The History of the Mormon Church ~ The Mark Hofmann Murders, 1985 ~ Forged documents, including the Salamander letter

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on April 25, 2012 0 Comments

My husband and I went to Salt Lake for a weekend visit to my relatives in October, 1985, Columbus Day weekend.

That weekend Mark Hofmann laid two pipe bombs, killing two, as part of elaborate scheme of forging documents and selling them as genuine artifacts to the Mormon Church.

Mark Hofmann, a former Mormon later arrested and jailed for the forgeries and murders, had done enormous research on which papers and inks to use, how to age paper and how to pass off modern day technologies as technologies more than 100 to 150 years old.

He had married his high school sweetheart.

She was small, timid and meek.

He had strict rules in the house.

She was not to question him about his work with the documents; she was not allowed in the basement where he kept his equipment.

During the early 1980s, Mark Hofmann forged more than 445 documents and sold them to the highest officials in the LDS church for large amounts of money.

Some of these fraudulent documents were damaging to LDS doctrine and were put in LDS vaults, or other places where the press and public would have no access.

LDS Church authorities did NOT want anyone to see these documents. Among these documents is the famous “Salamander Letter” (below)  was a fraudulent document that Hofman created and sold to the LDS Church.

This document describes that a Salamander appeared to Joseph Smith  and who refused to give Smith the Golden Plates unless Smith’s deceased brother Alvin Smith was also present.

Text of the Salamander Letter (purportedly written by Joseph Smith’s scribe for the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris)

The Salamander Letter:


October 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 in the corse of that work I approach 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 but can not say more only you better find out the next day I take the older Smith by the arm & he says Joseph can see any thing he wishes by looking at a stone Joseph often sees Spirits here with great kettles of coin money it was Spirits who brought up rock 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 grieved 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 I found it 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole when the spirit says do not lay it down Joseph says when can I have it the spirit says one year from to day if you obay me look to the stone after a few days he looks the spirit says bring your brother Alvin Joseph says he is dead shall I bring what remains 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 look to the stone Joseph looks but can not see who to bring the spirit says I tricked you again look to the stone Joseph looks & sees his wife on the 22d day of Sept 1827 they get the gold bible–I give Joseph $50 to move him down to Pa Joseph says when you visit me I will give you a sign he gives me some hiroglyphics I take then to Utica Albany & New York in the last place Dr Mitchel gives me an introduction to Professor Anthon says he they are short hand Egyption the same what was used in ancient times 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 he puts them in an old hat & in the darkness reads the words & in this way it is all translated & 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–space and time both prevent me from writing more at present if there is any thing further you wish to inquire I shall attend to it

Yours Respectfully

Martin Harris

(sic)” Wikipedia


I have to say, that having read the Salamander Letter that I find it unlikely that a literate man such as Martin Harris (a scribe) would have written a letter such as this using only one sentence. It is amazing that otherwise intelligent and educated people (the LDS church) believed this.

This points to the absurdity of this letter, which  was proven a forgery.

I have read dozens of letters written by my ancestors, dating from a period roughly around 1830 – 1840 – and they were written in Standard English, and used conventional sentences.

Educated people of this era knew how to write standard English. That alone makes this letter suspect.


Hofmann deliberately duped LDS officials into acquiring these documents. Church officials believed them real, and harmful to LDS Church doctrine, should they be available to the public.

Mark Hofmann (left) with LDS Prophet Spencer Kimball. Kimball is using a magnifying glass to examine a document but it unable to detect it is a fraud.


A book I’d read in 1992 recounts this story with great accuracy.

Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, offers more detail than I can give here.

A recent book, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, A Story of Violent Faith, also discusses this incident.

A lot has been written about the Hofmann Forgeries/Murders elsewhere in print, online and on PBS.

The LDS Church is very sensitive to any criticism of its past or present, and defends itself with zeal.

At the crux of the controversy is the story of the McLellin artifacts. In 1985, Hofmann met with Church officials and announced he had found the long-lost McLellin papers, a collection of 19th century journals and papers believed to have been lost.

The LDS Church was interested in acquiring these artifacts, as they were believed to be damaging to LDS doctrine.

William McLellin was an apostle of Joseph Smith, (founder of the Mormon church), who was later excommunicated, following a rift with Smith.

Hofmann offered Church officials the bogus McLellin collection. Hofmann was paid $185,000 to produce these documents.

Problem was, Hofmann hadn’t forged them yet.

Forging documents was a long, arduous task that required months of painstaking work.

He was paid, but hadn’t produced the required documents. LDS Church officials pressed him, he continued to stall. Hofmann was to produce the documents or repay the money.

That October, he panicked.

He made pipe bombs and killed two Mormons who had nothing whatsoever to do with the forgeries.

One bomb was intended for someone else; a man’s wife was killed in the driveway of their home, I remember reading.

Ironically, the LDS church already had the famous McLellin collection in a vault, so safely stashed away that discovery of it nearly escaped notice.

This discovery came about six months after Hofmann was arrested for second-degree murder.

The First Presidency of the LDS church announced that the Church had acquired the McLellin collection in 1908 and had carefully hidden it in the deepest recesses of the notorious LDS church vault, a place where the most valuable LDS documents are stored.

The LDS church acknowledged in late 1985 or 1986 that it had attempted to acquire fraudulent documents, believing them to be real, when it had possessed these documents all along, unbeknownst at the time.

Again, these people are obviously not operating with all their neurons firing.

It was only the skillful work of an attorney that Mark Hofmann avoided the death sentence, and is now  serving life at Utah State Prison.


A sample of ‘reformed Egyptian.’ There never was any such language as ‘reformed Egyptian.’ It does not exist and never did exist.

More information:

Mark Hofmann Wikipedia

The Egyptians had hieroglyphics, but these are not hieroglyphics.

This photo is in the public domain, because this photo was taken between 1978 and 1989 and was published without a copyright. It was not registered at the U.S. Copyright Office within five years of its original publication date and is hence in the public domain.  The years 1978 to 1989 underwent a change in U.S. copyright law.

This document was part of another Forgery, the Anthon Transcript forgery, that Hofmann claimed was in a 17th century King James Bible he had found.

In this Bible, according to Hofmann, was a folded paper inside.

Hofmann said that this document was part of a transcript that Martin Harris (who transcribed the Book of Mormon from Golden Plates) had given to Columbia University professor Charles Anthon.

According to the story, this document in reformed Egyptian was part of the Book of Mormon, which also was in reformed Egyptian, which Joseph Smith transcribed. There was no such language as reformed Egyptian and what Joseph Smith wrote was not transcribed from Golden Tablets sent by an angel.

The LDS church purchased this document from Hofmann for $20,000 and it was appraised at $25,000. A well-known Mormon academic, Hugh Nibley, stated that this document proved that this is “as good a test as we’ll ever get of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

Previous and Current

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 6 – Brigham Young, Polygamy, Utah Becomes a State

Mormonism: October, 1985: The Mark Hofmann Forgeries and Pipe Bomb Murders

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 5: September 11, 1857:120 Innocent men, women and children are slaughtered: The Massacre at Mountain Meadows – with UPDATE

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 4 – Brigham Young – polygamy – migration to Utah – blood atonement and the War on Utah

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 3 – The Mormons in Illinois – Polygamy

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 2 – The Mormons in Ohio and Missouri

The History of the Mormon Church: Part 1 – Joseph Smith and the Golden Tablets at

Copyright ©2006 – 2012 Kathryn Esplin-Oleski. All rights reserved.

About the Author ()

An article of mine, 'On Marriage, Life, Death and Remarriage' was published in "Blended Families (Social Issues Firsthand) by Greenhouse Press." An article of mine was referenced in this book: "Margaret Atwood: a reference guide" by Judith McComb

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