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Killer's ex-wife talks of survival

Her life exploded along with Hofmann's bombs

In a democratic society, we teach our children that decisions determine destiny. Cultivate good friendships, develop your talents, get an education, we tell them. And treat others as you would want to be treated. The Golden Rules for life and success.

Doralee Olds tried to do those things. But the good life she believed she had established with her husband and children a quarter-century ago exploded in a hail of shrapnel, and she's still picking up the pieces.

Olds, the ex-wife of Mark Hofmann, whose numerous forgeries and two subsequent pipe-bomb murders in Salt Lake City 20 years ago made national headlines, is finally ready to speak out publicly.

After two decades of healing and relative silence, she's ready to tell anyone who wants to know that she is a survivor. And she plans to share the message publicly on July 28 at the annual Sunstone Symposium at the Sheraton City Centre downtown.

A graduate of Highland High School nearly 30 years ago, she went to St. George and earned an associate degree in nutrition at Dixie College before enrolling at Utah State University. There, she met her future husband, Mark Hofmann.

He pleaded guilty in 1987 to killing two people, Kathleen Sheets and Steve Christensen, on Oct. 15, 1985, in an attempt to cover up years of forging historical documents. He now serves a life sentence in the Utah State Prison. Many believe his many victims ultimately included his wife and four small children.

A new occupation

Yet in the late 1970s, as she dated her future husband, her wildest nightmares likely couldn't conjure what awaited her only a few years in the future.

"He was pre-med, and my dad was a pharmacist — we had a lot of medical background, and that's still true for my family," she said.

When the couple married on Sept. 14, 1979, Doralee dropped out of school to support her husband, and they had four children in the next eight years.

Hofmann never finished his medical training. Unbeknownst to his wife, he had found a more lucrative occupation forging what he pawned off on unsuspecting victims as historical documents, many of them relating to the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two had grown up in the faith and were, by all appearances, staunch members.

Once the ruse began to unravel, some wondered how she could not have known what her husband was up to all that time in the basement of their home, because dealing in rare documents isn't a mainstream career choice.

Admittedly shy and lacking self-confidence back then, Olds said Hofmann "had an answer for everything" when she questioned him on things that didn't add up. At the time, she believed he was much more intelligent than she, so she figured her suspicions must be baseless.

"That's where I tended to give myself away. I let go of what I was thinking and just followed him. It was part of the pattern I had with Mark to discount myself. . . . I would just think or feel what he did. That's a place where I've had healing, too, is trusting myself and knowing I have value. I went into the marriage not trusting myself, and I can't blame that on him."

Truth hits home

There were things, she said, "I was choosing not to see or was unable to see. I could have taken action if I had been where I am now," in terms of emotional health and self-confidence. But raising young children was enough to keep her attention, she said, though there was an underlying feeling that something was amiss.

Olds acknowledges her view of the marriage at that point was a misinterpreted reading of LDS teachings.

"There was an enculturation with the role of the priesthood (held by men) that's totally incorrect. In the church organization, there is a linear line of authority; but in a marriage, it's a partnership, and neither one is above the other," she said. "You need to be working together."

Back then, "It was whatever he says goes, and he is the head of a house. It's not true doctrine, but it's something that just sort of seeped in, like a smell in a room that permeates and no one really knows where it's coming from. Unless you are conscious of what's going on, you're not aware of why you are feeling that way or what is happening.

"It was too hard or I was unwilling to take a look to see the clues and things that would have told me, 'Something is off here, something needs to be changed and done.' If I had been more awake and conscious, maybe people wouldn't have died. I don't know."

She stood by her husband through the early allegations and the subsequent court proceedings, believing he was an innocent man.

The reality of what had occurred didn't begin to hit home until he actually pleaded guilty to the murders and was sent to prison in January 1987, she said. And though she had lost the bearings of her place in a culture often defined by faith and family, she did not lose sight of God or believe she was beyond his purview.

'Who am I?'

Two days after Hofmann's plea, she made a conscious and difficult decision to attend church with her children — including her 6-week-old baby — knowing everyone had heard the story and wondering how she'd be received.

But the decision to go was hers alone, and it became a turning point of sorts.

She remembers thinking, "This is my life, and what do I want? I hadn't been living my life for me. I allowed him to control me because of the enculturation, where you support your husband and his business. I let a lot of my life go for what he wanted.

"I had to sit that Sunday and say, 'Who am I? What is important to me and what do I want?' " she said.

Recognizing that she believed in her faith — despite the fact that much of the pain surrounding the crimes was intertwined with the LDS Church — "I decided, 'I need to continue in the church. It's going to be tricky, but I just need to do it. If not, it will be harder next week.' "

The meeting had begun when she arrived with the children, and as they walked into the back of the cultural hall, she heard a wave of whispering move all across the back rows. In a gesture of welcome, a few people quickly got up and reached for each of the children.

"I just sat, and it was OK. For the most part, people were kind. One person told me I needed to leave because I was contaminating the church, and I remember the bishop pulling me in after that. I was in a fog, and he asked about it, but I decided that I can't let what anyone else thinks" take control again.

"I decided, 'I'm not going to waver,' because I'd taken my stand for myself."

Self-discovery

That decision started a torrent of self-discovery.

"I had to find out 'Who am I?' because I didn't know. There were a lot of things about myself I didn't know," she said.

"I had taken on what Mark liked. I hadn't done a lot with friends. I had them, but they were far away. I had to find out what foods I liked, what my favorite colors were, what music I liked in and of myself."

She reconnected with some friends, lost others "who said they couldn't be my friend anymore" and found new people "that I needed to be with who could help me." She credits God for bringing them into her life and says it is still happening.

It happened several years ago when she was feeling isolated and her children felt misunderstood. A woman whose husband was also in prison moved into the neighborhood with her children, providing them with fast friends and an understanding that "we weren't the only ones."

Friendship helped, but grief is ultimately a solo proposition, and she tried to work through it early on but found she had to put it on hold. She had four children to rear and needed to re-establish her life.

She divorced Hofmann in 1988 and took back her maiden name. She found the going rocky as a single mother. Her children visited their father from early on and continue to do so regularly. But once they divorced, he cut off any contact with her.

"They've never had to choose between him and me," she said.

Family moving on

Her youngest child just graduated from high school, and all of them are "moving on with their lives. They're doing well and excelling. They have plans for the future. There's no thinking they can't do anything they want. They've been taught they can."

She's happy about that, she said, though there has been "a lot of blaming on me. I just have learned that's the way it is — it's just human nature. I'm the safe parent, in a way."

She doesn't live with any of them and hasn't since the suppressed grief caught up with her about three years ago and began causing major health problems. Relationship struggles were contributing to the problem, she said. Three of her children are with relatives, and one is living independently.

The separation has promoted "a lot of healing — being away from that and in a place where I didn't have to take care of a lot of other people, I could just take care of myself. I feel I'm doing more of what I'm here to do, and I know it was the right thing.

"My family thinks I'm crazy, but you just have to live with it, though it was a hard decision."

She is working full time now as a life coach, trying to help others move through trauma and heal their own hurts.

"I want to share a message of hope, that no matter what devastation comes in your life, it can help you live better in the future if you look" at it as a chance to become stronger and more confident.

Her appearance at Sunstone will be the first time she has seen or spoken with any of the victims of her husband's crimes. Gretchen Sheets McNees, now a detective with the Salt Lake City Police Department, lost her mother, Kathleen, to one of Hofmann's bombs and will also participate in a panel discussion reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the events that radically altered both their lives.

Olds has spoken publicly about the past only once before, answering questions during a forum on the murders, hosted locally by rare book dealer Ken Sanders a few years back. It was a healing experience that prompted her to accept the recent speaking invitation, she said.

She believes God's hand is in her life now more than ever and says she has found peace.

"I know the direction I'm going is right and the people I'm working with are who I need to be with," she said. "Nothing in life is random. All the events we experience can be turned into bitterness or into good.

"I'm choosing to take all those things I've learned and help others. I think that's one reason I went through it. This didn't just happen on accident."


E-mail: carrie@desnews.com