URGENT Third Bomb Explodes in Two Days, Critically Injures Man
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A bomb exploded in a car near the Mormon Temple on Wednesday, critically injuring a researcher who helped acquire a controversial church document linked to two people killed in similar bombings the day before.
The man, Mark W. Hofmann, was found to have ″incriminating″ evidence in his car linking him to the previous bombings, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Bud Willoughby.
Hofmann, who is a researcher of Mormon historical documents, was taken to LDS Hospital in critical condition, where he underwent surgery.
Detectives had been looking for Hofmann, 31, on Wednesday and had obtained search warrants for his home, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward. A man matching Hofmann’s description was seen carrying a package for the victim of Tuesday’s first bombing, Hayward said.
The case was ″all starting to come into place,″ the sheriff said, adding that Hofmann had asked to talk to a detective at the hospital.
″A witness saw Hofmann carrying either a box or a briefcase when he opened the car,″ Willoughby said at a news conference. Hofmann started into his car parked north of the Salt Lake Temple ″and he was blown away from the car,″ he said.
″We have some items we feel are incriminating and they will be tested at the lab,″ Willoughby said after police armed with a search warrant scoured his car. He said a decision on whether to charge Hofmann would be made Thursday.
Asked if what they found could be used to make explosives, the police chief replied, ″Yes.″
Friends of Hofmann said he had received threats on his life last week and had an appointment Tuesday with Steven F. Christensen, 31, a stockbroker and Mormon documents researcher who was killed that morning by a bomb left in front of his office in a downtown building.
Just before Wednesday’s blast, Hofmann was seen entering McCune Mansion, a building housing the office of an attorney for Christensen, Willoughby said.
Kathy Sheets, 50, was killed at her home later Tuesday by a bomb apparently intended for her husband J. Gary Sheets, a Mormon bishop who was involved with Christensen in efforts to determine the authenticity of the ″Salamander Letter.″
The document, which runs counter to official Mormon accounts of how the religion began, purportedly was written in 1830 by Martin Harris, an early church follower of its founder, Joseph Smith.
There was ″a personal relationship with Steve Christensen″ and Hofmann involving the Salamander Letter, Willoughby said.
″There’s no mad bomber on the loose in Salt Lake City that’s indiscriminatel y building bombs,″ Willoughby said.
″We know what’s behind this and who the players are,″ he added, refusing to elaborate.
Hofmann had gotten into his sports car just north of Temple Square when the bomb exploded, ripping the roof off the auto and hurling him into the street, said police Lt. Bill Gray.
At the scene, investigators found materials similar to those used in Tuesday’s bombings, Gray said.
Christensen also was a Mormon bishop, similar to a lay minister, and a church history buff who had purchased the Salamander Letter through efforts by Hofmann. Christensen donated the document to church leaders in 1984.
The Salamander Letter seems to contradict the church’s official account of how Smith obtained the gold plates from which he said he translated the Book of Mormon. The book is perhaps the most important volume of Mormon scripture.
Critics of the church long have contended that Smith dealt in folk magic and treasure hunting and was anything but the prophet Mormons believe he was.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains that Smith translated the gold plates by divine inspiration after receiving them in upstate New York from an angel named Moroni.
However, the ″Salamander Letter″ describes how Smith found the plates by using a ″seer stone,″ but initially was denied possession by an ″old spirit″ that transformed itself from a white salamander.
Historians differ as to the document’s authenticity.
Until Wednesday’s blast, police had been investigating whether the explosions on Tuesday were aimed at present and former officers of CFS Financial Corp., a faltering investment company with nearly 3,000 investors nationwide. Now, however, police are focusing their investigation on the blasts’ connection to the Salamander Letter.
Sheets, the founder and president of CFS, was under protective custody Wednesday, as were other company officers, and detectives interviewed past and present employees.
″Some have a lot of fear and I don’t blame them,″ said sheriff’s Lt. Bob Jack, who heads a 40-member task force pursuing the case. ″Our main concern is to make sure we have no more victims.″
On Sept. 26, CFS Financial mailed to its clients a letter saying it was $5.4 million in the red and could not pay its obligations unless creditors granted additional time. Sheets said his company’s troubles resulted from ″mistakes and very bad timing,″ not illegal activities.
An autopsy was performed Wednesday on the body of Mrs. Sheets. Investigators hoped to learn more about the type of explosive by extracting fragments from the body.
Jack said it was unknown whether the bombs contained dynamite or plastic explosive. But police believe both were triggered by even slight movement.
The composite police drawing, Jack said, was based on a witness’ description of a man he saw in an elevator at the Judge Building early Tuesday who was carrying a box with Christensen’s name on it. The sketch showed a blond man with a mustache, about 5-foot-8.
Hayward said the killer had been hired, but speculated the bombs may have been meant only to scare.
″This was definitely a professional-type hit against an individual target. It was a very sophisticated-type weapon,″ Hayward said.
Meanwhile, Richard Lindsay, managing director of the Mormon Church’s public communications office, said the church officials were ″deeply saddened by these tragic acts and deplore such violence.″
″It is our fervent hope and prayer that those responsible will be quickly apprehended and that justice will be served,″ he said in a statement. ″To this end we pledge our fullest cooperation with city, county and federal authorities in the investigation.″
Asked if the church had further comment on the apparent connection with the Salamander Letter, church spokesman Don LeFevre replied: ″Leave it to the police to develop motives. It would be inappropriate for us to get involved with that.″