“Homicide Among the many Mormons” filmmakers on how forgeries, religion and a salamander led to Utah bombings


Netflix’s “Homicide Among the many Mormons” co-directors Jared Hess and Tyler Measom had been each younger — six and 14, respectively — when a collection of Salt Lake Metropolis bombings killed a number of high-profile members of the Mormon church in 1985. The murders drew nationwide consideration to the church, which, after a century of being seen as a form of “outsider faith” affected by 19th-century extermination orders and persecution campaigns, had turn into and stays one of many fastest-growing denominations in the USA. 

The violent nature of the crimes was a juxtaposition in opposition to a spiritual group that’s usually caricatured for its unrelenting optimism (as David Foster Wallace as soon as wrote, “There’s at all times a Mormon round when you do not need one, making an attempt your endurance with unsolicited kindness”), and as such, the bombings captured tabloid consideration, which rapidly gave approach to conspiracy theories. 

“No person knew what was happening,” Hess informed Salon in an interview. “Due to that, it was a extremely uncomfortable time for therefore many individuals. Everybody was making an attempt to resolve this tragedy, the likes of which Salt Lake Metropolis had by no means actually skilled earlier than.” 

Hypothesis continued. Was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really behind the bombings? Or was it tied to the approaching collapse of an funding enterprise with which two of the bombing victims had been concerned? 

The actual reply, which is comprehensively outlined over the gripping three-episode true crime docuseries, is stranger than fiction. And it is a story that many Individuals both by no means knew or do not clearly bear in mind.  

It begins with Mark Hofmann, a grasp forger who had initially made a reputation for himself within the burgeoning Mormon antiquities market. He launched his profession by promoting “discovered” paperwork concerning the early LDS Church to collectors, or the Church itself, and was identified by some on the time because the “Indiana Jones” or a “rock star” of Mormon paperwork. 

However then, in 1984, he produced what was later termed the “Salamander Letter.” 

The correspondence describes how Joseph Smith discovered golden plates, which later resulted within the E-book of Mormon, with the assistance of what the letter described as “a seer stone, a form of magical looking-glass.” The letter additionally mentioned Smith was initially barred from gaining possession of the plates by an “previous spirit” that “transfigured himself from a white salamander.”

This stood in opposition to the early church’s claims that it was the angel Moroni who had appeared to Smith and informed him concerning the buried historic document that may later turn into the E-book of Mormon, and the concern was that the “Salamander Letter” would name into query Smith’s religious expertise by associating it with folks magic.

“I believe when a whole lot of these paperwork had been ‘found,’ it was actually disrupting for the church, as a result of it referred to as into query the idea of what the church was, its historical past and founding,” mentioned Hess. “[The LDS Church leaders] had by no means handled something like this earlier than.”

That revelation might doubtlessly trigger an enormous rift within the denomination. Hofmann anticipated this concern and acted to suppress the letter, however then his life, funds and work got here beneath elevated scrutiny — and secrets and techniques started to emerge from his previous, sparking violence. 

“There is no different true crime saga on the market like this,” Hess mentioned. “There are the murders, the forgeries and the spiritual elements of it. And it was essential to inform it from the angle of people that lived it.” 

Based on Hess, who remains to be a member of the Mormon church, and Measom, who left the religion years in the past, the preliminary title of the collection was “The Salamander,” after which later “The Salamander Murders,” however they had been in the end influenced by the streaming service to vary it. 

“I believe clearer is healthier for Netflix true crime,” Hess mentioned. “There was this query of ‘Is it about killing lizards? What’s it about?’ However there was this clip of archival information from the time, I believe it was a nationwide information report about all the eye on Utah, that mentioned, ‘There’s homicide among the many Mormons.’ And that was it.” 

Measom continued with amusing: “Plus, we like alliteration.” 

The brand new title is extra conspicuous, which Hess and Measom anticipate might flip off some potential viewers. “However I believe anytime you are doing a movie a couple of specific group, individuals are going to be nervous,” Measom mentioned. “You could possibly say you are doing a movie a couple of nation membership, and if somebody is a member, they’ll be at the very least a little bit nervous about the way it’s portrayed.” 

Nonetheless, one of many final targets of the collection, Hess mentioned, was to make clear the occasions surrounding the Salt Lake Metropolis bombings which, whereas changing into a part of the church’s collective mythology, are largely unremembered by the mainstream public. 

That was what drew him to the mission after almost 20 years of constructing offbeat comedies like “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Nacho Libre” and “Don Verdean,” a 2015 comedy frivolously based mostly on Hofmann’s forgeries about an archeologist who, after being bankrolled by an evangelical pastor, searches for gadgets that may show that the tales from the Bible are true. 

“We confirmed it to a number of individuals throughout manufacturing, together with my brother and another people who find themselves additionally LDS, and so they mentioned that it was academic and that it helped ‘clear the air’ concerning among the particulars of the bombings,” Hess mentioned. “It is a true crime story that simply has so many layers to it.” 

However the docuseries is not only a reflection on the historical past of against the law. A serious, up to date theme woven all through “Homicide Among the many Mormons” is how inclined individuals are to disinformaion after they wish to consider one thing just because it helps an current standpoint, very like how Hofmann discovered keen consumers for his earlier solid paperwork. 

“We’re all surrounded by a lot info, it is in all places, and other people might achieve this a lot analysis — and so they simply do not,” Measom mentioned. “And what Mark present in his forgery victims had been individuals who had been keen consumers, individuals who had been inclined to that disinformation, as a result of they had been blinded by their very own religion or beliefs or typically greed. He even says at one level, ‘When any person says one thing is actual, it turns into actual.'” 

And, “Homicide Among the many Mormons” quietly asserts, we might all be equally taken. Not that we would essentially rack up 1000’s of {dollars} of debt to buy purported Mormon antiquities, however for all of us, there’s doubtless some extent that we might take an ill-advised leap of religion, with out fact-checking, just because doing so helps the beliefs we at present maintain. With that in thoughts, the collection overwhelmingly eschews salaciousness for compassion in its retelling of the Salt Lake Metropolis bombings. 

One of many causes the collection is ready to obtain that tone is as a result of “Homicide Among the many Mormons” gives unprecedented entry to individuals who had been intimately conversant in Hofmann and the bombing victims, together with Brent Metcalfe, a historian who did analysis for Hofmann; Dorie Olds, Hofmann’s ex-wife; Randy Rigby, a detailed buddy of one of many bombing victims; Richard E. Turley Jr., a Latter-day Saint historian; and Ken Sanders, a Salt Lake Metropolis-based professional in uncommon books and antiquities.  

Lots of these interviewed for the collection had been nonetheless emotional concerning the tragedy, the filmmakers mentioned, largely as a result of it was underpinned by elementary questions on religion, faith and skepticism, that are additionally usually personal subjects in American tradition. You see hints of this as quickly because the documentary opens on a visibly upset Shannon Flynn, a uncommon paperwork seller whose voice wavers when he is requested about Hofmann. 

“Can I ask a favor?” he says. “Do not make me reply that. Do not make me reply that. Let another person do it. I do not wish to make a hero out of him. As a result of he was incredible.”

Hess and Measom mentioned that getting individuals to open up was a course of. It helped that they had been each raised within the LDS church, at present lived in Salt Lake Metropolis and had been toying with the concept for a documentary mission concerning the “Salamander Letter” for nearly a decade. 

Measom additionally has a monitor document of exceptionally considerate work about Mormonism, together with the longform NPR radio documentary “Wives Story,” a brief documentary a couple of love story between a Mormon missionary and a communist in 1974 referred to as “Elder,” and “Sons of Perdition,” which “follows three teenage boys after they escape from the secretive FLDS polygamist sect and should fend for themselves in mainstream America.” 

However in accordance with Measom, within the case of “Homicide Among the many Mormons,” the most important factor that they had going for them was time. Dwelling in Salt Lake Metropolis, they spent years going to lunch with the people whom they’d finally go on to interview. 

“This wasn’t a state of affairs the place we simply spent an hour with somebody to get a quote,” he mentioned. “We’d sit with them, simply asking questions and actually listening to their recollections and emotions. Give it some thought — how usually do individuals have the chance to inform their tales and have somebody actually hear?”  

Hess added: “Lots of the individuals we spoke with hadn’t needed to speak about [the events surrounding the bombings] for years, so I believe after they began reliving it, and we had been listening, the feelings grew to become very recent once more.” 

“Homicide Among the many Mormons” is at present streaming on Netflix. 



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