1. THE SALAMANDER MURDERS

 

"At face value," I wrote that evening in my journal, "it is explosive. It is a letter from Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps,...describing the early origins of the Church in spiritualistic or cabalistic terms." (Professor Ronald W. Walker, Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 24, no.4, page 461)

But of course you do not believe in the Salamander, or the green snake. (The Best Tales Hoffmann, page 57)

 

    As I left the Salt Lake City Post Office on October 15, 1985, I noticed that the east side of Main Street was blocked off by the police. Later I was to learn that a murder had been committed at the Judge Building—less than a block from where I obtained my mail. Steven F. Christensen, a Mormon bishop, had picked up a box in front of his office which turned out to be a "booby-trapped shrapnel bomb." The Deseret News, April 15, 1986, reported:

    "In testimony Monday, an insurance representative [Janet McDermott] with an office directly across from Christensen's office testified the force of the bomb blast knocked plaster off the walls of her office and sent glass flying....she immediately ran behind her desk, fearing someone in the hallway had just been shot and that a gunman was in the hallway. 'I crouched down,' she said, 'I didn't know what was going on.'

    "McDermott heard, not the sound of a gunman in the hall, but a 'very highpitched crying — like a little child dying,' she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

    "She walked out into the hall and found Christensen lying half in, half out of his office doorway. His chest was bloody. The crying noises she had heard were coming from Christensen, but they were much deeper now."

    The amount. of gun powder used in the pipe bomb together with the nails which were taped around the outside of the pipe insured that Christensen would not survive the blast. " 'He was obviously dead,' said Battalion Chief Lamont Epperson, Salt Lake City Fire Department." (Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 1985)

    It soon became apparent that the victim was the same man who bought the notorious "White Salamander Letter"—a letter which proved to be embarrassing to the Mormon Church.

    Later that morning another package exploded killing Kathleen Sheets. This package was addressed to her husband, J. Gary Sheets who was also a bishop in the Mormon Church. Mr. Sheets "had helped fund research that authenticated the [Salamander] letter." (Ibid.) Since my wife, Sandra, and I had been the first ones to print extracts from the Salamander letter, we became somewhat concerned about our safety. The next day a bomb exploded in a car less than two miles from our house. Mark Hofmann, who sold the Salamander letter to Mr. Christensen, was critically injured in this blast. By this time we began to seriously consider the possibility that there was a systematic conspiracy to wipe out those who were bringing out information which was embarrassing to the Mormon Church. Because of our connection with the Salamander letter we were deluged with phone calls from the news media and others who were concerned about our safety or just wanted to find out what was going on in Salt Lake City. The next day (Oct. 17) the Deseret News reported a surprising development: "...police say Hofmann is considered not just a third victim but also a prime suspect in the Tuesday killings, and others may be involved as well."

    Although Mr. Hofmann's defense attorney later announced that Hofmann passed a lie detector test concerning the bombings, he has never allowed police to conduct such a test or even to question his client. While Mark Hofmann was in the hospital recovering from the blast, he said that he wanted to talk to the police. It was felt by police that he was going to make a confession. Detective Jim Bell testified at Hofmann's preliminary hearing that be "received a call from my sergeant...that Hofmann wanted to confess." Before detectives were able to listen to Hofmann's statements, however, his attorney arrived and convinced him not to talk about the bombings. While police called Mark Hofmann the "prime suspect" in the case, no murder charges were filed against him in 1985. A federal grand jury did indict Mr. Hofmann "on one count of possession of an unregistered Action Arms Ltd. Uzi machine gun" (Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 7), but Hofmann pleaded "not guilty." This charge is not related to the bombings but came from evidence gathered in the investigation which followed.

    In the Salt Lake City Messenger for January 1986, we reported that Mormon document dealer Mark Hofmann was not only a suspect in the October 15th Salt Lake City bombing's case but that police were also investigating the possibility that Mr. Hofmann had been selling forged documents to the Mormon Church. On February 4, 1986, a statement was released to the news media which contained this information: "The Salt Lake City Police Department, the Salt Lake County Sheriffs Department and the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office today announced the culmination of a three-and-a-half-month investigation into the bombing deaths of Steven F. Christensen and Kathleen W. Sheets.

    "Mark W. Hofmann has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, a capital offense, and 26 other counts."

    In the formal complaint, (The State of Utah, Plaintiff, v. Mark W. Hofmann,...), Mr. Hofmann was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mormon Church leaders and other unsuspecting individuals through the sale of forged or nonexistent documents. On April 5, 1986, the Deseret News reported that Mark Hofmann "was charged Friday with an additional four counts of theft by deception stemming from several transactions, some of which involved early Utah currency and a promissory note from Jim Bridger." Before Hofmann was officially charged with the crimes (i.e., prior to Feb. 4, 1986), some of his supporters believed that his lawyers would call for a preliminary hearing to be held within ten days and that the charges would be dismissed. This all turned out to be wishful-thinking.

    In April 1986 a preliminary hearing began for Mark Hofmann which lasted into May and was called "the most complex and lengthy preliminary hearing in Utah history." (Salt Lake Tribune, May 13, 1986) On May 22, 1986, Judge Paul G. Grant decided that Mark Hofmann should be bound over for trial. In a statement issued by the Court, Judge Grant stated:

    "After a review of each of the 30 alleged counts in the five Informations before the court and the careful evaluation of all of the evidence admitted in these matters

    "IT IS THE FINDING of the Court that there is probable cause to believe that all the crimes have been committed and there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed each of the crimes as alleged."

 

ULM'S INVESTIGATION

    Nineteen months before local and federal investigators began working on the Salt Lake bombing's case, Utah Lighthouse Ministry began its own investigation concerning the authenticity of the documents Mark Hofmann was selling the Mormon Church and other collectors. In this inquiry we obtained information from Washington, D.C. and ten different states. We even interviewed a convicted murderer at the Utah State Prison.

    Our investigation began in March 1984 just after we were given extracts from the so-called Salamander letter. Sandra and I had been acquainted with Mark Hofmann for a number of years before he "discovered" this controversial letter. The first recollection I have of actually meeting Mr. Hofmann was in 1980. Recently I learned, however, that he may have been in our bookstore on June 16, 1978. On that day a young man came in and showed Sandra a copy of the Second Anointing—a highly secret ritual which was frequently performed in the early Mormon temples but is seldom even mentioned today. He claimed it had belonged to his grandfather and had come down through the family. Stamped at the top of the paper were the words "SALT LAKE TEMPLE," and next to this was a handwritten notation which read: "Destroy this copy." The man said he felt we should have a photocopy of it. He stressed that his family would be very unhappy if they thought that he was turning it over to us and he claimed that he did not dare reveal his name to us because he belonged to a very prominent Mormon family. Sandra thought that this man was somewhat thinner than Mark Hofmann is today and also that his hair was lighter. Nevertheless, she remembers that he would probably have been about the age that Hofmann was at that time.

trackingp3_templeritualthumb.jpg (6244 bytes)
(click to enlarge)

A photograph of a document purporting to contain secret temple ritual. A copy of this document was given to Sandra Tanner on June 16, 1978. It was later sold by Mark Hofmann to A. J. Simmonds for $60. Its authenticity is questionable.

    In talking with a writer who was doing research concerning Mr. Hofmann's activities, I learned that investigators were looking into a document concerning the Second Anointing ceremony which A. J. Simmonds had purchased from Mark Hofmann. Mr. Simmonds was kind enough to send me a photocopy of the document and I compared it to the copy that had been given to Sandra. I found that the two were identical. Simmonds revealed that he bought the document from Hofmann for $60 in October 1979—over a year after Sandra was given the photocopy. If Mr. Simmond's recollection is correct, Mr. Hofmann must have been the one who brought the document to Sandra. Simmonds seemed to recall that Hofmann told him at the time that be had already given a copy of the document to the Tanners.

    Investigators are apparently skeptical concerning the authenticity of the document. The fact that the words "SALT LAKE TEMPLE" are stamped at the top causes me to to doubt its validity because Hofmann used rubber stamps in some of his other forgeries. However this may be, Mr. Hofmann's plan seems to have been to obtain publicity for the document by getting us to publish it. If this were the case, he must have been disappointed. Since we had no pedigree for the document and didn't even know the name of the person who gave it to us, we did not feel safe to use it in any of our publications. Except for a few copies we gave to scholars who were interested, it has remained in our files since 1978. One can only speculate on what might have happened if we had taken the bait. Perhaps Mr. Hofmann would have used us as a publisher for his documents. As it turned out, however, the Mormon leaders became the ones who broke the news concerning most of his important "discoveries" at press conferences which they held. As Hofmann became more involved in dealing with the Church, he naturally would have been worried that Church leaders would find out that he had sold some of the secret temple ritual to Mr. Simmonds. This information could have had a very bad effect on his document business with the Church. I have been told that be begged Simmonds not to reveal his part in the transaction.

    As I have indicated earlier, I first became acquainted with Mark Hofmann in 1980. Just after he discovered the Anthon transcript (a sheet of paper which is supposed to contain the actual characters Joseph Smith copied from the gold plates of the Book of Mormon), Mr. Hofmann came to our store and discussed the discovery. Although he had served as a Mormon missionary in England, it soon became evident that he did not fully trust the Mormon leaders. He said, in fact, that he was suspicious that the Church might be bugging his phone. He did not claim, however, to have any real evidence about the matter. At that first meeting I had a minor disagreement with Mark Hofmann. I had photographically reproduced a xerox copy of the Anthon transcript and Mr. Hofmann felt that I should have consulted with him before publication. He believed that he had some manuscript rights in the document and that no one could reproduce it without his permission. I informed him, however, that merely possessing a document does not give a person any special manuscript rights and that anyone could reproduce it without his permission.

    In spite of this disagreement, Mr. Hofmann was very polite. Sometime later he came back to the store and said that be had done research on the matter and found that my statements were correct. He referred to the lawsuit that Andrew Ehat had filed against Sandra and I for copyright violation when we reproduced portions of the William Clayton journals. He indicated that he felt Mr. Ehat had no manuscript rights and was really off base in bringing a lawsuit. (This lawsuit was finally dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals For The Tenth Circuit.)

    In the years that followed our first meeting Mr. Hofmann would occasionally visit our bookstore and tell of the remarkable discoveries that he was making. In the latter part of November 1983 I first heard that Mark Hofmann had a letter which was supposed to have been written by Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris. It was dated Oct. 23, 1830, and was addressed to W.W. Phelps. When I learned of the contents of the letter, I realized that it could deal a devastating blow to the Mormon Church. Sandra and I had previously written a book entitled, Mormonism, Magic and Masonry. In this book we presented strong evidence that Joseph Smith was involved in money-digging and magic. Martin Harris' letter seemed to provide new and exciting evidence which supported our thesis. This letter is known as the Salamander letter because Martin Harris was supposed to have written that Joseph Smith claimed when he went to get the gold plates for the Book of Mormon, a "white salamander" in the bottom of the hole "transfigured himself" into a "spirit" and "struck me 3 times."

trackingp5_salamanderletter_athumb.jpg (7657 bytes)     trackingp5_salamanderletter_bthumb.jpg (6081 bytes)
(click on each image to enlarge)

A photograph of a letter purported to have been written by Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps. This letter is known as the Salamander letter.

    Fortunately, I was able to obtain some revealing extracts from the letter and was preparing to print them in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger. I was very excited that we at Utah Lighthouse Ministry would be the first to break this important story to the world. While in the midst of compiling evidence to support the authenticity of the Salamander letter, I made a discovery that shook me to the very core. I found that the account of the transformation of the white salamander into the spirit was remarkably similar to a statement E.D. Howe published in Mormonism Unvailed. This book, written four years after the date which appears in the Harris letter, told of a toad "which immediately transformed itself into a spirit" and struck Joseph Smith. Even more disconcerting, however, was the fact that other remarkable parallels to the Salamander letter were found just two or three pages from the account of the transformation of the toad into a spirit (see Mormonism Unvailed, pages 273, 275 and 276).

    Some years before I had encountered similar evidence of plagiarism in Joseph Smith's History of the Church. The Mormon Church leaders had always proclaimed that this History was actually written by Joseph Smith himself. My research, however, led me to the conclusion that the largest portion of it had been compiled after his death. I found that later Mormon historians had taken portions of newspapers and diaries written by other people and changed them to the first person so that readers would believe that they were authored by Joseph Smith himself. In agreement with my conclusions, Mormon scholars later admitted that over 60% of the History was compiled after Smith's death (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? pages 127-135).

    In any case, parallels I had discovered between the Salamander letter and Mormonism Unvailed reminded me very much of the work I had done on Joseph Smith's History. Although what I discovered about the Salamander letter was not conclusive proof that it was a forgery, it was certainly suspicious. It seemed, in fact, to throw a real monkey wrench into all my plans concerning the publication of the letter. Since I knew that it was very unlikely that anyone else would spot these parallels and realize their significance, there was some temptation to keep the matter to myself. I knew, however, that God knew what I had seen, and I began to feel that He had shown me these unpleasant facts to warn me against endorsing the letter. Furthermore, I knew that I would never be satisfied if my case against Mormonism was based on fraudulent material. It was clear, therefore, that there was only one course of action which I could follow—i.e., print the whole truth in the Messenger. In the March 1984 issue, therefore, we raised the question of forgery by printing the title, "Is It Authentic?" Under this title we wrote:

    "At the outset we should state that we have some reservations concerning the authenticity of the letter, and at the present time we are not prepared to say that it was actually penned by Martin Harris. The serious implications of this whole matter, however, cry out for discussion. If the letter is authentic, it is one of the greatest evidences against the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. If, on the other hand, it is a forgery, it needs to be exposed as such so that millions of people will not be mislead [sic]. We will give the reasons for our skepticism as we proceed with this article."

    In the same issue of the Messenger, page 4, we made these comments:

    "Since we have been deeply involved in research having to do with the relationship of Mormonism to magic...we were delighted to the report that Martin Harris had written a letter relating to the subject....Some time later, we were told of another letter, written by W.W. Phelps, which seemed to prove the authenticity of the letter attributed to Harris. This letter is printed in Howe's book, pages 273-274. In the letter, Phelps tells of Martin Harris' statements concerning the Book of Mormon. There are some remarkable parallels between the two letters. Both letters refer to the Urim and Thummim as 'silver spectacles.' Both accounts tell of Martin Harris taking a copy of the Book of Mormon characters to 'Utica, Albany and New York,' and both talk of the Book of Mormon language as 'shorthand Egyptian.' Since Phelps' letter is dated Jan. 15, 1831 (less than three months after the letter which was reported to have been written by Harris), it seemed safe to conclude that Phelps used the Harris letter in preparing his own. In all fairness, however, we made another discovery which we feel we must report. Just two pages after Phelps letter, we found a statement written by E.D. Howe which is strangely similar to the 'Harris' letter.

(continued)


    Below the reader will find a complete text of the Salamander letter. I have added quotations from seven publications which resemble portions of the letter. [Web-editor: Color coding has been added to aid referencing.]

The books and articles quoted are as follows:
1--Mormonism Unvailed, by E. D. Howe, 1834 (purchase info)
2--Brigham Young University Studies, Autumn 1976
3--New Witness For Christ In America, by Francis W. Kirkham, 1951
4--Tiffany's Monthly, interview with Martin Harris, 1859 (purchase info)
5--A.B.C. History of Palmyra and the Beginning of "Mormonism," by Willard Bean, 1938
6--Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 1983 (purchase info)
7--Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by B.H. Roberts, 1930

Palmyra Oct 23d 1830

Dear Sir

    Your letter of yesterday is received & I hasten to answer as fully as I can--Joseph Smith Jr first come to my notice in the year 1824 in the summer of that year I contracted with his father to build a fence on my property (During the summer of 1824 there was a small leak that soon grew larger. During the fall of 1824 Joseph Smith, sr., and his son, Hyrum, were walling a basement and digging and curbing a well for Martin Harris. 5:35) in the corse of that work I aproach Joseph & ask how it is in a half day you put up what requires your father & 2 brothers a full day working together he says I have not been with out assistance (Nor was this the only assistance...he [David Whitmer] found to his surprise that he had accomplished more in a few hours than was usual to do in two or three days. 7:Vol.1, p. 126) but can not say more only you better find out the next day I take the older Smith by the arm (I took him by the arm 4:169) & he says Joseph can see anything he wishes by looking at a stone Joseph often sees spirits (This light of the stone,...enabled him [Joseph] to see any thing he wished. Accordingly he discovered ghosts, infernal spirits 1:259) here with great kettles of coin money (kettles filled with gold and silver 1:237) it was Spirits who brought up rock (Joseph, Sen. told me...the large stones...we call them rocks...are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun 1:233) because Joseph made no attempt on their money I latter 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 greived so I through back the dollar In the fall of the year 1827 I hear Joseph found a gold bible I take Joseph aside & he says it is true (They told me that the report that Joseph, Jun. had found golden plates, was true 1:253) I found it 4 years ago with my stone (He found them by looking in the stone 4:169) but only just got it because of the enchantment (the enchantment 1:267) the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold (after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream he proceeded to the spot 3:v.l, p.151) but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole (after the plates were taken from their hiding place by Jo, he...looked into the hole, where he saw a toad, which immediately transformed itself into a spirit 1:275-76) (Sir Walter Scott says that the old astrologers "affirmed that they could bind to their service, and imprison in a ring, a mirror, or a stone, some fairy, sylph, or salamander, and compel it to appear when called, and render answers to such questions as the viewer should propose. 6:23) & struck me 3 times (and struck him...the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three of four rods 1:242) & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole (thot he would cover the place over 2:31) when the spirit says do not lay it down (he had been commanded not to lay the plates down 2:31, footnote 5) Joseph says when can I have it (Joseph says, "when can I have it?" 2:31) the spirit says one year from to day if you obey me (you have not obeyed your orders...come one year from this day 1:242) look to the stone after a few days he looks the spirit says bring your brother Alvin (bring with you your oldest brother 1:242) Joseph says he is dead (he said that he was dead 1:243) shall I bring what remains ("Whereas reports have been industriously put in circulation, that my son, Alvin, had been removed from the place of interment 5:34) but the spirit is gone Joseph goes to get the gold bible but the spirit says you did not bring your brother you can not have it (he went to the place and the personage appeard and told him he could not have it now 2:31) look to the stone Joseph looks but can not see who to bring (Lawrence...asked him to look in his stone, he looked and said there was nothing; 1:243) the spirit says I tricked you again (This rogue of a spirit ...intended it would seem to play our prophet a similar trick 3:v.l, p.290) look to the stone (he told him to look again 1:243) Joseph looks & sees his wife (he looked in his glass and found it was Emma 2:31) on the 22d day of Sept 1827 they get the gold bible--I give Joseph $50 to move him down to Pa (He obtained fifty Dollars in money mid hired a man to move him and his wife to pensylvany 2:34) Joseph says when you visit me I will give you a sign he gives me some hiroglyphics I take them to Utica Albany & New York in the last place Dr Mitchel gives me a introduction to Professor Anthon says he they are short hand Egyption the same what was used in ancent times (taken by Mr. Harris to Utica, Albany and New York; at New York, they were shown to Dr. Mitchell and he referred to professor Anthon who...declared them to be ancient shorthand Egyptian 1:273) bring me the old book & I will translate says I it is made of precious gold & is sealed from view says he I can not read a sealed book--Joseph found some giant silver specticles with the plates (Joseph Smith, through a pair of silver spectacles, found with the plates 1:273) he puts them in a old hat & in the darkness reads the words & in this way it is all translated (he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkened his Eyes then he would take a sentence and it would apper...Thus was the hol [whole] translated 2:35) & written down--about the middle of June 1829 Joseph takes me together with Oliver Cowdery & David Whitmer to have a view of the plates our names are appended to the book of Mormon which I had printed with my own money-- (The whole expense of publishing an edition of 5,000 copies, was borne by Martin 1:13) space and time both prevent me from writing more at presant if there is any thing further you wish to inquire I shall attend to it

Yours Respectfully
Martin Harris

W W Phelps Esq


(continued)

The reader will remember that the letter said, 'the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole.' E.D. Howe's statement reads as follows: '...looked into the hole, where he saw a toad, which immediately transformed itself into a spirit,...' Notice that both accounts use the words 'the hole' as well as 'spirit', and the words 'transfigured himself' resemble 'transformed itself.'...

    "That Howe's statement (Mormonism Unvailed, page 276) is so much like the one in the 'Harris' letter is a little disturbing. Even more disconcerting, however, is the fact that it appears just two pages from a letter by W.W. Phelps which also bears remarkable parallels....As we understand it, the Church's handwriting expert, Dean Jessee, feels that the signature was penned by Martin Harris, but so far no tests on the paper have been completed. We feel that the letter should be made available to other handwriting experts, and that the public should be informed where the letter was originally obtained. We have heard that there is a red postal mark on the original letter and that the amount of postage is correct for a letter from Palmyra to Canandaigua. Although the average person would have a difficult time forging these things, there are probably a number of people who could do the job....

    "While we would really like to believe that the letter attributed to Harris is authentic, we do not feel that we can endorse it until further evidence comes forth."

    As soon as I noticed that there were problems with the Salamander letter, I began to realize the serious implications this would have for the study of Mormon history. Prior to Mark Hofmann's appearance on the scene, the documents we had used in building our case against Mormonism seemed to have a good pedigree. For instance, the Joseph Smith Papyri were rediscovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967. Although officials at the museum did not acquire the papyri until 1947, they had been aware of them since 1918. The papyri could, in fact, be traced back to the Smith family. The documents which proved that Joseph Smith was tried as a "Glass Looker" in 1826 could be traced back to the jail in Norwich, N.Y. Two men, in fact, signed affidavits that they were discovered in the basement of the jail. Joseph Smith's "Strange Account" of the First Vision, as well as his diaries, could be traced directly to the Church Historical Department where they bad been preserved.

    When Mark Hofmann came on the scene everything seemed to change. Hofmann was vague about where his finds were coming from, and no one seemed to think of questioning his veracity. The Deseret News for Oct. 27, 1985, said that Hofmann's "reputation regarding documents was impeccable, and his friends in the historical circle defended it." It was only after I began to have doubts about the Salamander letter, that I began to realize that Hofmann was not providing pedigrees for his discoveries. While Mormon scholars felt that the Bible in which Hofmann found the Anthon transcript (it was supposed to have been pasted between two pages) came from the Smith family, Hofmann refused to disclose where be had bought the book. Since book collectors sometimes have a policy of checking out every page of a rare book, I would like to have talked to the collector to see if he remembered anything glued between the pages. With regard to the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Hofmann only said that it came from a descendant of Thomas Bullock. When we pressed Hofmann to reveal which descendant (there must be hundreds), he refused to be of any help. Lucy Mack Smith's 1829 letter, Joseph Smith's 1825 letter and Martin Harris' 1873 letter all seem to have no pedigree. In the case of the Salamander letter, I did learn that Hofmann claimed that it came from a man by the name of Lyn Jacobs. I also learned that Hofmann and Jacobs were working together in the document business. Since the documents were all coming from these two men, it was necessary to focus in upon their backgrounds.

    Although the money involved in the sale of Mormon documents would provide a sufficient motive for forgery, I began to wonder if there might be some sort of plan or even conspiracy to control the direction of Mormon history by this method. In an article published in the New York Times, Feb. 16, 1986, Robert Lindsey wrote the following:

    "SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 13 — Court documents indicate that prosecutors will try to prove that a murder suspect here set out to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by forging embarrassing historical documents and then offering to sell them secretly to church leaders....

    "Prosecutors say that Mr. Hofmann, perhaps with the help of an unknown accomplice to help make the forgeries, set out in the early 1980's to defraud the church by selling it forged documents that cast doubt on the validity of the Book of Mormon and other aspects of church teachings....Prosecutors speculate that the church officials may have placed most of the documents in their vault without authenticating them because they were regarded as potentially embarrassing to the church.

    "Court documents indicate that some prosecutors in the Salt Lake County Attorney's office believe Mr. Hofmann's goal was not only to obtain money from the church through the sale of the documents but also to establish enough credibility that he could shape the world's perception of Mormonism.

    "This view is shared by a man here who was the first to suggest that Mr. Hofmann was forging his documents. He is Jerald Tanner, a former Mormon who heads the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, which for decades has been challenging the truth of much of Mormon doctrine.

    "In an interview, Mr. Tanner said he decided...that the Hofmann documents might be forgeries, even though some of them...supported his own iconoclastic views of Mormonism.

    "In a newsletter that he publishes with his wife, Sandra, Mr. Tanner began raising questions about their authenticity, in some cases comparing the texts with known Mormon writings.

    "But if senior Mormon officials were aware of his warnings, they apparently paid little attention. Several of the church's highest officials have acknowledged negotiating to acquire documents from Mr. Hofmann until the day of the first two bombings.

    "Mr. Tanner said it appeared that Mr. Hofmann's growing credibility as a source of documents was putting him in a position where the documents he presented were considered unassailable. If that continued, Mr. Tanner said, Mr. Hofmann 'could control the direction of Mormon history.' "

    By August 1984 I was convinced that the evidence against the Salamander letter cast a real shadow of doubt on all the important discoveries Mark Hofmann had made since 1980. On August 22, 1984, I printed the first part of the pamphlet, The Money-Digging Letters. On page 9 of that publication, I wrote: "...a number of important documents have come to light during the 1980's. The questions raised by the Salamander letter have forced us to take a closer look at some of these documents." In the same publication I wrote the following concerning the Salamander letter: 'The more we examine this letter attributed to Harris, the more questions we have about its authenticity." (page 6) I went on to show important parallels between other documents and the Salamander letter. I noted that the parallels to the Joseph Knight account (first published in 1976) seem to be extremely important. On page 7, I told of an interview with Martin Harris which was published in 1859: "The interview in Tiffany's Monthly also raises a very serious question about the lack of religious material in the Salamander letter. In the interview, Harris quoted at least five portions of the Bible. He used the words revelation, Moses, Scripture and Christ at least once. He used the word prayed twice, and mentioned the devil four times. The word angel or angels appears five times. God is mentioned seven times, and the word Lord appears ten times. In the Salamander letter all of these words are absent. In fact, there is nothing we can find concerning religion. Spirits are mentioned many times in the letter, but they are never linked to God in any way. Instead they are linked to money-digging. They are the guardians of the treasures.

    "This total lack of religious material seems to be out of character for Martin Harris. A person might try to maintain that Harris was more interested in religion in 1859, but the evidence shows that he was always that way." (page 7)

    On the following page, I charged that Mr. Hofmann had originally tried to sell the Salamander letter "to the Mormon Church for a large amount of money." Hofmann later told me that it was actually Lyn Jacobs who took the letter to the church. Hofmann seemed willing, however, to admit that he was involved in the decision to sell the letter to the church. In any case, I went on to state: "In the past Mr. Hofmann acted under the theory that the Church will buy up embarrassing documents to suppress them. This is very clear from his own account of how he handled the discovery of the Joseph Smith III Blessing. In a paper given at the Mormon History Association, Mark Hofmann stated that be did not want 'to come across like I was trying to blackmail the Church,' but he acknowledged that if the Church had wanted him to, he would have promised to never tell anyone about its discovery: ...Hofmann later commented: 'It surprised me a bit that the Church didn't buy it up quick and stash it away somewhere,...' (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 19)...

    "However this may be, it is reported that the Mormon Church felt that Hofmann's price was too high on the Salamander letter and refused his offer. The document was later sold to Steven Christensen.

    "We feel that one of the most important tests of the letter's authenticity is its history since it was written. If Mr. Hofmann will tell historians where he obtained the letter, then it may be possible to trace it back to its original source." (page 8)

    The day following the publication of The Money-Digging Letters (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 church, but he was amazed that Utah Lighthouse Ministry had taken a position which was critical of him. Mr. Hofmann tried to explain that he could not reveal the source of the Salamander letter because he had sold it to Christensen. With regard to the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Hofmann indicated that he had given the Mormon Church an affidavit which stated where he had obtained it. He could not reveal the source to the public, however, because the member of the Bullock family from whom he had purchased the document also had important papers concerning Brigham Young's finances that would be embarrassing to the church.

    Sandra felt that Mark Hofmann was almost to the point of tears as he pled his case as to why we should trust him. He did not make any threats, however, nor did he show any sign of being violent. At any rate, Hofmann's explanations certainly did not satisfy me.

    On August 25, 1984, John Dart wrote the following in the Los Angeles Times:

    "...unusual caution about the [Salamander] letter's genuiness has been expressed by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, longtime evangelical critics of the Mormon Church....The Tanners suggestion of forgery has surprised some Mormons, who note that the parallels in wording also could be taken as evidence for authenticity."

    The Deseret News for September 1, 1984, reported:

    "...outspoken Mormon Church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner suspect the document is a forgery, they told the Deseret News.

    "Jerald Tanner...says similarities between it and other documents make its veracity doubtful....

    "Another disturbing aspect, Tanner said, was the letter seemed out of character for Harris. 'In the entire text of the letter, there is no mention of religion...if it's a forgery, then it's important because there's a document forger out there.' "

    By the time we printed the January 1985 issue of the Messenger, we had received word that the evidence derived from physical testing seemed to indicate that the Salamander letter was genuine. At that time I wrote the following:

    "Since I have spent years proving that early Mormonism is linked to magic and moneydigging, this news should have brought me a great deal of satisfaction. Instead, however, I find myself facing a real dilemma. While the tests and the opinions of noted Mormon scholars seem to indicate that I should relax and enjoy the victory, I still have serious reservations about the document's authenticity. In fact, I find it very hard to believe that the Martin Harris I have learned about from numerous historical sources could have written the letter." (Salt Lake City Messenger, Jan. 1985, page 4)

    I pointed out in that issue of the Messenger that I had recently examined a number of historical sources relating to Martin Harris, and that "These references, from early newspapers up until the time of his death, point to the unmistakable conclusion that Harris could hardly open his mouth without talking about religion. That he could write a letter of over 600 words without mentioning the subject seems highly unlikely. This is especially true since the Salamander letter deals with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and gives ample opportunities to bring up the subject. While it is true that Martin Harris believed in money-digging and the superstitions connected with it, it seems very hard to believe that he would write a prospective convert like Phelps and leave out all the divine elements of the Book of Mormon."

    On page 9 of the same issue, I showed that an Episcopalian minister by the name of John A. Clark claimed in 1842 that Martin Harris told him the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in 1827 and that Clark did not remember Harris saying anything about the white salamander that was transformed into a spirit. Instead, Clark related that Harris told him about a dream Joseph Smith had about an "angel of God" who visited him "while he lay upon his bed." It seemed inconsistent to me that Harris would tell this story before the Book of Mormon came forth and then refer to an "old spirit" when he wrote the Salamander letter. In this same issue I expressed the hope that scholars would not "side-step" the issue of the pedigree of the Salamander letter and stated that "Too many of the documents which have recently come forth appear to be like Melchisedec, 'Without father, without mother, without descent,...' (Hebrews 7:3)"

    On April 28, 1985, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the noted document examiner Kenneth Rendell proclaimed that the Salamander letter was authentic. Even the Church Section of the Mormon-owned Deseret News (April 28) published an article entitled: "1830 Harris letter authenticated." At the Mormon History Association, Church scholars Dean Jessee and Ronald Walker told of their research which confirmed the authenticity of the letter. The most noted Mormon scholars seemed to completely accept the letter's authenticity.

    In the June 1985 issue of the Messenger, I wrote the following:

    "...At the outset I will state that I originally approached the Salamander letter with a strong bias towards its authenticity....No one could have possibly have had a greater desire to prove the Salamander letter authentic, and I doubt that many people have invested the time and effort that I have in sifting the evidence. This letter has been constantly on my mind for well over a year. My desire has been to come up with a definite answer concerning its reliability. At the present time, however, I still find myself with some serious doubts....

    "When I originally took a stand against the Salamander letter, some people thought that I was just trying to force the Mormon researchers to come out with their research. They felt that as soon as the letter was published I would jump on the band wagon. The truth of the matter, however, is that my statements were made out of a strong conviction, and the release of the letter has done nothing to calm the apprehension I have about the letter's authenticity. At the present time I feel almost alone. Even the Mormon historians accept the letter, and I am under a great deal of pressure to get into step with the scholars....

    "Before making any final decision with regard to the letter's authenticity, I would like to do further research with regard to a number of items. For instance, I would like to find out if there is any evidence that someone owned the letter before Lyn Jacobs....

    "In conclusion I should say that although I have serious doubts about the Salamander letter, I still stand behind the thesis we presented in Mormonism, Magic and Masonry. I feel that there is very good evidence linking Joseph Smith to magic."

    In the same issue (page 13), we stated that if "the letter is a forgery, one is almost forced to the conclusion that it would have to be a recent forgery." We also stated that the forger would probably turn out to be a Mormon. The following comments appeared on pages 9 and 10:

    "One problem with allowing the suppression of important information concerning the source of discoveries is that it could encourage forgers to enter the Mormon document business. Since there is already a great deal of money involved in these transactions...there would be a temptation to create such documents and palm them off on unsuspecting collectors by merely saying: 'I obtained these from a collector in ________.' If we allow this type of thing to go on, it will certainly encourage the forgery of Mormon documents. Since these documents have an important affect on the religious beliefs of many people, it is crucial that their pedigree be revealed to historians....This whole business of secret dealings with the Church is very disturbing. While dealers have a right to operate in this way, from a historian's point of view it is deplorable. We can not see any real reason for all the secrecy that surrounds these transactions."

 

A CONFRONTATION

    The Mormon History Association met in May 1985 in Kansas City. I learned that Lyn Jacobs and Mark Hofmann were at the first session, but they left as soon as the meeting was over and I was not able to question them. I did receive a tip, however, that Lyn Jacobs was going to be staying at Rick Grunder's house in Indiana. After I returned to Salt Lake City, I was able to reach Jacobs on the telephone and asked him where he obtained the Salamander letter. He replied that he could not tell me. I responded, "What are you trying to hide?" While Mr. Jacobs was polite, he refused to give me any information. I told him that I would print the fact that he had refused to reveal where he obtained the letter. He still refused to be of any help and the telephone conversation ended. Consequently, I printed the following in the August 1985 issue of the Messenger: "...Lyn Jacobs has stubbornly refused to tell where be obtained it."

trackingp10_hofmannthumb.jpg (6799 bytes)   trackingp10_jacobsthumb.jpg (6484 bytes)
(click on each image to enlarge)

Left: Photograph of Mark Hofmann. Mr. Hofmann was bound over at the preliminary hearing and now faces charges ranging from the sale of forgeries and nonexistant documents to murder. Right: A photograph of Hofmann's close friend Lyn Jacobs at the preliminary hearing. Jacobs admitted that he had told a false story with regard to the discovery of the Salamander letter.

    On August 24, 1985, Sandra and I had the very rare opportunity to speak with both Mark Hofmann and Lyn Jacobs at the same time. After Marvin Hill had given his presentation at the Sunstone Theological Symposium, we found Hofmann and Jacobs at the back of the room. Both men treated us politely and answered some of our questions. I asked Hofmann and Jacobs if it were true that the letter was obtained for only about $20 from a postmark collector. They indicated that this was true. Since Marvin Hill had indicated that Jacobs may have purchased the letter from a collector by the name of Elwin Doubleday, I asked Mr. Jacobs if this were true. He replied that it was not true. He said he had bought it from another collector and that collector could not remember where he got the document from. I asked him for the name of the collector from whom he obtained it. His reply was that be could not tell me because the collector had told him not to reveal his identity. This, of course, did not ring true. Why would a collector who saw no value in the letter except that it had an early postmark worth $20 ask that his name not be revealed? Common sense told me that a collector would be happy to have other people know that he had such letters for sale. At any rate, Mr. Hofmann then stated that he had been the one who directed Jacobs to the collector. Hofmann, however, did not reveal the name of the collector. I was certainly not the only one who was told the false story that the Salamander letter was originally obtained by Lyn Jacobs. Writing in Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 54, Allen Roberts and Fred Esplin reported: "It was from a New England postmark collector that Jacobs said he obtained...the Salamander letter....Without disclosing his interest in the content of the letter, Jacobs said he purchased it for about $25, the value of the postmark." At Mark Hofmann's preliminary hearing, Donald Schmidt, former LDS Church Archivist, testified as follows:

A—He [Lyn Jacobs] told me he had obtained it.

Q—Mr. Lyn Jacobs had obtained it?

A—Yes.

Q—He didn't tell you that Mark Hofmann had obtained it?

A—...He had obtained it from...a source that Mark Hofmann had supplied him.

Q—Did he tell you where that source was?

A—My understanding it was from a stamp or postmark collector in the east.

    The noted document dealer Kenneth Rendell testified that he received the same story concerning the origin of the Salamander letter from Mark Hofmann:

A—...My understanding was that the letter had been found in the stampless cover collection or stampless cover dealers...that Mark Hofmann was not the person who found it but Lyn Jacobs was.

Q—Who related this story to you?

A—Mark Hofmann.

    After investigators began raising the question of forgery with regard to the Salamander letter, Lyn Jacobs decided to put some distance between himself and the document. He now claims that it was actually Mark Hofmann who originally purchased the letter. In an interview published in Sunstone magazine, Jacobs stated:

    "JACOBS: Unfortunately, my involvement in the discovery of the Martin Harris letter has been somewhat exaggerated...it was Mark who actually acquired it....I found out that a dentist in Cortland, New York, had a little group of Palmyra letters dating from the 1830s that might be of historical interest. So I called Mark and gave him that tip. Soon afterwards Mark purchased the Martin Harris letter...

    "It was about the middle of December 1983 and I was about to come home for Christmas vacation, so we waited until I got to Utah to discuss what to do with it. He turned the letter over to me and told me he did not wish to become involved with the publicity he felt the letter would probably generate." (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, page 15)

    When Jacobs was asked if it were true that he "did not see it [the Salamander letter] until Mark showed it to you," he replied, "Yes." (Ibid., p.19)

    The "dentist in Cortland, New York" has been identified as William Thoman. Dr. Thoman, however, undercuts the entire story by claiming that he never had any dealings with Mark Hofmann after 1982 when Hofmann ran up a bill for $60 which he never paid. Mr. Hofmann, therefore, could not have obtained the letter from him in late 1983 as Jacobs maintained. At Mark Hofmann's preliminary hearing, Lyn Jacobs acknowledged under oath that he had "fabricated" the story that he had obtained the Salamander letter in New England because Mr. Hofmann did not want any publicity:

Q—...did you have occasion to tell people that it was—that you were the one who located the item and purchased the item and that Mr. Hofmann was brought in to help you market the item?

A—Unfortunately, that is correct.

Q—And you're doing this under Mr. Hofmann's instruction?

A—Not instructions, under his request. Not his request that I fabricate a story, but that his request that I take full responsibility for the document. That was my decision, to fabricate a story several months later.

    In his testimony, Lyn Jacobs told of a strange arrangement Mark Hofmann made with him concerning the Salamander letter:

A—...We had another [telephone] conversation after that towards the beginning of December.

Q—What was that conversation concerning?

A—Well, Mark was trying to decide what to do with the letter and we had discussed—first of all, he had mentioned that I had a share in the finding of the letter since I had helped him to apparently, at least, from what I understood from him, that I had helped him to find it in giving him the name and at that time we discussed...actually dealing with the letter jointly, since he figured, at that time, that we had both owned it....

Q—Let me ask you this then. Prior to the telephone conversation, the first conversation in November, had you ever heard anything of a so-called Martin Harris letter?

A—Never before.

Q—And had you ever seen anything such as that that he read over the phone to you?

A—I had not.

Q—It's my understanding, at that time, that you were not the person who located the letter in the sense of going to a place and picking it up or purchasing it. Is that correct?

A—That is correct.

Q—In fact, at that time, you didn't even know such a letter existed or where it existed. Is that correct?

A—Not specifically. A Martin Harris [letter] no.

Q—Now, over the phone, on the second phone conversation, the discussion as to the effect that you will have an interest in the document—

A—Um hum.

Q—So at this point, all you knew was Mr. Hofmann had the document. It's one he had obtained. Is that correct?

A—That is correct.

Q—Now, why was it that you obtained an ownership of the document?

A—Well, Mark himself had suggested to me that because I...was instrumental in suggesting who it was that he could contact to obtain the letter, that I would be partial owner of it. Since I gave him the clue or the...tip, shall we say.

Q—Did he explain to you what he paid for it?

A—I think he mentioned that it was 15 or 20 dollars, something like that. He also mentioned that he had acquired a couple of other covers from this same individual.

Q—Did you have an occasion to see the document?

A—I did, when I got home.

Q—When would that be?

A—Oh, around the 16th of December. I came home for Christmas break.

Q—83?

A—Um hum.

    At one point in Lyn Jacobs' testimony, this exchange occurred:

Q—At this time you were still maintaining that it was your document?

A—Well, it was. He had given it to me.

    Kenneth Rendell, the expert who had originally authenticated the Salamander letter, learned that Jacobs had changed his story in February 1986. At that time he indicated that there was a "high likelihood" that it was a forgery. In an interview on KUTV, Feb. 6, 1986, Mr. Rendell commented: "...given the circumstances now that the history of the letter apparently is changing this week and that the person [Lyn Jacobs] is saying that it originally came from Hofmann, not from him, and given the circumstances of all these other forgeries, I think whether there is ever any physical evidence to prove it is a forgery, there is a high likelihood that it could be a forgery." When Mr. Rendell was asked if he was "more suspicious now about the origin of the Salamander letter than you were when you first examined it," he replied: "Certainly I am. There's considerably more information now and considerably more evidence now."

    It is now evident that both Lyn Jacobs and Mark Hofmann conspired to hide the truth concerning the origin of the Salamander letter. If Jacobs had knowledge that the letter was forged, he would be as guilty as Hofmann of "THEFT BY DECEPTION." Investigators have apparently not found any hard evidence to that effect. Otherwise, they would have filed charges against him. In any case, Mr. Jacobs claims that he was involved in the sale of the document to Steven Christensen: "I met Steve for the first time at Coordinated Financial Services. By that time, the sale contract had already been written and Mark and I signed it along with a few witnesses. It obligated Steve to pay $40,000..." (Sunstone, page 15) At the preliminary hearing Lyn Jacobs confirmed that the letter was sold for "$40,000." He went on to say: "...we solidified that I was going to get about $5,000 and some trade...items for it." Jacobs was not asked what the value of the trade items amounted to. Therefore, we have no way of knowing how much of the profit Hofmann shared with him.

    Since Jacobs was deeply involved with Hofmann and was a party to an erroneous story concerning the origin of the Salamander letter, some have suggested that he may be a co-conspirator with Mark Hofmann in forgery. We find the following in the interview with Jacobs in Sunstone (page 19):

    "SUNSTONE: So as far as you know, no one living can claim to have read it [the Salamander letter] before it came from Mark Hofmann's hands. You don't have any first hand knowledge of its actual origins.

    "JACOBS: If you're suggesting Mark forged it, it is not possible. Mark Hofmann is not a forger....

    "SUNSTONE: Some have suggested that you might be a forger.

    "JACOBS: That's ridiculous....To my knowledge, such a thing has never been perpetrated either by Mark or myself....

    Detectives have seriously considered the possibility that there is at least one co-conspirator in the forgeries. Rick Grunder, an associate of both Lyn Jacobs and Mark Hofmann, revealed the following:

    "They [the investigators] asked me who was Mark's forger. They knew he wasn't capable of it, so they accused Lynn Jacobs of it. Lynn is very upset. He spent the weekend here in Ithaca with me and I just saw him off to the airport. He feels his life is in tatters.

    "The police accused me of making a mysterious round-trip flight into Salt Lake on July 12th, 1985. I'm supposed to have delivered a mystery document to Mark then....

    "It's a crude fake and absurd...I'm surprised the police thought it had any validity. I certainly didn't make any round-trip into Salt Lake in July of '85. I didn't forge any documents."' (Maine Antique Digest, April 1986, pages 11-12)

    In the interview in Sunstone, p. 19, Lyn Jacobs made some strange statements regarding those who questioned Mark Hofmann's documents:

    "SUNSTONE: How do you suppose these questions of forgery arose?

    "JACOBS: The reasons for that are difficult for me to ascertain except that people just simply don't like certain documents....It seems to me it's only when a document becomes particularly offensive to people or in any way controversial that people decide it's a forgery. What's the matter with everyone?...

    "SUNSTONE: One of the most outspoken proponents of the forgery theory has been the Utah Lighthouse Ministry. One would think that with their anti-Mormon mission, they would not question the Martin Harris letter's authenticity without good reason, especially since it supposedly supports their case against the Church, What do they have to gain?

    "JACOBS: I've always wondered that....So often such documents get stashed away; nobody talks about them anymore, and they just sort of fizzle out of public attention. That's really what started happening to the Martin Harris [letter]....Well the anti-Mormons may have wanted to keep the thing going by claiming it to be a forgery.

    "The other possibility is that because certain individuals were crying forgery from the beginning, the anti-Mormons may have become apprehensive about using a document in their ministry which might not be authentic. If it were a forgery, it would make them look like fools."

    Lyn Jacobs seems to imply that because "certain individuals were crying forgery," we were extremely cautious about endorsing the Harris letter. Actually, the truth of the matter is that we were the first to raise the question. Furthermore, Mr. Jacob's assertion that we wanted to keep the "thing going by claiming it to be a forgery" is almost ludicrous.

    In any case, while Sandra and I were talking with Hofmann and Jacobs at the Sunstone Symposium, I asked Mr. Hofmann some very pointed questions that related to the Salamander letter. The answers he gave did not satisfy me, and I felt that Mr. Hofmann knew that I did not believe what he was saying. At one point he looked at me with a sad expression on his face. He seemed to be deeply troubled. It was almost as if he were trying to say, "Please believe what I am telling you." Unfortunately, I could not believe his answers. They did not square with the facts that I already knew. Although this confrontation was very unpleasant for all of us, I must say that neither Hofmann nor Jacobs showed any sign of vindictiveness.

    One question I asked Mr. Hofmann which seemed to really cause a problem was concerning a story he had given to a scholar on Dec. 11, 1983. Hofmann had told him that be was flying back to Massachusetts with a cashier's check for $18,000 to buy the Salamander letter. Two days later he claimed there had been a leak concerning the existence of the document and that he would not be able to buy it from the collector or dealer who had it. He, therefore, would have to get someone else to purchase it for him. Since the scholar to whom he told the story was standing right by me, Hofmann apparently felt that it would cause a problem to deny it. Lyn Jacobs was occupied with something else at the time, but Hofmann got his attention and told him that there was something he had never told him before—i.e., he had decided to go back to Massachusetts to buy the document from him. This explanation did not satisfy me. I felt that it was strange that Hofmann would already have the cashier's check made out for $18,000 if he had never even discussed the matter with Jacobs. The story just did not ring true.

    Now that Jacobs has given his testimony, we have two completely opposite accounts of what was going on. Hofmann claimed that Jacobs had the document back in Massachusetts and that he was planning to fly back and buy it from him. Jacobs, on the other hand, now maintains that Hofmann had the document in Utah and that he saw it for the very first time when he returned from Massachusetts. Now that investigators have declared the Salamander letter a forgery, it is easy to understand why there are conflicting stories concerning its origin.

 

CHRISTENSEN COULDN'T TESTIFY

    As strange as it may seem, the "white salamander" question even found its way into our court trial—the lawsuit that Andrew Ehat brought against us over the William Clayton journals. In the "Pre-Trial Order," Gordon A. Madsen [Ehat's lawyer] indicated that he was thinking of calling "Steven Christensen," the man who bought the Salamander letter and was later killed by a bomb, as a witness against us. In the "Trial Brief" Mr. Madsen wrote: "The deliberateness of defendants is further emphasized by the testimony of Christensen and the defendants that the printing of stolen and unpermissive material has been, and is, a habit with these defendants and is highlighted by the most recent issue of defendants' publication, The Salt Lake Messenger, in which they both advertise the continued sale of the Clayton publication and print excerpts from Mr. Christensen's [Salamander] letter without permission, knowing full well who owned the document, that the same has not been previously published, and completely disregarding the rights of Mr. Christensen."

    At the trial the following exchange occurred between Gordon A. Madsen and myself:

Q—Indeed the forepart of that same Messenger has some quotes in it from a letter that hasn't yet been printed that you acknowledge is owned by Mr. Steven Christensen, doesn't it?

A—It has quotations from a letter, but that has not been stolen.

Q—But your quotations from it were without any permission from Mr. Christensen, were they?

A—I did not need permission from Mr. Christensen because the owner[ship] of the document is in the family, and it's the family rights would be the descendant[s] of Martin Harris.

Q—You say in your own article that Christensen is the owner of that document, do you not?

A—Yes, but if you would read the copyright law there is a difference between ownership of the document and ownership of the manuscript rights.

Q—What effort did you make to determine who owned the copyrights in that Christensen letter?

A—I'm sure that it's been so long that no one would." (Trial Transcript, pages 391-92)

    Steven Christensen was present at our trial, but because the Judge felt that Mr. Ehat's lawyer was wasting so much time on irrelevant material, he was unable to call him as a witness. It was lucky for Mr. Madsen that Christensen could not testify. Madsen had tried to play down the idea of a "Mormon underground" which was secretly circulating sensitive church documents. In our attempt to find material that would nullify Steven Christensen's testimony, we learned that he was deeply involved in this underground. He had even been dealing with some of the church's worst enemies—i.e. the Mormon fundamentalists, who teach polygamy and the Adam-God doctrine. We had a list of over 2,000 books and manuscripts which Christensen had in his possession at that time and were prepared to question him concerning how he obtained copies of some of the restricted Mormon documents.

    We do not believe that Steven Christensen had any manuscript rights to the Salamander letter, but even if he had, we quoted only a few sentences from it in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger. This would fall well within the limits of "fair use," and therefore would not be considered a copyright violation. Furthermore, if Ehat's lawyer had pressed the matter further, he would have learned that the extracts we published were obtained even before Steven Christensen purchased the letter. They certainly were not stolen. Mr. Hofmann himself had allowed a scholar to make some extracts from the Salamander letter and these extracts were turned over to us. If Christensen had been called to the stand to give testimony, it would have had a disastrous affect on Mr. Madsen's attempt to minimize the role of the "Mormon underground." The whole thing, in fact, would have been very embarrassing for Mr. Christensen.

    Steven Christensen seems to have been thoroughly converted to the Salamander letter. Instead of listening to the message of caution which we printed in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger, he wanted to fight us in court. He continued to believe in Mark Hofmann and his stories concerning the discovery of important Mormon documents for more than a year. Although he seems to have eventually come to the conclusion that Hofmann was involved in illegal activities, by this time it was too late. If investigators are correct in their theory, it was Christensen's continued involvement with Hofmann which led to his untimely death.

 

Back | Next

salamandercontentsbutton.jpg (14602 bytes)


Home | FAQs | What's New | Topical Index | Testimony | Newsletters | Online Resources | Online Books | Booklist | Order/Contact | Email | Other Websites