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Review: Netflix's 'Murder Among the Mormons' is as engrossing as it is bizarre

Murder Among the Mormons S1 in episode 3.(Photo: Netflix)

Murder Among the Mormons
4 out of 5 Stars

Directors: Jared Hess, Tyler Measom
Genre: Documentary, True Crime

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Synopsis: An exploration of the events leading up to and following the fatal 1985 bombings in Salt Lake City.

Review: Once upon a time, we’ll call it 1985, a series of bombings on October 15 and 16 made international headlines. Now, it’s the subject of the Netflix series “Murder Among the Mormons.”

I was nine years old when the bombings took place. I watched an inordinate amount of news as a child and vividly remember the much ado. I was living in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake City, and while I didn’t exactly understand the ramifications, I knew that the adult world was unnerved by the bombings and the many questions that would follow in the coming months. Like the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that took place in 1986, the saga of Mark Hofmann is an integral part of my childhood.

However, watching “Murder Among the Mormons” was a radically different viewing experience from “Challenger: The Final Flight,” a Netflix documentary released last year. I knew most of the information about Challenger. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Hofmann and his desire to literally rewrite the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with what is commonly known as the Salamander letter and his overarching plan to produce other lost historical documents. This isn’t simply a story about bombs and forgeries. It’s also a story about a crisis of faith that reverberated through a religious community.

I was thrilled to learn that the series is directed by Jared Hess and Tyler Measom. Hess is best known as the director/co-writer of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Measom co-directed “Sons of Perdition,” a powerful documentary about a group of exiled Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints teens.

Having watched the series a couple of times now, I cannot understate the importance of having a pair of directors with connections to Salt Lake City who understand the cultural, religious ramifications of the documents that Hofmann was procuring. There are many rabbit holes that the series could have fallen down. The film sticks to what is relevant and factual. It’s an approach that “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” might have used. The problem there being that the disappearance of Elisa Lam isn’t as headline grabbing if you strip away the conspiracy theories. Mark Hofmann’s story is so that bizarre there’s no need to include the tinfoil hats.

They’ve also done a wonderful job of including local personalities to go along with those who were active participants in the narrative. The inclusion of television reporter Rod Decker and Ken Sanders, a longstanding figure in the local book community, shows that Hess and Measom have a sense of local history that isn’t necessarily known outside of Utah. Hofmann doesn’t talk. I don’t see that as a liability. He’s still omnipresent thanks to his confession tapes, home videos and interviews with those who thought they knew him best.

“Murder Among the Mormons” is a top-shelf documentary featuring a classic stranger-than-fiction story and a host of unforgettable characters. It's simply unmissable.