The Man Who Forged America


The Man Who Forged America

The story of Mark Hofmann, the counterfeiter who manufactured historic documents at the core of the American constitution and history, fooling the FBI, the CIA and even his wife.


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In 1987, in Salt Lake City,

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a 33-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison.

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His name was Mark Hofmann, and his crime was murder.

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Calmly and carefully, he had constructed two pipe bombs and killed two innocent people.

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But Mark Hofmann is remembered for much more than murder.

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At the time, he was about to pull off one of the greatest deceptions of the century.

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His purpose - to attack the American dream,

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to rewrite history.

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Emily Dickinson is America's most famous female poet.

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Like Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, she has a place in American hearts.

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Amherst is the small, New England town where she spent her life.

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Dickinson died over 100 years ago, but she is more popular than ever.

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People come from all over the world to see where she lived.

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Libraries and museums pay tens of thousands of dollars for original handwritten poems.

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Emily Dickinson is an American institution.

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In 1997, that institution was turned upside down.

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Virtually every passion and fear

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we have has been addressed by Emily Dickinson.

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She is one of the rare poets who is in the same universe as Shakespeare.

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Whenever a poem of hers is suddenly available,

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whenever you can see her handwriting, there's a mythic quality.

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I was in my office at the Jones Library,

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and a Sotheby's catalogue came in for the June 3rd auction, 1997,

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rare books and manuscripts, and I flipped through it as I always did

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and they were announcing an unknown manuscript in Emily Dickinson's hand.

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-Pretty rare?

-Extremely rare.

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It had been... Back in the 1940s, was the last time, er...

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an unknown Emily Dickinson poem was available.

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"That God can not be understood, everyone agrees

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"We do not know his motives nor comprehend his deeds

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"Then why should I seek solace in what I can not know?

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"Better to play in winter's sun than to fear the snow."

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2,000 miles away, the same Sotheby's catalogue was sitting on a different desk.

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I was looking at the catalogue.

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I'm thinking, "I'm gonna go after this, I never see a poem for sale.

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"I'd like to have one."

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As I read the quote from the poem,

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"I've heard this before, where have I heard this?" Then it dawned on me.

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This was offered to me by Mark Hofmann in 1984.

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I called my friend up at Sotheby's.

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I said, "I wouldn't be selling it if I were you. It's not her work.

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"I'm sure it's a fake." They said, "OK, we'll look into that."

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Mark Hofmann was the most prolific forger in history.

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He was in prison, but his forgeries were not.

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Despite suspicions about the poem,

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Sotheby's went ahead with the auction, unaware that Jones Library joined the bidding.

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It was touch-and-go till the last moment,

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but we were successful, a poem of Emily Dickinson's was coming back to Amherst.

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A very, very important poem.

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I heard it had been purchased by Dan Lombardo at the Jones Library.

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I figured something had to be done.

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I called Dan and I says, "You just purchased this poem.

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"I hate to tell you this, but this was offered to me by Mark Hofmann in 1984."

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And, boy, I'll tell you, there was this long...

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this long pause on that phone call.

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He was really shaken by what I said.

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He'd been offered this poem by Mark Hofmann.

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When I heard that the hair on my neck stood up because I'd recalled in the mid '80s,

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Mark Hofmann had been exposed as one of the most accomplished forgers of the 20th century.

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Hofmann had forged many of the biggest names in American history.

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But could he have composed a poem that had been accepted as the work of one of the world's finest poets?

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I wrote to Mark Hofmann in prison.

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I was very surprised to get a detailed letter from him, in which he described

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how he sliced a back page out of a 19th century book at the library,

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how he drew the lines on and knew what paper to use.

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How he spent three days working on it - was a great challenge he said.

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Forgers are usually motivated by money. Hofmann wanted more.

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He had a plan - to rewrite history.

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Before he could take on America,

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he had a score to settle with the institution that dominated his life, the Mormon church.

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The Mormon faith is based on the teachings of Joseph Smith,

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a poorly educated farm boy.

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Mormons believe that in 1823, an angel appeared to Joseph Smith

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telling him about a new testament, written on gold tablets and buried on a hill side.

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Joseph dug up the tablets and translated the cryptic text. The result was the Book of Mormon.

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This was the world Mark Hofmann grew up in.

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His parents were devout Mormons.

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Hofmann was brought up to be an unquestioning believer in this idiosyncratic faith.

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Mormonism is a secretive religion

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and Hofmann was a secretive child

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with obsessive interests in chemistry, gunpowder and magic.

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He also had a talent that no-one knew about.

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He got interested in forgery early on, as a teenager.

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He took an ordinary Mormon coin,

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that wasn't worth much at all.

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Using fairly complex...

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With his home chemistry set, electroplating process,

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he changed the mint mark on the coin from "c" to "d" or "d" to "c".

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But in so doing - altering this coin,

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he changed it from a relatively worthless coin, to a rare coin worth thousands of dollars.

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Even the US Treasury deemed this coin to be genuine.

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I think for the 14-year-old Mark Hofmann this was a watershed moment.

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I remember a quiet, brilliant kid.

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I was a senior in high school. Mark and I shared that senior year together.

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My best memories of Mark were probably sitting up near this spot.

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Listening to avalanches, glad we weren't underneath them.

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We had the crazy idea of climbing a mid-sized peak in the middle of winter, during a cold snap.

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I can remember sitting, cracking peanuts and talking,

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about what life held and what we would do.

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He wanted to get married and raise a good family and serve on a mission for his church.

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There is no question about his faith in their beliefs.

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He didn't have any outspoken political beliefs.

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I don't remember any very strong beliefs that he held outside of his religion.

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Which is interesting, in retrospect.

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Hofmann would later admit that he'd stopped believing in God at 14.

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But the impression he gave was very different.

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Everything I've read about what he said about the time I knew him, is at variance with the Mark I knew.

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Mark had the makings of a deceiver.

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At university, Hofmann became fascinated with Mormon history

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and started dealing in Mormon documents.

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He kept up his childhood pretence that he believed in God.

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No-one knew he was an atheist.

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He even married in the Salt Lake City Temple, the very heart of the Mormon church.

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In 1980, Hofmann dropped out of college to be a document dealer.

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It was the perfect front for a forger.

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He came home and said he had this bible from Catherine's family,

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she was a sister of Joseph Smith.

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He'd found this bible

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and he wanted me to look at it and I remember not caring about it.

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I thought great, that's nice.

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He said, "Do you want to come and look at this bible?" I said, "I will later."

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He said, "Come over right now" and he put the bible in my hand.

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He wanted me to find the paper in there and I did.

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It was a genuine 17th century bible.

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The document stuck between the pages was a fake.

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Hofmann had found a way to launch his first major forgery without arousing suspicion.

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It was called the Anthon Transcript.

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He said, "There's something here."

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He went down to Salt Lake and met with the church leaders, several times he was gone.

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It was on the news, it was a big deal, we were getting phone calls.

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It was a big thing.

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Hofmann believed the Mormon church was founded on a myth - his plan was to expose them.

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First, he needed to win their trust.

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Rather than attacking the church,

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the Anthon Transcript told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

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The Anthon Transcript was gold dust for the Mormon church

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because here was a piece of the Book of Mormon, written by Joseph Smith,

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that was directly transcribed from the golden plates,

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purported to have been found in the ground that held the Book of Mormon.

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It's a brilliant forgery,

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that shows a series of elaborate hieroglyphic symbols on the page, set within a circle.

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Hofmann had made this by drawing round a beer bottle.

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He'd used historic paper, historic ink, which he'd manufactured himself.

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He anticipated the Mormon church would do a thorough forensic job.

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They'd have to destroy a portion of the document and he anticipated they wouldn't do that.

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I remember the day Don Schmidt brought the Anthon Transcript

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for safekeeping in the vault.

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Don, understandably, was very excited.

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You could feel the tremor in his voice as he turned the document

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and read, supposedly, in the hand of Joseph Smith,

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"These are the characters I copied from the golden plates."

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This was the sort of thing that got to a person's heart quickly.

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I remember that the conservator at the university,

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who not only preserved paper but studied it,

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questioned and wondered why more attention hadn't been given to authenticating this from the start.

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But when you find the philosopher's stone, sometimes you don't look too hard.

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The Mormon church quickly accepted the Anthon Transcript as authentic.

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Hofmann gave it to them. In return, he received genuine documents worth 25,000.

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The forgery was publicly accepted by the president of the church.

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Hofmann had swindled the man who Mormons believe is a living prophet.

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Everyone believed it was authentic, he became known and had credibility.

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He said, "This worked, I could do this again. It's what I want to do."

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-So it set him on the course?

-Yep.

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It appears to be the earliest Mormon document and Joseph Smith holograph.

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Also, I think it's exciting just to think that,

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apparently, this piece of paper was copied by Joseph Smith's own hand, the characters were.

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Salt Lake City is the capital of the Mormon church.

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Founded by Brigham Young in 1847,

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the city evolved as a sanctuary for believers in this new religion,

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then considered heretic.

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Brigham Young was second only to Joseph Smith in the history of the Mormon church.

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Mark Hofmann had him in his sights.

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The success of the Anthon Transcript

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meant Hofmann was perfectly placed to sabotage his church from within.

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He made up a letter which said that Joseph Smith had wanted his son to be his successor.

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The implication was that Young was an impostor

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and that Salt Lake City was built on lies.

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The church's first concern was to check it was genuine.

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It was a very newsworthy item, but it went through very rigorous authentication.

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No-one could find anything that proved the document was a forgery.

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Was there any surprise that this young man had found two such significant documents?

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There was surprise and scepticism in many quarters.

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But when the documents checked out,

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when examined by historians and there was no evidence of forgery,

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that seemed to be conclusive of establishing Hofmann's reputation as a dealer in genuine material.

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Church leaders had taken the bait.

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As well as receiving several thousand dollars,

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Hofmann had got what he really wanted - access to church archives.

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I next saw Mark in the church office building.

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I was a minor editor of a minor newspaper and attempting to get into the church archives, and couldn't.

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As I sat at the gates, pleading my case so to speak, out walked Mark.

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I asked him what he did.

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He said he worked with old documents. I said, "What do you do as a job?"

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He said, "I work with old documents." So I asked him how he could do that?

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I said, "I'm sure there's no money in that and you're supporting a family." He had this slow smile.

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"You'd be surprised," he said.

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Hofmann had become the magic man of the Mormon document trade,

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coming up with documents no-one else could find.

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Mormon collectors from all over the country began to call.

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I'd been a collector of Mormon manuscripts for about 20 years.

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By 1981,

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Hofmann had a reputation.

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I got his phone number from this friend and I called him up and said, "I've been meaning to get with you."

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He said, "Well, I've been wanting to get with you, too!" He knew about me. I'd been in the newspapers -

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Brigham Young and Joseph Smith documents over the years.

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And I said, "I'm looking for a Joseph Smith handwritten letter. Do you have one?"

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And he just happened to have one.

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He wanted 6,000 for it.

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I couldn't get my cheque book out quick enough.

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I asked him if there was anything else he had.

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In all, Brent Ashworth bought 48 documents from Mark Hofmann.

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What he didn't realise was that every single one of them was a fake.

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When I think back on it now, I can't believe I was so stupid to not have questioned it a bit more!

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We seemed to hit it off well. I was in his home many times, he was in my home.

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We didn't socialise, but through business,

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he was in my store...

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I doubt if a week went by that he wasn't in at least once.

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The interesting thing was he always asked, "Would you be interested if I came up with this item?"

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Like he almost kind of placed an order with you before he made it for you.

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-Did that seem strange?

-It seems strange now.

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At the time, maybe we were gullible,

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but when we questioned him about all this material -

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nothing showed up for 100 years and suddenly everything was showing up,

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he said that he had searched out the genealogy of these families.

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In finding their heirs, he found these items.

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There was a lot of phone calls and people coming over wanting to talk with him.

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Mark started taking a lot of trips. He would be gone three weeks out of four. He was gone a lot.

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I don't know at this point what he was doing.

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I assumed he was going to different auction houses. I don't know.

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Hundreds of thousands of dollars were now passing through Hofmann's hands.

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He may have been a brilliant forger, but he was a bad businessman.

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There was money, there was no money and then there was a lot of money. Then there was no money, then a lot.

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His poor wife put up with that all the time.

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It was always difficult... She was always having to ask for money

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to make the house payment and the car payment.

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They were always behind with that. He didn't really ever have a regular business scheme.

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He had no books or accounts or anything.

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He ran his business out of his pocket.

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So where did Mark work?

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Well, he had his office downstairs in the basement, if that's what you mean

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Cos I've had people say, "Didn't you go down there, didn't you know, didn't you...?"

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I went down there and I used to clean it for a while

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until there was too much stuff and you couldn't clean around it.

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I've been told so many times, "You should have known!"

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Well, I didn't.

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Er, we moved in here when I had two children.

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-It was the house Mark grew up in.

-Yeah.

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-How did you get on with Mark's family?

-I never felt like I was really good enough for their son.

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Their only son, he was their pride and joy.

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I had a tough time in some ways.

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I still do with that because...

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-..I just never was quite good enough for them, for him.

-That's not a nice feeling.

-No.

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Today is July 12th 1981 and Michael is four-and-a-half months' old.

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Your belly's showing!

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Everyone will know that you have a belly button.

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OK.

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Let's show 'em how you can hold your toes, eh?

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Look over there! Look! Look! Over there. Over there. Say, "Hi, Mark."

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To know that he could live a double life,

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it's hard to admit that that was what was going on.

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I wasn't smart enough to know, to see what was going on.

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I think in some ways I was seeing some things, but I didn't know what I was seeing.

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You can look back and say, "This is when this was at."

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But, yeah, it's hard to admit to yourself.

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You love this person.

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-You trusted him.

-I trusted a person who says he loves you, but really must not have.

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Hofmann's confidence was growing.

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In 1984, he unleashed a forgery designed to shake the foundations of the Mormon faith.

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His last attack had been directed at Brigham Young.

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Now, it was the turn of Joseph Smith himself, the founder of the Mormon church.

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The Salamander letter was the boldest of all his Mormon creations

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and for the church, the most damaging.

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The Salamander describes Joseph Smith walking in the hills,

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hunting for gold, digging in the dirt to find gold,

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when not an angel appears to him but a salamander, a talking toad -

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a toad, almost like a Disney cartoon, it's described in the letter,

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which talks to him from a hole in the ground.

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It doesn't tell him about a divine revelation, it tells him where to find gold, how to get rich.

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And this document,

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if it had been genuine,

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would have blown a hole

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in the entire founding legend of the Mormon church.

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It took the story of Joseph Smith

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from being the great spiritual experience we believed,

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and moved it into the realm of the occult.

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So it was a controversial document.

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Hofmann knew that such a subversive forgery would be scrutinised.

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He went to extraordinary lengths to evade detection.

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It was written in the hand of John Smith's scribe, Martin Harris.

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No other examples of his handwriting existed.

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He made sure there'd been a delivery on that day in 1830.

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He even checked that the recipient had been at home.

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His research paid off.

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Many experts experts examined the letter, including Kenneth Rendell, who exposed the Hitler diaries.

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I can recall precisely where

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Mark Hofmann came up to me in Boston

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and asked me to look at this letter, to see if there was any indication there wasn't anything genuine.

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I examined the letter and did a fair amount of research.

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The report I wrote stated there was nothing to prove it was a forgery.

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Rendell was not alone.

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None of the experts who examined the letter found evidence of forgery.

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Hofmann believed the church would want to keep the document quiet.

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He offered it to them for 100,000.

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To his surprise, the church refused.

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Eventually, Hofmann sold it to a devout Mormon businessman, Stephen Christiansen, for 40,000.

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Hofmann leaked the contents to the press.

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Soon journalists were chasing the story.

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For the moment, he had won.

0:28:160:28:19

He had got his money and made a mockery of the Mormon church.

0:28:190:28:24

The reactions among church members varied according to the individual.

0:28:240:28:29

Some were disturbed by the document.

0:28:290:28:32

I know one individual whose faith was somewhat shaken by that document.

0:28:320:28:38

He declined in his faith and mental stability and committed suicide.

0:28:380:28:43

Mark Hofmann made many people question their faith.

0:28:490:28:53

He took them into their soul.

0:28:530:28:56

If you are a latter-day saint, you don't just go to church on Sunday, you are committed to it.

0:28:590:29:05

And if someone begins to show you sources that make you doubt this,

0:29:050:29:10

you feel guilty that you questioned yourself, that you questioned God.

0:29:100:29:15

It's a very evil, dark thing. Many will never forgive Mark Hofmann.

0:29:150:29:20

Hofmann seemed unstoppable.

0:29:200:29:24

His documents had fooled all the experts.

0:29:240:29:28

The Mormon world was no longer big enough for him. He decided to take on America.

0:29:280:29:35

BRENT ASHWORTH: He forged nearly every American icon.

0:29:350:29:39

He forged many documents proporting to be by Daniel Boone,

0:29:390:29:44

documents by Abraham Lincoln, by George and Martha Washington...

0:29:440:29:49

Mark Twain documents. He forged Jack London documents.

0:29:490:29:54

Walt Whitman, Herman Melville... the list goes on and on.

0:29:540:29:58

Hofmann worked his way through the biggest names in American history,

0:29:580:30:03

making thousands of dollars from each. But it wasn't enough.

0:30:030:30:08

He forged a legendary manuscript that was a crucial chapter in the story of America:

0:30:080:30:14

The Oath Of A Freeman.

0:30:140:30:17

He got the idea for forging The Oath Of A Freeman

0:30:230:30:27

on the way home from a trip to New York, he'd been to an auction.

0:30:270:30:32

He saw listed in the catalogue a book. In that book it talked about

0:30:320:30:37

the very first item printed in the United States.

0:30:370:30:41

It instantly came to him that that thing could be incredibly valuable.

0:30:420:30:48

Then he started researching, went to the library

0:30:480:30:53

and carefully cut out paper from some books that were in the stacks at the time.

0:30:530:31:00

Then, from speculation, wrote out the text.

0:31:000:31:04

He made an investigastation into formulations of ink

0:31:040:31:08

and then printed it with a little hand press.

0:31:080:31:11

At the time the asking price was a million dollars.

0:31:110:31:17

The Oath Of A Freeman was an audacious forgery.

0:31:170:31:21

The genuine oath was printed less than 20 years after the sailing of the Mayflower.

0:31:210:31:27

It had disappeared from sight hundreds of years ago.

0:31:270:31:31

It was the first pledge of loyalty settlers made to their new world.

0:31:310:31:35

It was a missing link in American history.

0:31:350:31:38

The Library of Congress agreed to pay one million dollars for this piece of paper.

0:31:380:31:45

But first, they needed to be sure it was genuine.

0:31:450:31:49

They began forensic tests.

0:31:490:31:51

Hofmann was convinced his forgery would fool their experts.

0:31:510:31:56

Too impatient to wait for the deal to go through, he started to spend.

0:31:580:32:04

He had put down around five or ten thousand dollars earnest money

0:32:040:32:09

on a half a million dollar home.

0:32:090:32:12

To an extent he was just over-stretching.

0:32:120:32:18

This nine-bedroom house, why do we need nine bedrooms?!

0:32:180:32:22

This huge acre lot, I'm thinking,

0:32:220:32:25

"He doesn't mow the lawn, who's going to mow it - me!"

0:32:250:32:29

I was fighting this and he said, "You choose a house because one or the other we're going to buy.

0:32:290:32:35

"If you don't choose, I will. We're doing it."

0:32:350:32:39

By summer of 1985, the Library of Congress had yet to commit to buying the Oath Of A Freeman.

0:32:390:32:47

Hofmann was desperate for money.

0:32:470:32:50

'He started running fraudulent investing schemes.'

0:32:530:32:56

Basically, you take money from an investor to invest in a spurious project,

0:32:560:33:02

then you produce a profit, give the money back and convince the investor that you've made him the money.

0:33:020:33:10

Then he puts more money in and you go up and up and up.

0:33:100:33:15

These fraudulent investment schemes that he was running, were coming back to haunt him.

0:33:150:33:21

People were pressuring him to pay back debts.

0:33:210:33:26

We evaluated how much he owed to see what kind of trouble he was in,

0:33:330:33:40

see if we could assess what kind of pressure might have played into him.

0:33:400:33:45

We had him owing 10,000 for some work to one person.

0:33:450:33:49

20,000 to another person. 20,000 here, 3,500 he owed in back house payments.

0:33:490:33:57

110,000 on a limited partnership with a few investors.

0:33:570:34:01

He owed about 132,000 to Al Rust.

0:34:010:34:05

180,000 towards a payment on a new house he was to buy.

0:34:050:34:10

So he runs up over a million dollars that he's in debt.

0:34:100:34:15

When things started to fall apart he would get a lot of calls

0:34:150:34:20

that were angry, that I had to take.

0:34:200:34:23

He said things would be OK, and sometimes they would be.

0:34:230:34:27

They'd call back and he would take care of it. Sometimes they'd be really unhappy and they'd tell me

0:34:270:34:34

because they couldn't tell him. That was hard, cos I had to hear angry, yelling people.

0:34:340:34:40

Of course they were mad because they were losing thousands of dollars.

0:34:400:34:45

The Oath Of A Freeman had by now passed its forensic tests.

0:34:450:34:49

But the Library of Congress was stalling.

0:34:490:34:52

Desperate, Hofmann went back to his best customers, the Mormans.

0:34:520:34:57

He started a rumour that he'd located a collection of controversial Mormon documents.

0:34:570:35:03

William McLellin was an early church leader, who left and became one of its bitterest enemies.

0:35:030:35:10

By the time he died, he had purportedly acquired a collection of materials about the church's history.

0:35:100:35:18

Mark Hofmann began to circulate rumours

0:35:180:35:21

that he had discovered the McLellin collection.

0:35:210:35:27

Hofmann never intended to produce the McLellin collection.

0:35:270:35:32

Forging so many documents would have taken years.

0:35:320:35:36

It was simply a way to raise money, stall angry investors.

0:35:360:35:41

He called Steve Christensen, the man who had bought the Salamander letter.

0:35:410:35:47

He said he needed money up front

0:35:470:35:50

to buy the collection from an undisclosed source.

0:35:500:35:53

Christensen couldn't help, but called the church.

0:35:530:35:58

A Mormon elder arranged a bank loan of 185,000 dollars.

0:35:580:36:03

Hofmann took the money, but it wasn't enough to get him out of trouble.

0:36:030:36:10

He said that this collection was in New York

0:36:100:36:14

and that it was very valuable - 185,000.

0:36:140:36:18

I told him "No, Mark, I'm not interested and I don't have that kind of money to put up."

0:36:180:36:25

He persuaded me, in a friendly way, that if I could put up the money,

0:36:270:36:32

it would be very profitable to me.

0:36:320:36:34

I didn't have the money, but I had a good line of credit

0:36:340:36:39

and so I borrowed the money from the bank and I put it up.

0:36:390:36:45

Both Steve Christensen and Al Rust were now expecting delivery of a collection that didn't exist.

0:36:450:36:53

Hofmann needed to keep them at bay. Under pressure, he made his first big mistake.

0:36:530:36:59

He bought some genuine Egyptian papyrus from a dealer in Boston

0:36:590:37:04

and gave it to Christensen, saying it was a sample of the McLellin collection.

0:37:040:37:11

Hofmann didn't know that the man he bought the papyrus from,

0:37:110:37:15

was coming to Saltlake City to see Steve Christensen.

0:37:150:37:19

If the two men met, Hofmann's fraud would be exposed.

0:37:190:37:23

"Why was I coming?", he kept asking. I said to see Brent, Steve...

0:37:230:37:31

and I reeled off a whole bunch of people that I knew Hofmann knew. Hofmann was really shaken up.

0:37:310:37:37

His whole forging career would have been up right then.

0:37:370:37:42

Rendell would have said, "I sold this to Mark Hofmann six months ago,

0:37:420:37:47

"it has nothing to do with the McLellin collection."

0:37:470:37:52

I would have recognised these pieces. It would have all come apart.

0:37:530:38:00

Hofmann had to stop Christensen and Rendell meeting. The pressure was building.

0:38:020:38:09

He seemed like he was running around. I'd heard about him borrowing money.

0:38:090:38:14

He wanted to borrow, incidentally, another...

0:38:140:38:18

Gosh, it was a large amount of money. He needed 100,000 right now.

0:38:180:38:23

He needed it because somebody was demanding they pay him back

0:38:230:38:28

money that he owed them.

0:38:280:38:31

I guess this guy got upset and punched him.

0:38:310:38:35

He had piled on himself so many lies and so many deceptions

0:38:350:38:41

and had stretched so many people out on things that didn't exist,

0:38:410:38:46

that there was no way that he could get out of it.

0:38:460:38:52

Still, I'm firmly convinced all that he does, he's thinking,

0:38:530:38:58

"How am I going to get out of this?"

0:38:580:39:01

Hofmann was under pressure from all sides.

0:39:040:39:08

Finally, Steve Christensen gave him an ultimatum -

0:39:080:39:12

to deliver the McLellin collection or repay 185,000.

0:39:120:39:16

Hofmann was cornered...

0:39:160:39:19

and dangerous.

0:39:190:39:21

Mark Hofmann drove out into the Salt Lake desert.

0:39:380:39:42

He stopped the car,

0:39:430:39:46

took a length of pipe, gun powder, wire and a toy rocket igniter

0:39:460:39:51

and assembled a pipe bomb.

0:39:510:39:53

He watched as the bomb detonated successfully.

0:39:530:39:59

Four days later,

0:40:040:40:07

Hofmann left the house with two brown paper packages.

0:40:070:40:12

At 8am on Tuesday 15th October, 1985,

0:40:230:40:28

a pipe bomb exploded.

0:40:280:40:30

Steve Christensen was killed.

0:40:320:40:35

It was very unpleasant. His face was apparently close to the device.

0:40:440:40:50

There was soot in his face.

0:40:500:40:53

I believe a battery had embedded in his chin.

0:40:530:40:57

This device had been wrapped with concrete nails,

0:40:580:41:04

meant to kill.

0:41:040:41:06

It just threw everything into a tremendous whirlwind.

0:41:090:41:15

'Course, no-one knew what was going on.

0:41:150:41:18

I turned the radio on. By then they'd identified the person.

0:41:210:41:26

Everybody was talking about it as being Steve Christensen.

0:41:260:41:30

And I thought, "Oh, no, not the guy involved with the Salamander Letter."

0:41:300:41:35

We were there, working the scene.

0:41:380:41:41

We were notified at about 11 o'clock, when we'd been there three hours,

0:41:410:41:47

that there was another apparent bombing,

0:41:470:41:51

with a fatality also.

0:41:510:41:53

Around half past ten, the second bomb exploded.

0:42:000:42:05

Kathleen Sheets was killed.

0:42:050:42:08

I remember a plain-clothes officer came and got me out of class.

0:42:080:42:13

He told me there'd been an accident at my home.

0:42:130:42:17

I remember hoping it was a ticket I had, or that I was in trouble.

0:42:210:42:26

But I knew somebody had been killed.

0:42:260:42:28

And I remember the car ride to the police station.

0:42:280:42:33

I remember it being the longest drive I've ever had.

0:42:330:42:38

I remember my dad coming out of the police station.

0:42:410:42:45

He told me there what had happened.

0:42:450:42:48

The Sheets bombing was just a ruse

0:42:530:42:56

for Hofmann to distract from his problems with Steve Christensen and others.

0:42:560:43:03

It would be nothing other than just a red herring.

0:43:050:43:10

Hofmann assumed that Christensen's death would delay the McLellin deal.

0:43:110:43:16

He was wrong.

0:43:160:43:19

Christensen was just a middle man.

0:43:190:43:22

Killing Christensen should've done it.

0:43:220:43:26

What he didn't count on was the fellow who was making the purchase

0:43:260:43:30

found someone else to act for him the next day. It was all for nothing. Didn't put it off one day.

0:43:300:43:38

He had told him, "As soon as the bank opens, you'll have it.

0:43:380:43:42

"It's in the safety deposit box."

0:43:420:43:45

And, you know, you can imagine the wild-eyed panic there must have been,

0:43:450:43:50

because they were going to a safety deposit box with nothing inside.

0:43:500:43:56

The following day at half past two,

0:44:080:44:12

a third bomb exploded.

0:44:120:44:14

Mark Hofmann was seriously injured.

0:44:190:44:22

I heard on the news what had happened.

0:44:270:44:31

Then I got a call that it was Mark.

0:44:310:44:34

I asked my sister to drive me down.

0:44:340:44:36

I didn't want to drive. I was really upset.

0:44:360:44:40

There was all kinds of media people there. Police or whoever.

0:44:400:44:45

Lot of stuff happening in the hospital.

0:44:450:44:48

None of it made sense to me. Why is he in a car that's been bombed?

0:44:480:44:54

Are they trying to track them down?

0:44:540:44:56

Not really able to get any response.

0:44:560:44:59

That's not where their viewpoint is. It's in a different place than mine.

0:44:590:45:03

-Straight away?

-Yeah. Yes, straight away.

0:45:030:45:07

His car blew up about...

0:45:090:45:12

here.

0:45:120:45:14

Again, pretty steep hill here.

0:45:140:45:17

Parked here, parallel to the kerb.

0:45:170:45:20

He was blown out of the car.

0:45:200:45:22

Hofmann was interviewed at hospital.

0:45:260:45:29

He opened his car door, a package fell off the seat and blew up.

0:45:290:45:35

And that's all he basically knew.

0:45:350:45:37

Gerry Taylor, ATF bomb technician,

0:45:390:45:42

had by then a couple of hours to work on the crime scene.

0:45:420:45:46

He said, "He's your bomber. That's not what happened."

0:45:460:45:51

The bomb went off on the seat, it didn't go off on the floor. "Now you gotta prove it."

0:45:510:45:57

They wanted the keys of the house.

0:46:010:46:03

That's when they did the first search.

0:46:030:46:07

I watched it on TV in the hospital.

0:46:070:46:10

Just watching, on the TV, all of this circus in my house.

0:46:110:46:16

Watching them take bags out, the news people talking about it,

0:46:160:46:22

all the cameras outside my house.

0:46:220:46:24

And then having my husband's family telling me,

0:46:240:46:29

"This is all your fault. It's because of you this is happening."

0:46:290:46:34

They felt like I was making a situation where he was having to make more money,

0:46:340:46:40

because I was wanting to have more.

0:46:400:46:44

I had one side here, then the news and police wanting to question me.

0:46:450:46:49

It was a great day(!) It was really good(!)

0:46:490:46:54

When you have a murder case, you gotta have a motive.

0:46:570:47:02

We needed to establish that because we had no idea why Mark Hofmann would kill Steve Christensen,

0:47:020:47:08

or anybody in the Sheets family.

0:47:080:47:11

After two weeks, the police still didn't have a motive for the bombings.

0:47:210:47:28

Hofmann went home from hospital.

0:47:280:47:31

Family, friends and neighbours were certain of his innocence.

0:47:330:47:38

Those of us who knew him laughed at the idea that he was involved in it.

0:47:380:47:44

I asked him to give me...to write an autograph with his left hand.

0:47:440:47:50

Our friend Shannon Flynn then added his signature and a quote,

0:47:500:47:55

"Truth will prevail." I guess it did. Yeah.

0:47:550:47:59

So I go to his home and visit with him. My first question was, "Did you kill them?"

0:47:590:48:06

Police had been into my store every day telling me what was going on.

0:48:060:48:11

They said, "He's guilty as hell", is the words they used.

0:48:110:48:16

And I said, "No, he's not."

0:48:160:48:19

So I asked him. "No, I did not kill these people."

0:48:190:48:24

I said, "Well, where is the McLellin collection?"

0:48:240:48:30

He said, "My attorney's advised me that I can't really tell you.

0:48:300:48:35

"I assure you you'll get your money, no problem."

0:48:350:48:39

And I believed him in the end. I was duped completely by him.

0:48:390:48:44

A week later, I called for another appointment.

0:48:440:48:48

I had a couple of trick questions. I can't remember what they were.

0:48:480:48:54

I asked him, and happened to glance up and there was a smirk on his face

0:48:540:49:00

that just told me he was guilty of murder

0:49:000:49:05

and also of not having the McLellin collection.

0:49:050:49:10

I left his home within 30 seconds of seeing the smirk on his face.

0:49:100:49:16

I got to my car and that's when I realised that he was guilty

0:49:160:49:22

and that I was in a serious mess.

0:49:220:49:24

The Church had told the police about the McLellin Collection

0:49:260:49:31

and fraud was suspected. But still no-one had considered forgery.

0:49:310:49:36

By chance, forensic examiner George Throckmorton was studying Mormon documents.

0:49:370:49:44

Several of them had originally come from Mark Hofmann.

0:49:440:49:49

I was convinced they were genuine,

0:49:490:49:52

till I started doing the examination

0:49:520:49:55

and started finding inconsistencies.

0:49:550:49:58

When I contacted the investigators

0:49:580:50:01

conducting the investigation of the crime, they were elated.

0:50:010:50:05

They had no idea they were forged and they were looking for a motive.

0:50:050:50:10

Why were the murders committed? Why were the bombs set? Now they knew.

0:50:100:50:15

There's a possibility of forgeries.

0:50:150:50:17

It took six months of analysis to prove the documents were forged.

0:50:170:50:23

The ink on the documents, under a certain degree of magnification,

0:50:230:50:29

and only this degree of magnification, exhibited cracking.

0:50:290:50:34

It looked similar to the back of an alligator. All of Hofmann's documents had this alligator effect.

0:50:340:50:42

Hofmann's forgeries had fooled all previous tests.

0:50:420:50:46

His one mistake was to age his documents with household bleach.

0:50:460:50:52

Under ultraviolet light there was a certain blue-coloured hazing effect.

0:50:520:50:58

It was the chemicals in the cleaning solution which also attributed to the cracking of the ink.

0:50:580:51:05

CHILDREN CHATTER

0:51:050:51:08

By December 1985,

0:51:140:51:16

evidence linking Hofmann to the murders was mounting.

0:51:160:51:21

Witnesses claimed to have seen him at the scenes of both bombings.

0:51:210:51:26

A fleck of gunpowder of the correct type had been found in his van.

0:51:260:51:31

Bomb parts had been bought under the name Mike Hansen, an alias he was shown to have used.

0:51:310:51:38

In February 1986,

0:51:440:51:46

four months after the bombings, Hofmann was arrested for murder.

0:51:460:51:52

After a five-week preliminary hearing,

0:51:530:51:57

facing a probable death sentence, he came to a decision.

0:51:570:52:02

-Did Mark tell you he was going to confess?

-He did.

0:52:020:52:07

He did tell me that, right before.

0:52:110:52:14

And I said, "What's going on, why are you doing this?"

0:52:170:52:22

Again, I don't know what to believe.

0:52:220:52:25

He's told me so many stories. Here's another wonderful story.

0:52:250:52:31

He says, "Well, I didn't do this. But someone is framing me. They're making it look like I did it.

0:52:310:52:38

"If I don't confess, they'll come back. You and the kids will die.

0:52:380:52:44

"If I don't go, you'll die."

0:52:440:52:47

That sounds like a plausible story. Doesn't it? Doesn't that sound OK?

0:52:490:52:54

And I was like...

0:52:540:52:57

And he said, "I didn't do this, but I'm saying I did."

0:52:570:53:01

Then he had this whole story.

0:53:010:53:04

You're saying, "Is that true? Then why would he do that?

0:53:040:53:09

"Maybe he's guilty." What do you think? I didn't know what to think.

0:53:090:53:14

The easiest thing to think is that he's innocent.

0:53:160:53:20

What a wonderful guy, doing this for his wife and children.

0:53:200:53:26

That's the easiest thing to go to.

0:53:260:53:28

So that's where I went.

0:53:310:53:34

Because of his confession, Hofmann avoided the death penalty.

0:53:350:53:40

He was sentenced to life in prison.

0:53:400:53:44

One day at the store, I got a call.

0:53:480:53:51

We have a court order that the materials here in the evidence room

0:53:510:53:57

should come to you.

0:53:570:54:00

If there's any value in there, hopefully you can recover.

0:54:000:54:04

I opened a box or two and it was so depressing I just let them sit there.

0:54:040:54:10

We stored them in the shed and it's been there now for, what...?

0:54:100:54:16

Over 15 years.

0:54:160:54:19

From inside your home or office

0:54:190:54:23

you can be sure a terrorist never passes through your door.

0:54:230:54:28

That... I guess he was taking precautions that no-one would come into his home.

0:54:280:54:35

"Aborting defectives...

0:54:420:54:45

"It's now possible by identifying an embryo's certain hereditary defects

0:54:450:54:51

"such as mongolism."

0:54:510:54:54

This is his writing. I don't know. "Personhood versus life.

0:54:540:54:58

"Do not equate personhood with life.

0:54:580:55:02

"Persons are dependent on life because consciousness cannot emerge

0:55:020:55:06

"until biological development has progressed to a certain point.

0:55:060:55:11

"Basic moral judgement."

0:55:130:55:15

I guess this is some of his beliefs.

0:55:160:55:20

Kind of neat subjects, aren't they?

0:55:200:55:23

"Rights of science."

0:55:230:55:26

Peculiar.

0:55:280:55:30

Over a period of months I made visits out there

0:55:370:55:42

and would just talk with him.

0:55:420:55:45

Is he remorseful?

0:55:450:55:47

I don't know if he is.

0:55:500:55:53

He knew full well what he was doing.

0:55:540:55:57

He's very bright. Has a very high IQ.

0:55:570:56:01

He has a capacity to lie that just staggers the imagination.

0:56:010:56:06

I think he's different than most in that in the end, he had no limit.

0:56:060:56:12

I trusted him implicitly. I wouldn't say it was a father/son relationship,

0:56:150:56:20

it wasn't that close. But up until these events happened,

0:56:200:56:26

I look back

0:56:260:56:28

and maybe that's the hardest part of it all.

0:56:280:56:34

Because I felt I was betrayed by a very close friend.

0:56:340:56:39

And money is one thing. You can cope with that.

0:56:390:56:45

I've never missed a meal, you can tell.

0:56:450:56:48

But to believe in someone and believe that it's a good friendship,

0:56:480:56:54

you'd do anything for each other and that... It just wasn't the case.

0:56:540:56:58

When I found out what had happened, it was devastating.

0:56:580:57:03

Come here. HE BLOWS KISSES

0:57:140:57:18

Oh! That was good, Mike!

0:57:210:57:25

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man.

0:57:250:57:28

'I still have a hard time thinking he did this.

0:57:280:57:33

'The thought that he would actually kill somebody? It's like, no way.'

0:57:330:57:38

Say Daddy. Dad-dy.

0:57:380:57:41

She's crying. She's tired.

0:57:430:57:47

I have a hard time with...with... reconciling in my mind that he could...

0:57:470:57:55

be with me, he could be with his kids, he could be loving and fun,

0:57:550:58:00

and have this whole other piece - that he could live with himself.

0:58:000:58:04

It is...I have a hard time with it.

0:58:040:58:07

With...with...that he could do that.

0:58:070:58:11

-But do you think he did?

-Yeah. I think he did. I do.

0:58:110:58:15

And that's hard to say. That's hard for me to say. Because I don't want to believe it.

0:58:150:58:22

I haven't seen him since then.

0:58:290:58:32

He's still mad. He's still angry about this.

0:58:320:58:36

I'm the one that got away. He doesn't like that.

0:58:360:58:40

Subtitles by BBC Broadcast 2003

0:58:530:58:57

E-mail us at [email protected]

0:58:570:59:02

When US police investigated a double murder in the 1980s, they had no idea they were about to uncover the most daring trail of forgery and deception America had ever seen.

Mark Hofmann dared to forge on a level previously undreamt of as he manufactured historic documents at the core of the American constitution and history. And he fooled everyone - the FBI, the CIA, the Library of Congress, even the best forensic experts in the world and his own wife.

Hofmann's story begins in Salt Lake City and a growing hatred of the Mormon church - a hatred which would lead him to his first criminal acts designed to dupe a society only too willing to believe tall tales. And it's a perfect training ground for his ultimate goal - to make a fortune and fool America itself. Ultimately however, his ambition turns to murder.


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