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Mark Hofmann details mindset in 1988 letter that led to forgeries, murder

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 11 2011 6:17 p.m. MST

Mark W. Hofmann

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Fooling people at a young age with card tricks and magic laid the groundwork for one of Utah's most infamous criminals to take on a life of forgeries and murder.

In a handwritten letter made public this week, Mark Hofmann provides a look into what led him to fake hundreds of historical documents and kill two people with homemade bombs more than 25 years ago.

"As far back as I can remember I have liked to impress people through my deceptions," he wrote. "Fooling people gave me sense of power and superiority."

The four-page letter titled, "A Summary of My Crimes," was written to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in 1988 and released recently by the state records committee. Hofmann, 56, is serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison.

On Oct. 15, 1985, Hofmann planted a bomb that killed businessman and document collector Steven Christensen. Later the same day, a second bomb killed Kathleen Sheets, the wife of Christensen's former employer. The next day, Hofmann himself was severely injured when a third bomb exploded in his car.

It's been long believed that explosion was an accident. But in the letter, Hofmann writes that he intended to kill himself.

"My motives and feelings which led to the murders are hard for even me to explain," he wrote under a section of the letter titled, "The Homicides."

Curt Bench, a Salt Lake book publisher and former friend of Hofmann's, said that statement says a lot "because it makes me wonder why we think we could ever figure out why he did what he did."

Hofmann wrote that the most important thing to him was to keep from being exposed as a fraud in front of his family and friends.

"I felt like I would rather take human life or even my own life rather than to be exposed," he wrote.

Bench described some of the contents of the letter as "chilling."

"It just confirms how cold-blooded the murders were and that they were indeed to throw suspicion off of him so that he wouldn't be exposed," he said.

Two of Kathleen Sheets' children, Jim Sheets and Katie Robertson, read Hofmann's letter with interest Tuesday, but said it didn't provide much insight for them.

"You can never understand the minds of criminals, especially those who are narcissistic like Mark," Jim Sheets said.

Noting Hofmann wrote the letter when he still had an opportunity for parole, Jim Sheets said it would be interesting to see what he would write today. "I'm not sure it would be the same as that letter," he said. "Would he be more candid and clear? I don't know."

Jim Sheets and Robertson say they and their family have moved on and have unconditionally forgiven Hofmann.

"Life is good," Robertson said. "I'm OK without knowing what he is thinking."

The letter does reveal some of Hofmann's personality, she said. But "I don't know that he is capable of telling the truth because he was as a deceiver for such a long time."

Both said they were most struck by the concern Hofmann expressed for his children. "I'd like to believe that's sincere," Jim Sheets said.

Of his own childhood, Hofmann wrote that some of his earliest memories are of doing card tricks and magic. He started collecting coins when he was 12 and soon figured out ways to fool other collectors by altering coins to make them appear more desirable. By age 14, he developed a forgery technique he believed was undetectable.

"I exuded in impressing other collectors and dealers with my rare coins," he wrote. "Money was not the object."

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