged manuscript. Although Hofmann showed him evidence that he had traveled to Bakersfield, he never produced it. He did, however, give Ashworth some handwritten notes he claimed were copied from the book of Lehi. When investigators searched Mark Hofmann's home after the bombings, they also found notes purportedly taken from the 116 missing pages. The reader will find a photocopy of one page of Mark Hofmann's notes on the next page. According to Hofmann the "BOOK OF LEHI" began as follows:
"This record I Lehi make upon plates of gold, & I make it with my own hand, it being a history of my life and of the workings of God."
I suspect that after Mark Hofmann prepared these notes, he was planning to forge a very sophisticated version of the 116 missing pages of the Book of Mormon in the handwriting of Martin Harris. Such a forgery could probably be sold to the Mormon Church for millions of dollars. At the present time I have no evidence to show that the plan was actually carried out, but I will be looking for any evidence that points in that direction.
(click to enlarge)
Mark Hofmann's notes from the Book of Lehi.
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