Veteran newsman on covering the Mark Hofmann bombings

Murder Among the Mormons c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

PHOTO: Murder Among the Mormons c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Netflix documentary ‘Murder Among the Mormons’ renews interest in the 1985 news event like no other.

A handheld camera wobbles and zooms in on Mark Hofmann sitting on the floor of his 1985 living room, bouncing a baby on his knee as he watches a news story about himself. We hear the voice of longtime Utah TV news anchor Randall Carlisle delivering the headline, “the police theory that Mark Hofmann was forging documents was a real surprise to the community of scholars and collectors who worked with Hofmann.”

The Netflix documentary series Murder Among the Mormons includes the scene from one of Hofmann’s many home videos. The three-part series reached the top 10 on Netflix this week. Through interviews and news reports, the documentary unfolds the rise of Hofmann as a prolific purveyor of rare historical documents, the subsequent bombing that killed two people and his ultimate exposure as a forger and fraudster. 

In the second episode, Hofmann’s ex-wife Dorie recalls just how much Hofmann loved watching the news and how he reveled in the coverage that centered on him. And, from 1985 through ‘86, there would have been a lot for him to revel in.  

Just after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 1985, people in Utah would have been arriving at work, reading the paper over breakfast or saying their morning prayers. Then reports broke that a bomb had exploded in the Judge Building in downtown Salt Lake City. The explosion killed businessman Steven Christensen and brought the world to a halt. For hours, it would be all anyone could talk or think about, especially if they had friends or family members in the vicinity of the blast. That is, until another bomb exploded in the Salt Lake City suburbs, killing Kathy Sheets in the blast meant for her husband, Gary. After that, the story dominated conversation and both local and national news coverage for the entirety of the criminal investigation.

The voices of perennial news anchors and reporters in the documentary will be familiar to some. I know Carlisle from our work together in TV news. Before our time as co-workers, he was on the news desk at KUTV  in Salt Lake City. The documentary makers (Jared Hess, who is perhaps best known for his 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite) used ample footage of Carlisle and then co-anchor Michelle King and interviewed their co-worker at the time, reporter Rod Decker. Carlisle had been on the anchor desk for five years when the bombings began. “The newscasts were so much more fluid then,” he remembers. “They had to be because developments were happening so fast.”

“All of our resources were allocated to that,” says Carlisle of the bombings. “The story took so many twists and turns. We were getting so many tips, and we had to follow-up on all of them ”

Reporters and police investigators alike were running down tips about Sheets’ and Christensen’s business dealings. Some linked them to Las Vegas and the mob. “We had to pursue every one of them because, at the time, it all sounded reasonable. And the police were doing the same thing,” says Carlisle. “We got to play detective as well.” 

(See full story in Salt Lake magazine)

Published March 2021:

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