Friday, January 23, 2009

Real Version of Hofmann Document Located

A fascinating report out of Utah, where a collector and dealer in rare documents believes he has discovered a long-lost notebook written by an early Mormon leader, William McLellin. This would be an important find under any circumstances, but because the fabled "McLellin Collection" was an important component of the forgery schemes of Mark Hofmann back in the early 1980s, the find carries even more weight. The rediscovered 226-page volume was written in 1871-72, and is believed to be the framework for a memoir McLellin planned to write about his experiences with the early Mormon church.

The discoverer, too, is of interest: Brent Ashworth, a Provo collector, was swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and many rare documents by Hofmann, and he says he's been looking for McLellin items ever since. He told television station KSL "The information, I should say, walked in the door, not the journal. And I was able to track that down and to get back to the source and pick it up." He purchased the journal last summer "from a family in the eastern United States." Linda Sillitoe, who co-authored a book about the Hofmann case, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders," told the Daily Herald that there's some "poetic justice" that Ashworth was the one to locate the real McLellin document after all these years. Ashworth himself calls it "kind of ironic."

LDS historians released a statement this week about the discovery: "In recent years, a number of historical documents have been found that have added to our understanding of Joseph Smith, the time in which he lived, and the challenges he faced. The Church has welcomed and encouraged this process. While the Church is not pursuing the acquisition of the McLellin manuscript, we are pleased the long-lost document has been found." The volume was known to exist (it was photographed in 1929) but until now its whereabouts were a mystery.

Ashworth told the press he is pursuing publication of the notebook, which, contrary to Hofmann's claims, contains no explosively anti-Mormon statements (McLellin was excommunicated in 1838 over differences with other church leaders). In fact, Ashworth asserts, what is most surprising about the document is McLellin's expressed faith in Smith's version of how the Book of Mormon was revealed to him. Other McLellin papers, including an earlier journal, were discovered in the LDS archives after the Hofmann case, and several volumes of them have been published in recent years.

Hofmann remains in prison, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Edited to add further reading about the Hofmann case:

Simon Worrall, The Poet and the Murderer
Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The Mormon Murders


Mary Claffey said...

You might also want to add Robert Lindsey's A Gathering of Saints, another good Hofmann story.

JBD said...

Oh, yes, I knew there was a fourth one! Thanks!

Rob said...

And for an insider's perspective see Richard Turley's Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann case