Salt Lake Tribune, Sep. 15, 2002
Seventeen years ago next month, Dorie Olds’ world exploded — literally.
On Oct. 15, 1985, Mark Hofmann, her husband at the time, killed two people with pipe bombs to divert attention from his now-notorious forgeries of historic documents, including some sold to the LDS Church.
During the ensuing investigation, Olds discovered that much of what she thought she knew about the man she married was a lie. And when Hofmann was sentenced to life in prison, her former life went with him.
The Mormon mother of four young children lost just about everything. Left with thousands in debt and no job or training, she lost her house and equilibrium.
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“I was almost in a trance,” Olds said Saturday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “It took me awhile to be present on Earth.”
Through the years, Olds has regained a sense of herself and willingly participated in a two-day symposium about her ex-husband, “Genuine Fakes: The forgeries of Mark Hofmann.” Sponsored by Ken Sanders Rare Books in downtown Salt Lake City, the symposium brought together authors and collectors, antiquarian book and numismatic dealers, forensic experts and police detectives.
While Friday’s opening session featured experts wrangling about the extent of the Hofmann forgeries, Saturday’s meeting was more like group therapy. And no one knows the need for healing better than Olds.
After Hofmann’s duplicity was revealed to the public, she said, “I got lots of hate mail, because some people blamed me for what Mark did.”
But for every attack, there also were unexpected acts of kindness. “One day in the grocery store as I was struggling with how to stretch my $15, a stranger handed me $100,” Olds said, getting slightly teary.
She has always had “angels” in her life, she said, like a woman whose husband was in prison who moved onto Old’s street for only six months, but helped Olds navigate the bewildering routines of prison visits and what to tell the kids.
The same woman advised Olds not to make any life-changing decisions in the first months. After 18 months, Olds was ready to divorce Hofmann.
Eventually, Olds pulled her life together, starting a day-care center in her home, while also doing catering, cake decorating and sewing.
She still doesn’t own a house and hasn’t remarried, but Olds has retained her Mormon faith and raised her kids (who continue to have a good and loving relationship with their father, she says). She is now co-owner of Academy of Life Management in Salt Lake City, which specializes in stress management.
“That’s something I know a lot about,” she quips.
For years, Olds avoided news media interviews. She even received a lucrative offer to write a book that would have solved all her financial problems, but she couldn’t do it. Not to herself. Not to her kids.
It took time for the wounds to scab over, but now she’s ready to talk. Indeed, it felt therapeutic Saturday as victim after document victim shared their experiences. It was the first time many of them were in the same room.
Al Rust of Rust Rare Coin in Salt Lake City described how he was drawn into Hofmann’s lair. They researched together at the LDS Church archives, where Rust was working on a book about Mormon money. Hofmann was finding never-before-seen currency and Rust was investing in his business.
But the trail ultimately led to Rust’s giving Hofmann $185,000 to buy the so-called McLellin Collection, a large and controversial group of Mormon documents that Hofmann was planning to invent. Rust never saw that money again.
After Hofmann was accused of the murders, Rust could not believe he was the psychopath the police described. He went to Hofmann’s house and asked about the McLellin collection. Hofmann said his attorneys told him not to talk about it, but not to worry, he would be paid.
“Then I looked up and saw a smirk on his face and I knew Mark Hofmann was guilty of everything they said.”
In that moment, Rust realized all he had lost — his innocence, trust and money.
Simon Worrall is a relative newcomer to the Hofmann intrigue. But like everyone, Worrall, who just published The Poet and the Murderer about Hofmann’s creation of a fictitious Emily Dickinson poem, wanted to grasp the forger’s motivation. He came up with several hypotheses.
First, there was the celebrity factor. Hofmann loved being seen as a kind of Indiana Jones of historical documents and thrived on media attention.
He also took a “magician’s delight in creating illusions,” Worrall said. “He enjoyed the thrill of conjuring with paper and ink. And loved to hoodwink the experts to show how intelligent he was and how foolish they were.”
Despite being raised in a strong LDS home, Hofmann rejected the Mormon story and hoped to destroy the church’s credibility through fraudulent documents, Worrall said.
Finally, a friend told Worrall that Hofmann’s “religion” was self-hypnosis.
“He had almost zen-like mastery of his mind and will and he used it in the creation of forgeries,” Worrall said.
Still, the symposium was not meant as homage to a brilliant con man.
“I came to honor Hofmann’s innocent victims, past, present and possibly future,” said Brent Ashworth, who lost a small fortune and a portion of his genuine autograph collection to Hofmann.
And while no representative of the murder victims, Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets, was present, their names were mentioned repeatedly. “Two years ago my son wanted to serve an LDS mission but I couldn’t afford to send him,” Olds told a hushed crowd. “When Steve’s father, Mac Christensen, heard about it, he picked up the whole tab.”
Forgeries on Display
An exhibit of significant literary, historical and Mormon forgeries created by Mark W. Hofmann along with authentic documents will be on display at Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 South 200 East in Salt Lake City, until Sept. 30, Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.
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