The ‘unbelievable’ story of forgiveness Netflix doesn’t tell in ‘Murder Among the Mormons’
Mark Hofmann’s ex-wife tells the true story of how a well-known Utah family of one of his victims stepped up to help her son
Fifteen years after Hofmann killed Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets with nail-riddled pipe bombs in Salt Lake City, Hofmann’s oldest son turned 19 and decided he wanted to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Coincidentally, Hofmann’s ex-wife, Dorie Olds, had struck up a friendship with Judge Kenneth Rigtrup, the man who sentenced Hofmann to prison.
“I was working and I had an office together with a group of women in a building in Millcreek, south of Salt Lake, and Judge Rigtrup had an office where he was doing mediation,” Olds told the Deseret News. “I got to know him, and I would come and say hi to him if he was there and talk with him for a few minutes, and he would tell me some things about what happened. He would share some stories and talk to me. He was very supportive and very friendly.”
When Olds’ and Hofmann’s son got his mission call to Germany in 2000, Olds naturally shared the news with Rigtrup.
“I knew he would be interested. I told him I knew that the family — the grandparents and other members — will be able to put together the monthly amount that we would need to pay every month to support a missionary, but I didn’t know yet how I was going to get together the money for all the things that he needed to get ready, like the clothes.
“He said, ‘Let me make a phone call to Mac Christensen.’”
Christensen was a legend in Utah as the owner of Mr. Mac, a chain of clothing stores that specialized in shirts and suits and pants for Latter-day Saint missionaries.
Mac also was the father of Steve Christensen, whose life ended suddenly when he picked up a package containing a pipe bomb made and planted by Hofmann outside of his Salt Lake City office. Hofmann’s goal was to throw investigators off the scent of his failing house of cards built on forged documents.
It worked, for a while, but the heinous crime robbed Mac Christensen of his oldest son. Steve Christensen was 31, a husband, a father of young children, a businessman and book collector and a Latter-day Saint bishop with immense potential.
Mac and the rest of the Christensen family were devastated.
Olds was stunned by Rigtrup’s offer to call Mac Christensen.
“I was like, ‘Really?’ I was just astounded,” she said. “Like, ‘He would do that?’ He said, ‘Yeah, let me call.’ So he did.”
Rigtrup told Mac there was an anonymous missionary with a struggling single mom who needed help being outfitted for a mission, according to Ed Bagley, who heard the story from Rigtrup before he died in 2019. It was repeated at Rigtrup’s funeral.
“Mac was eager to help,” Bagley said. “At the end of the call, Ken said, ‘Mac, I want you to know who you‘re helping.’ Then he told him: It was Doris Olds’ son.”
The judge who had sentenced Mark Hofmann to prison for murder now was asking the father of one of his victims to help the Hofmann’s son serve a mission preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After a long silence, Mac said, “I need to talk to my family about this,” Bagley said.
A couple of days later, Mac called Rigtrup and told him the Christensen family would be happy to provide her son’s clothes for his mission.
“I’ve made the arrangements,” Rigtrup reported to Olds. “Call the store.”
Olds can’t recall if she or her mother called the Mr. Mac outlet. In a 2019 book, one of Christensen’s sons reported taking a call from Olds’ mother and setting up the appointment.
“They were very kind,” Olds said of Mac’s son, Spencer Christensen, and the rest of the Mr. Mac staff when she took her mother and son to shop. “They were very polite and professional. I wasn’t really sure how to be. I mean how are you supposed to act around someone when your ex-husband killed their brother? I mean that’s really kind of interesting. I was just polite and I was very grateful. I had a very grateful heart. There wasn’t any awkwardness. They were just very kind to me.”
Olds said she showed the list of items her son needed to Spencer Christensen.
“Of course they are experts in putting together supplies for missionaries,” she said. “They started piling things on top of the counter and making sure we had everything. Then they bagged everything up and not one receipt, not one price tag. I had no idea how much it costs to send a missionary. Other mothers will say, ‘Well, it’s so much.’ I have no idea how much it costs. Not one cent. Nothing. They said, ‘Thank you.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’
“The only thing that they asked of me was that I wouldn’t tell anybody, I wouldn’t tell anybody that story.”
Olds didn’t talk about it. Until she felt compelled a couple of years later during a symposium on her ex-husband’s crimes hosted by bookseller Ken Sanders.
“He asked me to go,” she said. “I didn’t want to, and I was afraid. I was very shy then. I didn’t want to talk. I finally decided to go at the last minute. I went and answered some questions.”
That’s where talking about forgiveness became contagious.
“I think it was Al Rust that started talking about forgiveness,” Olds’ said of a friend of Hofmann’s whom he defrauded out of tens of thousands of dollars. “He said, ‘I thought of Mark as a son, and I loved him, and I still love him and I’ve just got to forgive him. I just have to let everything go.’”
Olds felt like she had to say something.
“I had to break my promise,” she said. “It was a promise, but I had to break it. I stood up and I said, ‘This is what happened. Here’s this person, he’s helping the son of the man who killed his son. That really was an amazing thing, I’ve just been so grateful for it.”
So were the Christensens. Years before Mac Christensen died in 2019, he also forgave Hofmann, using his lost son’s goodness as an example of how to live.
“I’ve forgiven him,” Mac told the Deseret News in 2011. “I wouldn’t ask them to let him out, but I’ve forgiven him. That’s what you have to do. You have to forgive and just help people.”
Mac’s son who outfitted the new missionary described the aftereffects in correspondence published in “The Divine Gift of Forgiveness,” a book by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
“That young man may have received free clothing, but the gift I received was priceless,” Spencer Christensen wrote. “I felt no anger or hatred towards his father; that burden was not mine to carry. This was about doing what the Savior would do.”
Netflix knew about the story, but it was among hours of information that had to be left on the cutting room floor. Jared Hess, the co-director of “Murder Among the Mormons,” who heard the story from Olds, briefly shared it on the KSL’s “The Movie Show” last week.
“Here the father of the victim steps in and quietly offers to help out the family of the guy that murdered his son,” Hess said. “It’s just unbelievable and testament to what an amazing man he was.”
Olds requested privacy for her son. She is now 62 and works as a consciousness coach in Millcreek, Utah. She helps people with stress relief and personal development.
Ironically, her career grew out of being used by her ex-husband and the months and years of anguish after Hofmann was badly wounded by one of his own bombs and as investigators afterward finally pieced together that he was not another victim of a string of bombings but was in fact the bomber himself. Then she had to manage the court hearings, Hofmann’s sentencing by Rigtrup, a divorce and single motherhood.
“People ask me, ‘Well, do you know how stress feels?’ Oh, yeah. I know stress,” she said with a laugh loaded with life experience.
“I remember my family coming over and other people coming over, during all that time,” she said. “They would come over and feel bad and want to help me. They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know what to say. You can’t take it away. What do you do? I remember them coming over and not knowing what to say, and I would be the one to make them feel better. I’d be the one to talk to them about it. They’d leave really happy, really relieved, really good. It was me doing the work for them. That pretty much right there is what I do in my life. I help people feel better. So that was a premonition. I didn’t know it then, but it was a premonition of my life’s work, is to help people feel better.”
Olds said she liked “Murder Among the Mormons.” The directors interviewed her for hours, in a morning session and an afternoon session, at the Masonic Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. She has been interviewed for documentaries many times over the years. The part of the story that never has been shared in any of them, she said, is the part about God’s help.
“I would tell those people who came to see me the truth, and I would talk about the Spirit and talk about God and talk about feeling supported. That part of the story really hasn’t ever been told.”
Now, she’s starting to tell it. She said KSL-TV plans to air an interview with her soon about God’s place in her story.
“I thought it was amazing all that made it in (the Netflix docuseries), the smoothness of the transition to each piece and how they put it all together,” Olds said. “It was amazing. The editing was a great. There’s a lot on the cutting floor. I know it’s kind of hard to do that. I’m very grateful to KSL that I can tell that part of the story that doesn’t really get told.”