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Secret Mark Hofmann tape surfaces

Published: Friday, July 29 2011 12:50 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The master forger slowly punches in the phone number to his next intended victim — a historian for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The phone rings. Once. Twice. There is a click as a woman picks up the phone at the auditorium, the church's massive office building and worship center in Independence, Mo.

"Good morning, auditorium."

The forger is transferred from person to person until he is on the phone with a church archivist.

"Hello, this is Madelon Brunson."

"Hello, this is Mark Hofmann calling from Salt Lake City."

"Oh! Yes!"

"You may remember me from that Anthon Transcript business."

Hofmann's voice is soft, humble and sincere — and somewhat reminiscent of the king of pop, Michael Jackson. The Anthon Transcript he mentions is an earlier forgery — but this is the spring of 1981, before Hofmann committed murder, before his web of deceit and forgeries was exposed to the world. For now, he is at the top of his game, the king of the con.

And he is secretly recording his attempt to sell a forged blessing.

The document has Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, telling his son, Joseph Smith III, in a blessing that he and his descendants would succeed him as leader of the church. This would have, in the minds of some people, been proof that Joseph Smith III and the RLDS Church (now called the Community of Christ) was the rightful successor to his father and not Brigham Young and the Mormons who went west to Utah.

Brent Ashworth, history buff and owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles in Provo, doesn't remember exactly when he acquired the unmarked cassette tape Hofmann used to record his attempts to sell the fake 1844 blessing. Ashworth spoke at a press conference Friday at the Sunstone offices along with Hofmann expert Steven L. Mayfield. Mayfield will play the recording next week as part of the Sunstone Symposium at Weber State University.

Ashworth recognizes well the voice and the expert manipulation of Hofmann selling a rare document — and admits, especially as a former prosecutor, embarrassment at being a victim. In front of Ashworth on a large table Friday were examples of Hofmann's forgeries — such as a letter from Joseph Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith and a manuscript page of The Book of Mormon. That phony manuscript page cost Ashworth $25,000. But he says it may be worth that much now as a genuine collectible Hofmann.

After Hofmann's crimes became known, Ashworth began collecting items associated with the man who conned him. From family members and other victims, Ashworth acquired things like Hofmann's missionary journals, a passport, letters, forgeries and, at some point along the way, a cassette tape.

In 2007, Ashworth gave the tape to the LDS Church Archives in return for a CD of the audio. He didn't get around to listening to it for two years.

"When I first heard it, I thought 'Wow, this has got to be unique, Mark taping himself,'" Ashworth said. On the tape, Hofmann spoke not only with Brunson but also with W. Grant McMurray, who ironically became the first president of the Community of Christ who was not a direct descendant of Joseph Smith.

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