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Murder Among the Mormons- Review

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Murder Among the Mormons has created some stir on Netflix recently, growing in popularity over the last few weeks. The three-part series recounts the tragic murders of Steven Christensen and Kathy Sheetz by two parcelled-up pipe bombs in the mid 1980’s. 

The first time I was in a ‘Church of Latter-Day Saints’ was in the early 2000’s. I remember watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimurron with my prim next-door neighbors, and afterwards receiving a pamphlet about God. The community seemed peaceful, welcoming, conservative, and very kind, if not also slightly boring. The world presented in the documentary could not be more different, it really puts the high-stakes world of Mormon scholarship into a completely new perspective. A grand, life-altering conspiracy masterminded by ancient text collector and Mormon “Mark Hofman” sees skillful forgery and deception akin to that of Frank Abagnale — but with far deadlier results. 

The series follows the testimonies of an array of interviewees, from Hofmann’s wife, to church leaders, to professional scientists analyzing the falsified documents. The wide perspectives aided in the retelling, and illustrated the many complicated relationships Hofmann had before and during this case. Hofmann made a whole generation of Mormons question the very basis of their beliefs, with the writings he created altering the inaugural stories that fueled the faith. 

Arguably his most famous Mormon forgery, “The Salamander Letter” recounts the story of the prophet Joseph Smith and his 1823 discovery of the inscribed ‘Golden Plates’; These buried ‘Golden plates’ had the original Book of Mormon Text on them. It was previously believed that the angel ‘Moroni’ was sent by god to guide Smith to their location. The letter retells this story without Moroni, professing that rather, a little white salamander acted as the usher. 

The Mormon appeal to Christianity, with its focus on God and angels, would be completely lost with the reveal of this false document. Hofmann knew that his forgeries would be expensive, as their descriptions of magic and fantasy would turn even long-time parishioners away from the church. The Mormon Church is on record for actively hiding certain documents from its following, and Hofmann knew they would similarly pay anything to hide this smirch in documentation. As tensions increased, other documents arose, and millions of dollars were put on the line, the series of events took a violent turn.

Murder Among the Mormons is incredibly interesting, and skillfully provides background on not only the faith, but this extremely poignant example of greed and deception within organized religion. The unfair exploitation of this faith nearly made it illegitimate and destroyed it, and had Hofmann not been caught, the Church of Latter Day Saints would likely look exceptionally different today. 

With The Book of Mormon on broadway, and cartoons like South Park and Family Guy poking fun, the violence and death this faith has experienced in its recent history seems like something of an impossibility. Alas, the religious body known for its pacificity and congeniality fell victim to this unbelievable cruel and hostile organized crime. In a way, this truly piqued my interest, and I was surprised by how much information had been hidden or ignored by the public up until this point. 

Although the nearly three-hour-long series may have had redundant moments, and a few unnecessary personal anecdotes, it was enjoyable, surprising, and suspenseful the whole way through. Even those with little background knowledge on the Mormon church may be drawn to it for its honesty, respectfulness and insight. Like other recent Netflix murder documentaries, Murder Among the Mormons has been a success, and is an exciting and welcome new addition to the streaming service. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons