Mountain Meadows Massacre affidavit linked to Mark Hofmann

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 6 2015 9:12 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — For the past 27 years, historians have identified William Edwards as a participant in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. But forensic document examiners now say the 1924 affidavit that implicated Edwards is a forgery linked to convicted bomber Mark Hofmann.

The affidavit was part of a collection of documents acquired in 1983 by the Utah Division of State History. It purported to be a notarized affidavit of Edwards — a confession of sorts. Edwards allegedly stated in the affidavit that in September 1857 he "accompanied about 30 men and older boys to Mountain Meadows where, we were told, an Indian massacre of an emigrant train had been consummated, and our services needed to bury the dead."

But when 15-year-old Edwards arrived on the scene, the affidavit continues, the emigrants were not yet dead and John D. Lee was planning the massacre. Edwards claims in the affidavit that he refused to discharge his weapon.

Three books — "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr. and Glen M. Leonard; "Blood of the Prophets" by Will Bagley; and "Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Bagley and David L. Bigler — all quoted from and referred to the affidavit.

"The only thing that really makes (this affidavit) different is the age in which Edwards said that he was at the meadows, which is 15," Bagley said.

Except the affidavit appears to be a Hofmann forgery.

Philip F. Notarianni, state history director, said the affidavit was acquired either from Hofmann directly or from Lyn Jacobs who often represented Hofmann. It was sold or traded to the society with letters from historian Charles Kelly, a legal document signed by the outlaw Matt Warner, a document signed by Brigham Young and papers of the first non-Mormon mayor of Salt Lake City, Montgomery Scott.

Almost all these documents sounded familiar to Brent F. Ashworth, owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles, and a victim of Hofmann's forgeries. Ashworth said he sold everything but the Kelly letters and the affidavit to Hofmann.

Ashworth also sold Hofmann a collection of documents from Carbon County that included similar looking affidavits. If Ashworth's memory is correct, one of those documents had the name of a notary public named F. E. Woods — the same notary that appears on the alleged forgery. He believes that if Hofmann created the affidavit, he used the Carbon County documents as a model.

"It sure looks a lot similar to some of the notary things he got," Ashworth said.

But one thing Ashworth is sure of, he did not sell Hofmann an affidavit about the massacre.

"I don't remember anything from Mountain Meadows. I would have jumped on any affidavit. It wouldn't have gone to Hofmann, I would have hung onto it," Ashworth said.

Hofmann's connection to the affidavit was forgotten until Polly Aird reviewed "Innocent Blood" in the Spring 2010 Journal of Mormon History. She mentioned that the affidavit had been acquired by the historical society through Hofmann. This led Turley and Brian D. Reeves of the LDS Church History Department to investigate the affidavit's authenticity.

Turley and Reeves sent a letter to Notarianni summarizing their findings (the letter and the affidavit are posted onhistory.utah.gov). They said that historical sources indicate that Edwards' family moved from Salt Lake to Parowan in 1857 or 1858. The affidavit, however, placed him in Cedar City. No one from Parowan participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

So why then would a forger choose to frame Edwards in an affidavit? The key may be in the book "Mormonism Unveiled" by John D. Lee. The book has Lee trying to remember the name of a messenger he sent to Cedar City to get reinforcements: "either Edwards or Adair." That "Edwards" ended up in the end of the book on a list of participants.

In 1981, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints archives cataloged a list of massacre participants created by Annie Ritchie of Pinto, Washington County. Ritchie, who was born after the massacre, wrote that Tom and William Edwards were participants. Her list, however, appears to be merely a copy of the list in "Mormonism Unveiled" with "Tom" and "William" added.

The forger could have taken this information and linked it to William Edwards. With easily accessible biographical information and with the Carbon County affidavits, the forger would have all he needed to create the document.

Except, apparently, the right typewriter.

"When I looked at the typeface — I'm familiar with old typed documents — it didn't strike me as exceptional, it's all Courier, I think it's standard Courier," Bagley said.

Peter V. Tytell, however, is a forensic document examiner in New York City. His particular expertise is in examining typewritten documents. He examined a digital copy of the affidavit to see if he could date the design of the type.

"They are a lot like fingerprints," Turley said. "You can use them to date things fairly closely."

In his report to Turley and Reeve, Tytell said the style of type used in the affidavit was introduced by the Royal typewriter company in 1936 — 12 years after the affidavit was allegedly created. The Royal Typewriter Company also would periodically make changes to various characters. This enabled Tytell to state that the particular variant of that style of type used in the affidavit "was released to the public in 1950."

Turley said, "That's a conclusive determination of forgery."

George J. Throckmorton, a forensic document examiner in Salt Lake City, exposed many of Hofmann's documents as forgeries about 25 years ago when Hofmann was involved in bombing murders — crimes that were apparently designed to draw attention away from his document fraud. Hofmann, who traded or sold many documents to the LDS Church and other collectors of Mormon writings and Americana, is serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison for the 1985 murders of Kathleen Sheets and Steve Christensen.

Throckmorton examined the signatures on the Edwards affidavit. He said the signatures had all the classic signs of simulated signatures: They were written slowly, had blunt endings and had hesitation marks caused by looking back and forth from the forged signature to the original.

But the clincher for Throckmorton was the signature of William Edwards. When he compared it to a signature from an authentic letter from 1908, he could tell that last portion of the signature was traced. "It's an exact overlay," Throckmorton said. "That one signature is 100 percent certain traced."

If the typewriter font and traced signature were not enough, the ink in the signatures was also examined. "The ink shows the classic characteristics of having been artificially aged," Throckmorton said.

The notary seal could have been made from another notarized document — like the ones Hofmann purchased from Ashworth. "That's not the only seal that Hofmann created," Turley said. "Hofmann knew how to create seals."

If Throckmorton and Tytell have answered the forgery question, other questions remain.

Turley said that significance of the affidavit was minor and that it didn't affect interpretation of events. Bagley agrees — and this is what gives him pause. "The document itself is very standard Mountain Meadows stuff. There's no big surprise in it," Bagley said. "If it was a Hofmann forgery, where's the spice? Where's the salamander? Where's the embarrassing revelation?"

Turley, whose 1992 book, "Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case," looked at the Hofmann murders, thinks an innocuous document like the Edwards affidavit could fit Hofmann's M.O. "He used minor (forgeries) to build up to larger ones over time," Turley said. "So it's intriguing in that it suggests he had other plans down the road that would have involved one or more persons on that document — probably Edwards himself."

Ashworth thinks Hofmann could have merely been attempting to make a collection of documents look more appealing to the historical society. 

Bagley, however, is not convinced it is a Hofmann — yet. "I'm not sure the people attributing it to Hofmann are completely disinterested in adding another notch to the great forger's gun," Bagley said with a laugh.

Turley said, "People are at times eager to name something as a Hofmann forgery. … We don't have a videotape of Hofmann creating the forgery, but if you take the fact that it is conclusively a forgery and add to that the fact that it passed through the hands of Mark Hofmann, then I don't think that it strains credulity to say in this case that it is a Hofmann forgery."

William Edwards had served as a bishop in the LDS Church from 1898 to 1913 and died in 1925. Without a forged affidavit to connect him to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Edwards may fade back into history. The forger, however, may still continue to impact history, Notarianni said.

"I think we are going to be discovering stuff Mark Hofmann did for years to come."

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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