Convicted murderer and forger Mark Hofmann assured his own sentence during his Board of Pardons hearing when he allowed his ego to control him and refused to express remorse for his crimes, said the co-author of a new book about one of the most complicated murder cases in Utah history.
Linda Sillitoe, a former Deseret News reporter who began covering the bombing story for the paper in October 1985 after Hofmann was injured in one of the explosions, co-wrote the book "Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders" with Allen D. Roberts.The book will be released Friday in Utah and nationwide later this year.
Sillitoe left the Deseret News early in 1986 to work full time on the book. She spoke last week at the Algie Ballif Forum in Provo about her experiences during the two years she and Roberts researched and wrote the book.
One of the most chilling memories she has of that research was watching Hofmann during his Board of Pardons hearing in January. He had been given a 5-years-to-life sentence after striking a plea bargain with the state that required him to give details of how he carried out his crimes.
He had hoped for a light sentence when he appeared before the three-member Board of Pardons, but he described the murders and forgeries with no sign of regret, and Sillitoe said that's what led the board to sentence him to life in prison without possibility for parole.
"He was enjoying letting people see how cold and clever he is. It was really his ego, I think, that did him in," she said. "After the plea bargain, it looked like Mark made the best deal of his life. The state was justified in seeking a plea bargain, but I don't think justice was done until the last hearing when they threw away the key."
Sillitoe's book begins on the day of the first two bombings and ends with Hofmann's hearing. It covers everything from the murders to Hofmann's childhood, which was a subject especially fascinating to the authors.
"My favorite chapter title is `The Boy Who Never Threw Spit Wads in Church.' I don't know that he didn't, but people remember him that way," she said. "We felt we had been very fair (to Hofmann) and we felt we knew him as well as we could."
Digging into Hofmann's past was a way of trying to explain his actions as an adult, and although his childhood behavior gives clues about how he became the man he is, Sillitoe said it's "one of those mysteries you're never able to fully understand."
Hofmann grew up in a family devoted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His siblings were conforming, obedient achievers, but he was sometimes a rebel, though he did what were considered the "right" things, like becoming an Eagle Scout and serving a two-year church mission. He loved to perform magic tricks, Sillitoe said. "He liked being the one who knew the answer or the secret. He didn't like being kept in the dark."
Hofmann knew the LDS Church was very important to his parents, but he preferred scientific explanations to religious ones, Sillitoe said. As a young man he decided he would become a forger and at the same time keep up appearances in his church, in spite of the fact that he did not believe in it.
He ended his career as a forger by repeatedly selling a set of documents called the McLellin collection, which did not actually exist but was represented by Hofmann as Mormon historical documents so damaging they could topple the church.
Pressure from investors to produce the collection led Hofmann to murder his business partner Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, wife of one of Christensen's former associates.
"Hofmann never really learned the empathy that you see your children achieve at a certain time," Sillitoe said Saturday. "There must be some vestige of shame in (Hofmann) because of his distaste for talking about (the murders), but he was very firm about denying any feeling of guilt."