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Forger’s legacy still damaging

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Fifteen years after violently murdering two innocent people in the Salt Lake area, infamous forger Mark Hofmann still has virtual bombs scattered through the historical-document community and authorities appear unable to defuse them, experts said Thursday evening.

Speaking at a session of the 2000 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, two crime lab experts and one of the document collectors most adversely affected by Hofmann's bizarre snare of deceit told a crowd of about 60 that forged Hofmann documents continue to materialize, even though Hofmann has been behind bars since 1987.

Hofmann was convicted in 1987 of two pipe-bomb murders and for making and selling forged historical documents. He was injured by one of his own bombs in October 1985, bringing his house of phony cards tumbling down. Panel members said they expect Hofmann to spend the rest of his life in prison, unrepentant and arrogantly silent.

Many of his bogus documents, believed to still number in the hundreds, are offered for sale at prestigious auction houses and through legitimate document sellers, even after repeated warnings that apparently nothing Hofmann ever sold was what he claimed it to be.

Panelist George Throckmorton, a handwriting and forensic expect who was working for the Utah attorney general's office during the Hofmann investigation, said he has studied more than 600 papers and books connected to the forger and has never found a Hofmann-sold document that was not altered.

Throckmorton, now the director of the Salt Lake police department crime lab, still lectures around the country about Hofmann, considered one of the eight most shrewd forgers of all time, he said.

Steve Mayfield, moderator of the 90-minute session, who works for Throckmorton at the crime lab, is also an authority on Hofmann. Mayfield said shortly after Hofmann's imprisonment, jailers found a list titled "famous people who I have forged" in Hofmann's cell.

"On one side he had involved Mormon characters and on the other side were . . . famous Americans. Those who looked at it who knew about the case said, 'There are some names on this list we have never seen documents for.' There are documents out there that we do not know of," Mayfield said.

The third panel member was Brent Ashworth, a document-collecting attorney who probably lost more money to Hofmann's elaborate scheme than any other individual. Ashworth related several instances in which he warned sellers that material they had on the block was forged. Often the documents were sold anyway, he said.

The sellers do not guarantee the authenticity of items they offer, Throckmorton said, but they will generally refund the purchase price of such a document if the buyer discovers it is not authentic.

"That is why they will continue to sell them, even though they know they are forged," he said.

Ashworth warned attendees about numerous other documents he knows Hofmann forged that are still in circulation.

Among the documents to watch for, Ashworth said, are:

A copy of "The Star Spangled Banner" signed by composer Francis Scott Key, recently offered for $130,000;

A letter or letters signed by outlaw William Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid;

Documents signed by American revolutionary hero and silversmith Paul Revere;

Letters and documents from Daniel Boone, many of which bear a unique surveyor's mark in an upper corner, unknown on any authentic Boone documents;

Documents with the signature of legendary Mayflower pilgrim Miles Standish;

At least eight receipts and documents with the "X" mark of Western mountain man and trapper Jim Bridger.

Ashworth said Hofmann is believed to have earned as much as $4 million during his forging years, but no one but Hofmann knows for sure, and he is not saying.

But no discussion of the damage Hofmann wreaked should exclude the fact that Hofmann is more than just an excellent forger, Ashworth said.

"He is a murderer," Ashworth reminded his audience, his voice wavering slightly. "He killed people, and he disrupted lives of many others."

Using bombs designed to explode in an assault of nails, Hofmann killed document buyer Steve Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, the wife of another document buyer in October 1985.

E-MAIL: jgholdston@desnews.com