What did Mark Hofmann’s family think when a bomb went off? Did they think he was guilty? What was he like growing up? Michelle Stone & Diane Smith are two of Mark’s cousins and knew him well. They’ll talk about family lore, whether polygamy was secret in their family, and what Mark was like as a young boy and teen. Was he always a sociopath? Check out our conversation…
Hofmann’s First Teenage Explosion
Diane 08:40 He was brilliant, brilliant, smart. And one of the things that was not in the show/the movie…
GT 08:46 Murder Among the Mormons.
Diane 08:47 …that we talked about is an experience when I was probably 11-12-13. And so Mark was right around that age. He had a chemistry set. Those were the kinds of things that he loved.
Michelle 09:00 He got it for Christmas I think. It was a big exciting present I was told.
Diane 09:03 Yeah, I don’t know that. But he made a bomb and blew himself up in the basement and it was the first…
GT 09:13 A pipe bomb?
Diane 09:13 We know he made a bomb. We know he blew himself up in the basement experimenting with explosives but we don’t know if he…
Diane 09:18 Well, I mean, if you’re experimenting with explosives, what are you doing?
Michelle 09:22 He blew himself up with a chemistry set.
Diane 09:24 …in the basement of his house. And it was the first time I had actually had the experience of fasting for a family member who had burns.
Michelle 09:37 They called a family fast for him.
Diane 09:39 And I was so surprised that in all of this stuff, nobody ever mentioned that. But maybe it was just known in the family that he..
Michelle 09:48 had blown himself up as a young teenager.
GT 09:50 He was playing with his chemistry set and blew himself up. So he just had severe burns. He didn’t lose any fingers or anything.
Michelle 09:56 That came later.
Diane 09:56 Right, right.
Diane 09:56 No. It’s nothing that that was permanent. But I do remember them calling a family fast, and my folks explaining to me what it meant. And so I don’t know how old I was. [I was] young enough that I hadn’t really known and understood what it meant to fast for a specific person for a specific event, like that. So that was [new to me.]
Michelle 10:23 Can I share something really fast just because I made a joke, and all of a sudden, it hit me. The reason that Diane and I talked about this was to share. I guess I’m just going back in time thinking of that family worried about their son. And, we tend to talk so much about Mark Hofmann that we lose the humanity of this story. Our reason of talking about it was to tell the story of his mother because I think that that gets left out. We are just all looking at this horrible tragedy that’s like a big traffic accident. But the human toll has been brutal.
GT 10:59 Yeah.
Michelle 11:00 Really brutal. And so these caring, loving parents that provided for their son that called the family fast and their story. So I just want to be careful to not lose the humanity and the care and the love. Aunt Lou is still living. Mark’s mother is still alive. And there’s a lot of care for her. I think we all try to be very careful…
Diane 11:24 and protective of her.
Michelle 11:25 Yeah. This new movie being made, every time something comes out, it hits hard. Can we talk about Mark’s parents a little bit?
GT 11:36 Sure.
Michelle 11:36 Because there tends to be a focus on [them.] Everyone’s like, whoa! What did they do wrong when you have a kid turnout like this? And so I think it’s useful to talk a little about them.
Diane 11:47 It’s so interesting, because so many of the things that children do that are heinous, you think what happened? I mean, it’s like, what did Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother serve for dinner that caused that? It wasn’t necessarily anything. He just chose, and Mark just chose. Because that family was close and they were active, and they were loving, and they were awesome to each other, and to their neighbors and to their family. And you get this kid that that makes choices. Of course, it reflects on the family. But the family should not be responsible for the choices that he made any more than you would take all the credit for a kid that did wonderful things.
Michelle 12:44 Yeah, I think we all know, there are really awesome parents who have some really messed up kids, sometimes. There are really terrible parents. The kids can just rise above and be amazing.
Diane 12:55 Like Abraham Lincoln’s dad.
Michelle 12:57 So that kind of stuff can happen. And I really think this is one of those cases. Of course, you can see bad parenting. You can have bad results. Can we talk about Uncle Willie?
GT 13:09 Sure.
Diane 13:10 We’re just taking over. You ask a question. And we’ll answer.
GT 13:14 We’re all about tangents here. So we can go down any tangent you want.
Michelle 13:18 They made a point of how controlling or demanding or strict Uncle Willie was. And you had [great experience with] him teaching all the cousins to water ski. Every year, they would have a giant family reunion at Bear Lake. And he had a boat.
Diane 13:32 And he spend hours teaching all of us that didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with a boat. Over the years, I learned to water ski. I learned to slalom. I learned to do all of those things because he was so patient and kind with us. And he would get up really early in the morning or stay out really late after all of us were done. And he would just drive with Mark and Mark would ski for an hour or two.
GT 13:57 This doesn’t sound like a strict disciplinarian.
Diane 13:59 No.
Michelle 14:01 Okay, anyone who’s ever taught kids to waterski, that’s hard. Keep the tips up, keep them here. But you know what everyone else on the boat is yelling. It tested the patience of our dad who was a really patient guy. And so knowing that Uncle Willie, Diane was his great niece. Right? And he’s out there so kindly for entire days at a time with all of these big families with 9, 12, 13 children teaching all these kids to waterski. That’s who he was. He’s was a kind, gentle, man.
Diane 14:37 And you look at how many parents back then were strict and had expectations for their kids. And did that cause all of those kids to become…
Michelle 14:49 psychopaths.
Diane 14:49 and murderers and bombers? No, of course it didn’t. To say, in our house you go on a mission. In our house we read the scriptures. In our house we say prayers. In our house we go to church.
Michelle 15:00 Well, and we don’t even know if he did that.
Diane 15:01 And we don’t have any idea, but I’m just saying that having expectations for your family does not mean in any way that you’re a negative parent.
Michelle 15:05 That they are going to grow up to be serial bombers.
Diane 15:14 In fact, I would say that the parents that say, do whatever you want. There’s no expectations here. That’s a much worse way to raise children than having [expectations.]
Mark’s Post-Manifesto Grandma
Michelle 18:10 So Grandma Sears is Mark’s grandmother who was married in 1906. Right? He knew his grandmother. You knew your great grandmother.
GT 18:19 So two years after the second Manifesto?
Michelle 18:21 Yeah. So I tried to say, it was post-post-manifest polygamy, but in our family history. So, Grandpa Sears, he and his first wife were married and had no children. So he either asked for permission, or was called by Joseph F. Smith, the president of the church. He met with him. We’re not sure who instigated X. We have different accounts, but he got permission, or was called by Joseph F. Smith to go to Mexico and take a second wife in 1906.
GT 18:54 The same guy who issued the 1904 manifesto?
Diane 18:57 [Yes.]
Michelle 18:58 This is our family history. So, in any case, he was an active faithful member in high callings. He served as mission president several times.
Diane 19:08 He took his first wife on his mission.
Michelle 19:11 He was told you can only take one wife and he left the one with all of the children home to fend for herself.
Diane 19:17 During all of that.
Michelle 19:18 It hits close to home. So, our grandmother is the oldest daughter. She got married much later because she was working so hard to provide for that family. So anyway, what was the point I was making?
Diane 19:33 That’s who was at the family union.
Michelle 19:35 Also because they claim that Mark found out that they had post-Manifesto polygamy.
GT 19:40 That’s been the big thing, like he discovered the secret. And I love that.
Michelle 19:44 Nonsense! It is so stupid! It’s so stupid.
Diane 19:48 Because we all knew.
Michelle 19:49 It was his grandma! His grandma was [married polygamously.] So the first couple were 40. They waited for Athelia to turn, I can’t remember if it was 16 or 18. I can remember. They waited for her to get old enough…
Diane 20:01 I don’t remember.
Michelle 20:01 …to get married.
Diane 20:02 I don’t know.
Michelle 20:04 And, some of our family lore is they were never alone together. So Aunt Aggie was always there.
Diane 20:10 Well, on the dates. The two of them courted her together.
Michelle 20:13 Yeah.
Diane 20:13 But then Aunt Aggie told him he had to go when he proposed by himself and it made him cry because he didn’t want to.
Michelle 20:22 Because he didn’t want to hurt Aunt Aggie. It’s just so sad from top to bottom.
Diane 20:26 Just all of this stuff. But anyway.
Michelle 20:28 So, Mark’s grandmother is that young second wife,
GT 20:34 18-year old or whatever.
Michelle 20:34 And she might be one of the last LDS polygamists because she was 16 in 1906 when she got married. So it’s kind of the tail end, definitely. But she was still [alive.] You knew her well.
Diane 20:48 Oh, yeah. She actually lived in Ogden, and was a hit by car when I was in early high school, I think.
GT 21:02 And that’s what killed her?
Diane 21:04 [Yes.]
Michelle 21:04 She was 86 I think. Something like that.
Diane 21:06 Something like that. And so we knew her and we knew this history. And so again, people that are standing on the outside want to attribute all these emotions and feelings and this is why he did this. But they don’t know what they’re talking about. Because it was our family. And we knew. All of us knew.
Michelle 21:29 I grew up looking at pictures. Oh, there is Aunt Aggie. There’s grandma Sears. I didn’t know them. She passed away before I was born. They were already gone before I was born. And I knew. It was his grandmother. And so, like I said, the only way he would not have known is if he was so narcissistic, that he didn’t have a clue what color his grandmother’s hair was. Do you know what I mean? Like he just didn’t know anything about anyone’s life. Because it was well-known. Maybe he learned that their wedding date was 1906. But none of us had any kind of a problem with it. We were raised that polygamy was beautiful, and the law of Zion, and the Celestial Kingdom.
Mark’s Beach Treasure Hunt
Diane 27:01 This goes into the psychology of who he was. And so here we are. He has a metal detector. And we’re on the beach with all these little kids. And so Mark walks down the beach with his metal detector. And every time it would buzz, there was a whole group of all these kids that were following him, and they would dig up whatever was there. And so up and down the beach, [he walked.]
Michelle 27:30 which I now wonder if he had planted stuff.
Diane 27:32 I don’t know.
Michelle 27:33 Because he was out with his friends.
Diane 27:34 I don’t know. I have no idea. But he would go up and down. And then all of a sudden, the metal detector went off like crazy. And they dug a little bit and couldn’t find it. And he said, “Well, obviously there’s something in here.” And so this whole group of little kids started digging this pit on the beach. And he would come by every half hour or so and stick the metal detector in this hole. And it would just go off like crazy. He’d say there’s something big in here. And these kids were sweating.
Michelle 28:08 Of course it was pirate treasure. They were expected to find pirate treasure.
Diane 28:11 And they went in and they got spoons and their little fingernails, as they were digging in the sand were all bleeding.
Michelle 28:19 Because you said it was hours when they could have been playing in the water.
Diane 28:22 It was hours. And I would come by and say, “Guys, why don’t you go play in the water? There’s so many things to do.”
Diane 28:30 “No, there’s a big thing. Mark is here.” And there were a ton of kids that were digging,
Michelle 28:34 You said some of them had bleeding fingernails.
Diane 28:35 Yes, because they were digging with their fingers. Every time he’d come by. Finally they got this big pit, dug in the sand. And Mark came by and stuck it in and it didn’t go off. And then he just started laughing.
Michelle 28:49 They were all shocked.
Diane 28:50 He had rigged it so that he could make it go off at will, and took these kids entire day on their vacation just so he laugh at them.
Michelle 29:05 And then “You guys are such idiots. You’re so stupid.”
GT 29:08 Their fingers are bleeding and like he’s just a cruel person.
Michelle 29:12 That’s why everyone in our family remembers that. You were livid.
Diane 29:19 I was so angry.
Michelle 29:19 Several of her brothers and sister were [participating.]
Diane 29:20 I was so angry. And I kept trying to get him to come and they said “No, Mark.”
Michelle 29:24 There’s something [there.] They thought they were finding pirate treasure or something. They were children.
Diane 29:29 And that was the epitome [of him.] At that point that encapsulated who he was and how he wanted to manipulate people to make fun of them
Michelle 29:42 to laugh in their face
Diane 29:42 and to control that situation in such a cruel way.
GT 29:47 Wow.
Michelle 29:48 Because I think it is a unique experience to come into the face of that kind of malevolence. Those little children that had been looking at him as a hero, and then he’s like “You guys are such idiots.” It traumatized them. I mean, everyone there remembers that experience.
GT 30:07 I mean, he was born a sociopath.
Michelle 30:08 Yes.
Family Reactions to Mark’s Guilt
Diane 00:29 I lived in Orem and had a bunch of little kids. I was driving down Center Street when I heard on the radio about the last bombing. And it looked like they had found things in the back of Mark’s car that indicated he may have been culpable.
GT 00:58 Did news reports say that they thought that he was the bomber?
Michelle 01:02 I thought you said that it was as soon as you found out he was bombed because they announced Mark was bombed. And there are some questions.
Diane 01:08 There’s some questions because there were some things in his trunk that were questionable. And I knew. I remember exactly where I was. It’s a seminal moment of where I was in the car. That I thought, “Oh, well, that makes sense.” Because having had those experiences, and knowing [him.]
Michelle 01:33 Other people have said the same thing. The things came together in this instant: the chemistry set, the seat, the video, it was like, oh my gosh! It was him!
GT 03:32 So you knew instantly that you thought when he got blown up in that third bomb, that it was him?
Diane 03:38 [Yes.]
GT 03:39 Did you talk to the police or anything?
Diane 03:41 Oh no.
Michelle 03:42 Well, what are you going to say? “I think it was him.” I mean, I have other family members that also were like, “Oh, my gosh.” You know?
GT 03:53 Because Dorie was in disbelief, right? It couldn’t be him. Mark’s parents didn’t believe it was him.
Michelle 03:59 You have got to tell that story.
Diane 04:04 Well, I have always wondered, because Aunt Lou was the mother.
Michelle 04:16 As a mom raising a kid like that, you’d be worried about them.
Diane 04:23 Really worried. Uncle Willie was steadfastly, “If Mark says he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it.” And Uncle Willie was 100%. And I just wonder. In my mother’s heart if Aunt Lou wondered if maybe he did. And that I think is so so sad.
Review of Murder Among the Mormons
GT 39:34 Very good. I was going to ask you one other question. You’ve both watched Murder Among the Mormons. Did they get anything wrong?
Michelle 39:43 Well, I thought this stuff about him being betrayed, mostly the intentions that I sense. Maybe I read it instead. But I thought there were some things about his dad being strict, him feeling betrayed by his finding out church history.
GT 40:00 So his family life growing up was probably not accurate.
Michelle 40:02 Anything speaking to motive was very, very wrong; anything speaking to any kind of motive; any kind of causation from the parenting. Right? Or any kind of betrayal from the church, I think that those are very [wrong.] They don’t go with the experiences in our family.
Diane 40:27 Yeah, I would agree. I would agree with that. You cannot say that the church caused this. It doesn’t play.
Michelle 40:40 Right. Or that he was that he was betrayed by the church. He would have had to believe in it at one point for him to [feel betrayed.]
GT 40:53 Did he ever express any disbelief?
Diane 40:55 I wasn’t close enough to have those kinds of discussions. But my feeling was knowing the types of things that he did, that was not Christian behavior.
GT 41:11 I think we can all agree with that.
Michelle 41:12 I haven’t watched it recently enough to know all the details.
GT 41:18 Okay. So his early family life will suspect but the rest of it, any comments on that?
Diane 41:22 I was always surprised. Oh, they didn’t talk about when he blew himself up and those kinds of things.
GT 41:33 I was tangentially involved with some of the early things on that. I do know that the producers wanted to produce, I think eight hours and Netflix gave him three. So that’s why a lot of it got put on the cutting room floor.
What are your comments on the movie and/or situation? Do you think people are too quick to blame his family instead of Mark Hofmann himself? How much blame does the Church get for this situation? Is the Church a victim too?
I got the feeling Hofmann was the one blamed in the documentary. The Church was a victim, but also culpable, since it was trying to conceal its history by purchasing damaging documents to conceal from the members. Hofmann was taking advantage of this, but was hostile to the Church and wanted to see them damaged by his forgeries. Hofmann was a classic psychopath. I don’t think his family could be blamed for that. Psychopaths are born, not made.
Interesting addition to the awful saga