Salt Lake Bombing Victim Tied to Other Blasts, Police Report

From Times Wire Services

"Incriminating" evidence linking him to two similar booby-trap bomb deaths was found in the wrecked car of a collector of religious manuscripts, critically injured in an explosive blast near the Mormon Temple here on Wednesday, Police Chief Bud Willoughby said.

Mark W. Hofmann, 30, a researcher of Mormon historical documents who helped acquire a 155-year-old letter that challenges the standard version of how the Mormon church began, was taken to LDS Hospital in critical condition.

There may have been three other people targeted for bombings and it is possible that others were involved in the plot, said Jerry Miller of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Authorities were studying revenge as a motive, Miller said Wednesday. He declined to elaborate.

"Tomorrow morning we will present information to the U.S. attorney charging Mark Hofmann with violation of federal firearm laws and explosives laws," Miller said.

Detectives had been looking for Hofmann on Wednesday and had obtained search warrants for his home, Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward said.

A man matching Hofmann's description was seen carrying a package believed intended for Steven F. Christensen, 31, the victim of Tuesday's first bombing, he said.

The case is "all starting to come into place," Hayward said.

"A witness saw Hofmann carrying either a box or a briefcase when he opened the car," Willoughby told an evening news conference. Hofmann had started to get into his car, parked north of the Salt Lake Temple, "and he was blown away from the car," Willoughby said.

"We have some items we feel are incriminating and they will be tested at the lab," he said, after police obtained a search warrant and scoured his car.

Asked if what they found could be used to make explosives, the chief replied, "Yes."

Friends of Hofmann said he had received threats on his life last week and had an appointment Tuesday with Christensen, a stockbroker and Mormon documents researcher who was killed that morning by a bomb left in front of his office in a downtown building.

Kathy Sheets, 50, was killed at her home in suburban Holladay later Tuesday by a bomb apparently intended for her husband, J. Gary Sheets, a Mormon bishop who was involved with Christensen in efforts to determine the authenticity of the so-called "Salamander Letter."

Written by Follower

The document, which runs counter to official Mormon accounts of how the religion began, purportedly was written in 1830 by Martin Harris, an early follower of church founder Joseph Smith.

There was "a personal relationship with Steve Christensen" and Hofmann involving the letter, Willoughby said.

"There's no mad bomber on the loose in Salt Lake City that's indiscriminately building bombs," Willoughby said, adding, "We know what's behind this and who the players are."

However, the chief refused to elaborate.

Christensen also was a Mormon bishop, similar to a lay minister, and a church history buff who had purchased the letter through efforts by Hofmann. After it was authenticated by a respected Mormon historian, Christensen donated the document to church leaders in 1984.

Different Version

The letter seems to contradict the church's official account of how Smith obtained the gold plates from which he said he translated the Book of Mormon, the foundational Scripture for the church.

Critics of the church long have contended that Smith dealt in folk magic and treasure hunting and was anything but the prophet Mormons believe he was.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains that Smith translated the gold plates by divine inspiration after receiving them in Upstate New York from an angel named Moroni.

However, Harris wrote that Smith said he encountered a "white salamander," which turned into an old spirit--and not an angel as in the official church version--when Smith tried to obtain the gold plates.

Links to Letter

Until Wednesday's blast, police had been investigating whether the explosions on Tuesday were aimed at present and former officers of Coordinated Financial Services, a faltering investment company with nearly 3,000 investors nationwide. Now, however, police are focusing their investigation on the blasts' connection to the Salamander Letter.

Christensen and Gary Sheets had been associates in the investment firm until last summer, when Christensen resigned along with other officers. Last month, the company told its investors that it was $5.4 million in debt and needed more time to meet its obligations.

Gary Sheets, founder and president of Coordinated Financial Services, was under protective custody Wednesday, as were other company officers, and detectives interviewed past and present employees.

Jack said it is not known whether the bombs contained dynamite or plastic explosive. But police believe both were triggered by even slight movement.

'Deeply Saddened'

Meanwhile, Richard Lindsay, managing director of the Mormon Church's public communications office, said Wednesday that church officials were "deeply saddened by these tragic acts and deplore such violence."

"It is our fervent hope and prayer that those responsible will be quickly apprehended and that justice will be served," he said in a statement. "To this end we pledge our fullest cooperation with city, county and federal authorities in the investigation."

Asked if the church had further comment on the apparent connection with the Salamander Letter, church spokesman Don LeFevre replied: "Leave it to the police to develop motives. It would be inappropriate for us to get involved with that."

Mormon leaders have increasingly criticized those who have raised questions about the integrity of past and present leaders of the growing, 5.8-million member church, especially so at their semiannual meeting in Salt Lake City Oct. 5-6. However, their comments did not seem to cast any aspersions on Hofmann, Sheets or Christensen.

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