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Bomb Day 1 – 2 Killed – October 15, 1985

Steve Christensen was killed on October 15, 1985 when he picked up a package outside his office.  It was a pipe bomb and it blew up with a bunch of concrete nails killing him instantly.  It was a horrible scene.  Curt Bench describes how he found out about it driving to work and that he immediately called his friend Mark Hofmann to warn him about a bomber out there.

A few hours later Kathy Sheets also picked up another bomb from Mark Hofmann and she was killed instantly.  Her husband, Gary Sheets had been partners with Steve Christensen.  Many wondered if this was a financial deal.  Was it a mafia plot, or was it something to do with Mormon documents?  Both men had experience with those.  Let’s listen in as Curt Bench tells us about how the news unfolded to him.

Curt:  I talked to Mark on the phone, the day of the bombings.

GT:  Oh really.

Curt:  Several times, probably six or seven times.  I called first to warn him about the bombings, well bombing at that point because there was already a lot on the news.  I was actually driving to work that morning and they said there was a bomb that had gone off in the Judge Building.  It was just a few blocks from where I worked.  They even as I recall gave the office number and it said a businessman had been killed.  I only knew one person in the Judge Building and that was Steve Christensen, so as soon as I got to my office at work I looked up in my directory and pulled up his name and there was that office number at the Judge Building and I was just sick physically.  I mean it was just horrible.

I got the answering machine and I said Mark, this is Curt.  This is an emergency.  Please call me back immediately, as soon as you get this.

A short time later he called, and just kind of light-heartedly said, Curt this is Mark.  You said it was an emergency but then everything’s an emergency with you, just making a joke.  Then I told him what had happened, that Steve Christensen had been killed and there was a sharp intake of breath, “What?” like he was genuinely shocked.  I told him everything I’d heard.  It was as if he’d never heard a thing.  I warned him and told him to get his family out of the house, to get into hiding, whatever because we didn’t know what was going on.

GT:  I know originally it seems like because Steve was a financial thing, there was a lot of people thought it must have had something to do with his finances, but you originally thought it had something to do with…

Curt interrupts:  Well I didn’t know.  Nobody knew.

GT:  Oh ok.

Curt:  And that very day there was speculation about, did it have something to do with Mormon documents, because Steve had been in the news.  I’m trying to remember about the news part.  Certainly it was known he had been involved in trying to get the Salamander Letter.

GT:  So you made the connection that you thought it could have been?

Curt:  Well it could have been.  Yeah there was speculation early on about was this business related, because there were angry investors with the Sheets company, CFS.

What are your reactions to the bombings?  Do you remember them?

Bomb Day 1 – 2 Killed – October 15, 1985


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Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries

Curt Bench (owner of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City) knew Mark Hofmann very well, having purchased many artifacts and documents from him.    Hofmann’s most famous forgery was known as the White Salamander Letter. The letter threatened to re-write Mormon history and fooled many experts in Mormon history.

It was just such a different take on the traditional story as one could imagine, and so he [Mark Hofmann] had claimed to have gotten it back east, a letter that came into his hands through a compatriot of his when actually later we find out that Mark created the document.  It kind of turned Mormon history on its head and then you have people squaring up on each side, the scholars that are trying to make sense of it and others saying there’s no way that could be true.

Mark didn’t just fool Mormon experts.  He actually tried to sell something to the Library of Congress and many of those experts were fooled as well.

Oath of a Free Man which was the first printed item in America that he tried to sell to the Library of Congress for $1 million to $1 million and a half.  He completely created that.  He has the plates made for it.  He printed it and altered letters and kind of rubbed them down so they looked old.  He did all kinds of things and the Library of Congress was doing tests on it, and the American Antiquarian Society was another that looked very closely at buying that, and that was a huge deal when that failed to sell because Mark owed so many people money because of his schemes and a lot of it was over the McLellin Collection which nobody ever saw but there was a lot of talk about and a lot of money that changed hands over it.  Because that failed to sell, The Oath of a Free Man, Mark was in a world of hurt financially and had to come up with money.

It’s amazing the number of experts Hofmann was able to fool.  Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of our conversation.  What do you think?

White Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries

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Bombs in Salt Lake: Introduction to Mark Hofmann

In 1985, three bombs in Salt Lake went off in two days.  It was the work of Mark Hofmann, a master forger and now a bomber.  He killed two people and injured himself in these bomb blasts.  Curt Bench was actually a good friend of Mark Hofmann at the time as well as one of the victims killed, Steve Christensen.  Curt gives us his firsthand account of how he learned about this, and especially how he was introduced to Mark Hofmann.

Curt:  Well I tell people I didn’t know him well as well as I wish I had, as I should have.  When you said we were good friends, we were friends, but we did a lot of business together.  He kind of established himself as a, I guess today what would we say?  [He was] kind of a rock star.  He had made some amazing discoveries of Mormon documents, the Anthon Transcript and things like that that got him a lot of attention.

I met him.  I was in the same business, although we hadn’t really done documents very much, maybe once in a while but we did a lot of rare books, other collectibles and so I was kind of excited to meet Mark Hofmann who had gotten all this attention and had established himself as an expert in documents as well as other things, rare books, and things.  So it made sense for me to get to know him and to do business with him and we did a lot of business over the next few years.

Hoffman didn’t deal in just Mormon documents.

We had a Daniel Boone document {early American frontiersman}.  I’m just trying to think of some things that weren’t just in the Mormon field.  Some things were books but quite often they were documents and so this was my big foray into that field.  I was a relative novice when it came to Mormon manuscripts and documents and so I kind of let him guide me in a lot cases.  When he would—he wasn’t dramatic at all and didn’t seem like he was trying to sell you.  He wasn’t a used car salesman type at all.  He was quiet and introspective but he made a big deal about things, but often he would say, “It’s a nice item.”

Were any of the items caught early?  Check the podcast to find out.  (You may also be interested in our interviews with Shannon Flynn who talks about Mark’s teenage forgeries!)  What do you think about this tragic story?

Curt Bench, Owner of Benchmark Books and witness of Hofmann Bombings and forgeries

Bombs in Salt Lake: Introduction to Mark Hofmann