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Ryan Long, Deseret Morning News
Thelma Soares asks July 20 that the search for her daughter continue.

OREM — It was the Thursday after Lori Hacking was reported missing and Thelma Soares, Lori's mother, had gone to the hospital to see her son-in-law, Mark.

At the time it seemed that Mark Hacking had collapsed with grief over the disappearance of his newly pregnant wife. He was undergoing psychological testing at the University of Utah Medical Center and had been incoherent when Soares first visited two days before.

Miles away, volunteers were combing the hillsides above City Creek Canyon and nearby neighborhoods looking for any trace of Lori, the girl with the wide smile and the cascade of curly brown hair.

But a day earlier, police had revealed that Mark Hacking had lied about his plans to attend medical school in North Carolina, and there was growing suspicion about whether his pretty wife would be found.

Mark was standing with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders when Soares entered the room.

"I hugged him and said, 'Marky, didn't you know my love was not conditional on your becoming a doctor? It was because of you, Mark, and how you treated Lori,' " Soares said in an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "And he kind of sobbed ... and he looked me straight in the eye and said, "I promise, I promise I had nothing to do with it.'

"I desperately wanted to believe him," Soares goes on. "But I didn't. I had this uneasy feeling. I did desperately want to, because I love him ... , but I just knew he wasn't telling the truth."

'A sweet baby'

Lori became Soares' adoptive daughter on April 21, 1977. The wait for Lori was at least two years. Soares can't remember exactly but said that she and her then-husband, Eraldo Soares, had first inquired about the adoption when their first child, Paul, who is also adopted, was about 4. Paul was 7 when Lori came home.

"I can't remember who picked her up first; it was probably me," Soares said. "She was such a sweet baby. She had this hair from the beginning. It was dark and curly and grew really fast. When we'd walk in the mall with her everyone would say they had to stop and look at the baby with all the hair. Finally I had to cut it because it was too thick and too curly, even to part it, and she cried."

Soares still has remnants of that first haircut, a long brown braid in an envelope that bears Lori's name.

In fact, Soares has safeguarded many keepsakes from her daughter's life. Lori's pictures, awards, dolls and other mementos were on display Saturday at the memorial service for the former stockbroker's assistant, held at the Windsor LDS Stake Center in Orem. In one corner were her tiny brown rocking chair, stuffed animals and childhood books, in the other her beaded wedding dress.

Lori Hacking is believed to have been killed July 19 while asleep in the Salt Lake apartment she shared with her husband.

Prosecutors have charged Mark Hacking with first-degree murder in connection with his wife's death. In an alleged confession to his older brothers, Mark Hacking said he shot his wife with a .22-caliber rifle and then abandoned her body in a Dumpster, the contents of which were taken to the Salt Lake County landfill. Her body has not been found.

"She's on the cover. She's on the latest edition of People magazine, sister," Thelma Soares is saying to the woman on the other end of the telephone as she shakes her head and breaks into tears. "Lori's picture is on the cover."

The words sound like both a statement and a question.

'The Mark I know'

At the moment, Soares says, she has many questions.

"The best news I could get is that (Mark) has a brain tumor or brain injury or something that would make him do this. I'm just really speechless; I have no way to explain it," she said: "Unless he's this evil guy. ... He was helpful. A generous spirit. He seemed to care about people. He came and put all of my Christmas lights up every year. This is the Mark that I know, not this Mark who killed her and did this horrible thing."

The Mark Hacking who started buzzing around Lori Soares in high school was always a big teddy bear of a guy. He'd bang on the front door each time he'd call for Lori. On her birthday one year, Mark and another friend filled Lori's bedroom with balloons and silly string.

He was a polite boy from a good family who once wrote Soares a note that read: "If I didn't have my own mother, I'd choose you to be my mother."

"Maybe he was schmoozing because he wanted Lori," Soares ponders. "But maybe not."

The coffee table in the living room of Soares' Orem home is covered with sympathy cards and vases of flowers. Outside, the tan siding is dotted with yellow ribbons tied in bows. On the front door, a polite note reads, "Thelma is resting," and begs the visitor to respect the 66-year-old woman's privacy.

Soares is grieving but somehow seems calm as she pads around house in her bare feet, her toenails painted bright pink.

When she speaks of Lori, she glows.

"We kept an orthodontist in business for several years. She was beautiful," Soares says and then begins to tick off the list of Lori's accomplishments.

An award from a kindergarten teacher for best bookmark. In sixth grade, Lori's first full school year in Utah after her parents divorced and she and Thelma moved here from Fullerton, Calif., she was a finalist for the Hope of America award. She was also elected president of her ninth-grade class.

Lori excelled in other arenas as well. She played piano and took ballet lessons. She loved to swim and Rollerblade. She took up running later after marrying Mark, Soares said.

From an early age, Lori had plenty of determination and specific goals. For a while, she even set her sights on attending Stanford University.

"She couldn't understand why anybody wouldn't want to go to college. That was always part of her plan," Soares said. "She said, 'I want to be independent like you are so that if anything happens I'll be able to take care of myself.' "

Weber State University was Lori's first collegiate destination, but after a year, she transferred to the University of Utah, Soares said.

'Web of lies'

There were plenty of young men to choose from, but Lori seemed to have her heart set on Mark, whom she had met on a high school trip to Lake Powell. From the first she said she was comfortable with Mark. They could talk about anything.

Married on Aug. 7, 1999, Lori and Mark seemed like the happiest of couples, Soares said. They supported each other's interests, alternately going to the Broadway-type theater productions Lori enjoyed and taking camping trips in Utah's wilderness, which was Mark's love.

"They did that in their marriage," Soares said, adding that Mark was the more demonstrative of the two, but that the couple was affectionate. "It wasn't perfect, you know, and maybe sometimes she would be the one to raise her voice, but she loved him. If ever there was anything that I would wonder about Mark, she would defend him."

If Lori had ever learned about Mark's now well-known deceptions or failures — like his LDS mission that was cut short, or the lies about his college graduation and medical school acceptance — she never let on, Soares said. She believes her daughter would have been devastated by such lies.

"I don't think Lori ever told a lie in her life," Soares said.

But it seems Mark Hacking told more than a few, the extent of which might not yet be known. Court documents released Friday show police are looking at cell phone, computer and bank records in trying to establish a case, all of which could lead to new information and insights.

"This elaborate web of lies, that takes a lot of thinking to do that. It wasn't that he lacked the intellect, he was always very smart," Soares said, adding that she wonders if Mark's actions might be traced to a fall he took from a roof about eight years ago while working a construction job. Mark, she said, apparently hit his head on a cement floor during the fall.

"As I sit here trying to make some semblance of sense of this, it's the only thing I could come up with," Soares said. "It's hard for me to believe that he's this evil because the Mark I know is just the opposite of that. All of my interaction and experience with him says it's not so. He's this sweet, gentle, quiet, funny guy."

'I do want justice'

Still, Thelma Soares is angry.

"I am angry at what he did to her, and that he left her to rot in this terrible place," she said. "And you know, there are moments when I just want to tear his heart out with my bare hands, but what good would it do?"

That prosecutors didn't charge Mark with a capital crime is all right with Soares.

"I don't want to be the person that sends him to the death chamber," she said. "I do want justice. He needs to pay for what he did to Lori. If that means a life sentence, that's fine with me."

No one should ever think that Mark's actions have divided Soares and any other member of the Hacking family, she is quick to add. The families have remained close in the weeks since Lori disappeared, and Mark's father, Douglas Hacking, said the opening prayer at Lori's memorial service Saturday.

With Mark's future in the hands of the judicial system — a court hearing is scheduled for Monday — Soares is filled with compassion for his parents, Douglas and Janet.

"As anguished and heartbroken as I am about Lori, I think they are facing a more difficult future than I am, because he's their son. You can't turn your love off and on like a faucet," Soares said. "I'm sure the Hackings would give their life for Mark. He's their child, and they still love him."

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Soares is finding comfort in her religious convictions and says she is certain that Lori is at peace. She also hopes that time in prison might give Mark time to repent his crimes.

"In my way of belief, what he did was about as bad as it gets. He took two lives, and if he doesn't repent of this then his eternal future looks pretty bleak," said Soares. "I hope that isn't the case because there is good in Mark. Somewhere down in there, there's this person that I knew and and have known and loved like a son.

"There's man's law and there's God's law, and those are quite often two different things," she adds. "I have no doubt in my mind and in my heart that he will receive the judgment from God that he deserves."


E-mail: jdobner@desnews.com