Netflix’s new documentary Murder Among the Mormons is looking into the infamous Salt Lake City bombings which killed two people and left another injured in 1985.
But behind the devastating case is a much larger story which relates to a forged Mormon Church document known as the Salamander Letter.
So, what was it? And what was it about?
Here’s everything you need to know about the Salamander letter mentioned in Murder Among the Mormons.
What is the White Salamander letter?
Discovered in the mid-1980s, the Salamander letter was a controversial document about the history of the Latter Day Saints – a collection of independent church groups who traced their origins to a Christian Restorationist movement founded by Mormon leader Joseph Smith in the late 1820s.
It was supposedly written by Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps, who was an early convert in the Latter Day Saint movement.
The letter in question presented a view of Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith’s life which contradicted the commonly accepted version of the early progression of the church he established.
As Richard E. Turley Jr., a former assistant church historian, says in Murder Among the Mormons, the letter “gave a far different story of the church’s earliest roots” by taking the “context of Christian-familiar terms like ‘angels'” and relating them “towards a kind of folk magic context” – something the church wanted to stay away from.
The Salamander letter has generated much discussion inside and outside of the Mormon church.
While it was authenticated and accepted by some experts, it was still rejected by others and begrudged by the church as a document forged solely for the purpose of hurting the church.
Kenneth W. Rendell, a prominent dealer of historic papers and founder of the The International Museum of World War II, initially gave credence to the Salamander letter, saying: “There is no indication that the document is a forgery” as the ink, paper and postmark were all consistent with the period.
However, the letter was later found to be a forgery created by Mark Hofmann – a known document dealer and forger – leading Rendell to change his conclusion. He stated that while there was “the absence of any indication of forgery in the letter itself, there was also no evidence that it was genuine”.
Hofmann was responsible for the Salt Lake City bombings, which he carried out in an attempt to cover up his deceit. He’d previously promised sales of another document, known as the McLellin Collection, but wasn’t able to meet the agreement so started constructing bombs to buy some time.
He confessed after being hospitalised for injuries sustained from one of his bombs, which ultimately put him in the picture as a suspect.
Hofmann pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of theft by deception. He’s currently serving life in prison.