BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Simon Worrall, author of "The Poet and the Murderer," what's your book about?
SIMON WORRALL, AUTHOR, "THE POET AND THE MURDERER": It's about a forged Emily Dickinson poem that was bought by the Jones Library in Amherst. They believed it was a genuine poem. It was spotted by the curator of special collections at the Jones Library in April, 1997, in a Sotheby's catalog.
It was advertised as a genuine Emily Dickinson poem. It was a 15-line poem, and the first unpublished Emily Dickinson poem in 40 years, which was quite an event. Her manuscripts are very rare and very valuable, and there hadn't been a new poem on the market for some 40 years.
LAMB: So we're in Amherst at the moment.
WORRALL: Yeah, the story...
LAMB: The Jones Library.
WORRALL: That's right. The story starts in Amherst, which, of course, it should be noted is Emily Dickinson birthplace. So the discovery of this brand-new poem which was up for sale at Sotheby's, at the June, 1997, auction was a big event for Amherst, and above all, for the curator of special collections there.
It has -- the desire to buy it was motivated not just by wanting to add to the collection that they have of manuscripts, including Dickinson manuscripts. Robert Frost, of course, lived in Amherst. They have a number of those. It was also motivated by a desire to bring this poem home, if you like.
And Daniel Lombardo (ph), who was the curator, who organized a fund-raising drive to raise the money -- the Jones Library is not a very wealthy library compared with Harvard or Yale, some of the big privately endowed libraries. And it was a battle for this little town library -- it's actually the local library in Amherst. It's not the Amherst College library, it's actually the town's public library. But it has this special collections section where they have a pretty good collection of original manuscripts related to writers connected with Amherst.
So for him, it was an exciting moment. It was the chance to bring this wonderful new Emily Dickinson poem home to Amherst.
LAMB: On the back of your book, you have a picture of Emily Dickinson.
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: Why -- why is her poetry so valuable?
WORRALL: She's a great poet, and her reputation, I think it's fair to say, has risen progressively since her death in 1880. She was regarded for a long time as just being too difficult and eccentric in terms of the way that she wrote. It's a very modern, expressionist, sort of idiosyncratic way of writing, much more like e.e. cummings than 19th century poets. And for a long time, I think the public just had a lot of trouble with these short, very complex poems that she wrote.
Starting in, I guess, the 1920s and progressively through the '50s -- a big edition came out -- the '40s and '50s -- her reputation began to soar. And really, in the last 25 years, above all, her reputation has really soared, and she's now regarded -- I think it's Harold Bloom (ph), the literary critic, that has said that, in his opinion, she's one of the two great American -- greatest American poets. And I'll let you guess who the other one is.
WORRALL: Walt Whitman.
So she's overtaken, if you like, a lot of other candidates or potential candidates for being now regarded as one of the two great American poets.
LAMB: And you went to her home there in Amherst?
WORRALL: Yes, that's right. The Homestead, it's called, which has been preserved as a museum and renovated. They've now renovated the house next door, The Evergreens, where her brother and sister-in-law lived. It was an extraordinary world that she inhabited. She was a very reclusive person. She lived at home in The Homestead, which was a large -- one of the larger houses. It was a very well-to-do family, the Dickinson family, one of the best families in Amherst, old New England Yankee family.
Emily ended up staying at home really all of her life, except for a couple of short visits. And indeed, for the last some 25, 30 years of her life, she never left the grounds of the house. And she lived there and worked there, wrote her poetry in her bedroom upstairs.
And for anybody who hasn't been there, it's really well worth going. It's a bit like -- you know, I think all writers' houses are interesting, and there's certainly -- when you go up the stairs and you go into the bedroom, you can see the bed that she slept in all of those years and the table by the window, where she wrote these extraordinary poems, none of which, of course, were published.
I mean, she was a -- she left a great riddle and a great mystery to the world when she died. She was herself a great riddle and a great mystery in her life because she was so rarely seen. You know, she dressed in white frequently. She was rarely glimpsed. She almost never went into the town. She was a recluse. Howard Hughes is the wrong comparison, but she was as reclusive as Howard Hughes, certainly.
LAMB: How long did she live? And when did she die?
WORRALL: She was born in 1830 and died in 1883, I think it is. Sorry if I get the date wrong. But she -- she died in her late 40s of complications with her kidneys.
LAMB: And what impact did it have on her life and her poetry and her image that she never married?
WORRALL: Well, that's an interesting question. I've not thought about that. I think in her life, it had none at all because she wasn't known as a poet except to a very small collection of friends and supporters. She had a number of friends who were editors of literary journals or newspapers, and they knew of her work, but she didn't get it published. It was really just -- it was 10 years ahead of the times. Her poems were so modern in their sound and so unlike the kind of poetry that was being written during her lifetime that she didn't find an audience at that time. So she was really -- except for a small number of people, she was entirely unknown to the public.
That changed soon after her death. But her reputation -- it took quite a long time for it to really become established and for the facts about her life to become clear. And they never have, actually, because she left so little evidence of who she was, apart from these extraordinary poems that were found in a locked box. You know, this was a secret activity for her. The writing of poetry was her private confessional, if you like. It's where she wrote down all of the things that moved her and she cared about most.
LAMB: How many poems did she write?
WORRALL: She wrote -- I think the number is 1,789, something like that...
LAMB: One thousand, seven hundred...
WORRALL: Seven hundred and eighty-nine, yeah. I think 700 were found in this locked box, and then another 1,089 were found elsewhere. Some of them had been sent to friends in letters or just as gifts. She wrote poems, you know, for -- after somebody had died, she sent a consoling note and often a little poem. And none of them had titles. None of them had dates. And only 10 of them had been published in her lifetime, and those against her will.
So when she died, the world -- her family, initially, and then the world discovered this really -- it's one of the great literary riddles of the world, actually, is "When were these poems written, and to whom were they written?" because as I say in the book, if you look at a writer like William Wordsworth in England, because he was published and the poems appeared at specific dates and had titles and were written about in -- in reviews, you can establish a chronology of the writer's life. You know when William Wordsworth wrote lines written about Tintern Abbey. You know how old he was, what he -- what was going on in his life, why he wrote the poem. None of this is known about Emily Dickinson.
LAMB: On page 4 of your book -- "That God cannot be understood everyone agrees. We do not know his motives nor comprehend his deeds. Then why should I seek solace in what I cannot know? Better to play in winter sun than to fear the snow."
WORRALL: That is the forgery. That is a poem that was forged by Mark Hoffmann, an extraordinarily gifted forger, also a double murderer, and hence the title of the book, "The Poet and the Murderer." And that was the poem that was -- that appeared in the Sotheby's catalog in April, 1997. And it was seen by the curator of the Jones Library. It's a 15-line poem.
The date that the forger, Mark Hoffmann, ascribed to it is 1871, which is important because Emily Dickinson was, what, 41 at that time, and she was writing these kinds of poems. Her great years as an artist, her most prolific years and the years in which she wrote her greatest poetry for which she's remembered were the sort of late 1850s, early '60s, 1862, '64. This is a little bit after that. Her talent started to cool a little bit, her production started to lessen, as well, and she did less revision of her poems. And she wrote these kind of little homily pieces, which this is.
It's not -- when the experts looked at it, when Daniel Lombardo looked at it and then asked Ralph Franklin at Yale University to have a look at it, as Daniel Lombardo was thinking of buying the poem, he wanted an outside opinion, and he took it to somebody called Ralph Franklin, who was the head of the Beinecke Library in Yale, at Yale University. And Franklin is the world's acknowledged expert on Dickinson's manuscripts, her handwriting, the whole publication history -- the history of her "workshop," as it's called.
And Franklin looked at the poem, and both he and Lombardo felt it wasn't a great poem. You know, I think the best comment I heard was if this was Emily, it was Emily on a bad day. But she did write other poems around this time and later that were not -- you know, they were little homilies, her so-called "wisdom" pieces. And that led them to think, well, OK, the -- in terms of the content, it could be an Emily Dickinson poem.
LAMB: So far, we have Amherst, Massachusetts, the Jones Library -- is it a private library, or is it a local public library?
WORRALL: It's a public library funded partly -- well, partly by the town of Amherst and partly by donation for the special collection.
LAMB: We got Ralph Franklin, who is with the Beinecke Library, rare books and all that, at Yale.
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: Then how does both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas come into this?
WORRALL: Right. Well, perhaps I should go back to the beginning of the story, how I got to find out about it. I read a little article in "The New York Times" that said this poem had been found and it was the first unpublished Emily Dickinson for 40 years. It was going on sale. And it was a half a page article. It talked about Dickinson, her reputation, some of those things we've been talking about. But I didn't really think twice about it. I happened to read it. Six months later, I read a very small piece in "The New York Times" that said the unpublished Emily Dickinson poem recently purchased by the Jones Library in Amherst for $21,000 has been returned to Sotheby's as a forgery.
LAMB: So go back to that for a second. "The New York Times" had bought off on the idea that this was a real poem.
WORRALL: Everybody had.
LAMB: So they did a big article. And Sotheby's was involved selling it, a New York-based sale that they were going to have.
LAMB: And so up till that point, everybody thought this was the real thing, and you friend, Dan Lombardo, who...
LAMB: ... runs the Jones Library, was going to buy this thing.
WORRALL: Absolutely. And the -- probably the -- the main reason that he was satisfied -- he did, you know, his own so-called "due diligence." He looked at the poem. He looked at other poems the Jones Library had -- genuine Emily Dickinson poems. One I think we've got on the table called "A Little Madness in Spring," which comes from the same date.
LAMB: This is actually a photocopy of...
WORRALL: A genuine...
LAMB: ... an Emily Dickinson writing and poem.
WORRALL: Famous poem of hers that the Jones Library owned from much the same date. And the first thing that Dan Lombardo did was to compare the letter forms, the writing, the handwriting of the poem "That God cannot be understood" with this poem. And Ralph Franklin did so also. And I think it's safe to say that Lombardo decided to buy the poem because Ralph Franklin, the great expert -- if anybody in America, if anybody in the world would know what is a genuine Emily Dickinson poem, based above all on the handwriting -- the content was good enough. Wasn't great, but it could be Emily Dickinson. Above all, it was the -- it was the handwriting. And Franklin at Yale University took the poem that turned out to be a forgery, and he has charts of letter forms. Emily Dickinson's handwriting -- this is one of the interesting kind of puzzles in the whole story -- changed enormously during her lifetime. Indeed, if you compare manuscripts from when she was in her 20s to manuscripts at the end of her life, you would barely believe that the same person had written these poems. And very cleverly, the forger -- in a sense, it shows the greatness of the forgery. He'd chosen a time, 1871, where her handwriting was particularly complicated. Ralph Franklin has described it as her handwriting was "coming apart." She was writing -- she had trouble with her eyesight at that time, and she had hypertension. And that may have affected how she wrote. And you'll find different letter forms that she used, for instance, a letter "E," small "E," which she used before 1871, and then afterwards -- she used a different form after 1871. There's one small "E" looks like a normal "E," and then there's another "E" that looks like a "3" turned backwards. It doesn't look like what you and I would call a small "E" at all. Both of these letter "E's" occurred in this poem.
So when Franklin went to look at his charts with all of the letters, he was finding, "Well, golly," you know, "here's this letter 'E,' here's that form." There were two forms of the letter "D." Everything checked out. Everything. The letter "T" was right, the way she wrote her "H" was right. Not just generally right, but minutely and specifically right for 1871. So when he looked at this, he thought, "God damn it," you know, "this has to be genuine" -- Franklin I'm imagining talking now. "This has to be genuine" because, as he felt, nobody in the world could possibly know these details about her handwriting except him, actually.
LAMB: The book, "The Poet and the Murderer," the poet is Emily Dickinson, the murderer is Mark Hoffmann. Where is he today?
WORRALL: He's in a medium-security prison in Draper, Utah.
Mark Hoffmann was a Mormon, brought up in Salt Lake City, very bright, very gifted young man. As a teenager, was interested in chemistry and history, science. He went to Logan State University, studied biology, was very interested in science, chess, very rational mind, inquiring mind. But he was brought up in a very strict Mormon environment, and he became disgruntled with the Mormon church. He had a lot of questions about what he regarded were problem areas of Mormon doctrine and theology. To put it bluntly, he simply didn't believe many of the founding legends of the Mormon religion.
And he was also very troubled by a family secret that there was. His grandmother had been married in a polygamous marriage after the time that polygamy had been banned. And it was a sort of a family taboo to talk about it, and he became obsessed by this -- his own story, the story of his own family. He wanted to find out what was the truth about his grandmother's marriage. And nobody wanted to talk about it. His family refused to talk about it. The community at large refused to discuss it because, of course, polygamy has been a very problematic institution legacy for the Mormon church.
And I think that this inquiring young mind that had a lot of questions, like all teenagers -- you know, I have a teenage son, and full of questions. And the most important thing with teenagers, I think, is to keep a dialogue open, and there wasn't one. Really, he was told, you know, "Shut up and believe," to paraphrase it slightly crudely. And I think that generated a great deal of resentment in him, and he became a twisted person inside. I think he also became a person who was forced to become one thing on the outside while he was actually another thing on the inside.
And he began to forge Mormon documents, which at first -- he was a brilliant con man and a master of human psychology, one of the great criminal minds, actually, I think, of the 20th century. He knew what people wanted. It was as though he could look inside your heart and tell what it was that you cared about most, certainly in terms of manuscript collecting. He knew what people wanted, and he created documents that would answer that -- that need.
LAMB: You say in the book, or you quote somebody in the book as saying that he forged 1,000 documents.
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: And sold them.
WORRALL: That's right. He -- as far as we know, because the full tally isn't -- isn't in, but as far as we know, it's about 1,000 documents.
LAMB: How old is he today?
WORRALL: He is in his late 40s.
LAMB: And he's in prison.
WORRALL: Yeah. He was sentenced to prison in 1986 for murder. He eventually -- his career as a forger -- he -- he created these 1,000 documents. Initially, they were, above all, Mormon documents. And what he did was diabolically cunning. He initially created documents that appeared to authenticate some of the central tenets of the Mormon religion.
Mormonism, as you probably know, has had a bit of a problem because it has not had historical proof of some of its founding legends and myths, which is unusual for such a young religion. I mean, it's normal that things from the Christian -- early Christian era have disappeared, but Mormonism dates back to the 19th century, but we don't really have any had facts and documents to prove its founding legends. And there was always a worry within the Mormon hierarchy that this was the case. And there was a great hunger for what they called "faith-promoting documents," documentation that could prove that what was said in the Book of Mormon was true.
And Hoffmann knew the culture, grew up in it. He began to create documents that appeared to support central parts of the Mormon legend. To give you an example, he -- he forged what would have been the first Mormon artifact, a letter from the prophet Joseph Smith's mother. He forged the last, which was a letter from Joseph Smith written in prison. These are -- for the Mormon church, these are huge, huge documents, you know. And he forged something called the "Anton (ph) transcript."
It's too complicated to get into, but for the Mormon church, these were extraordinary. It would be a bit like finding a new letter by Saint Paul -- and I don't exaggerate here -- you know, for the Christian religion.
And he sold these to the Mormon church and thereby won their confidence. He was also himself a well-respected dealer of historical documents in Salt Lake City, genuine historical documents, which he used then as a front. And he enmeshed the Mormon church and its hierarchy -- and it's worth noting here that the president of the Mormon church, Gordon B. Hinckley, who was involved with many of these transactions, has a figure in the Mormon religion a bit like the pope in Roman Catholicism. Hoffmann was eventually dealing on one-on-one terms with Gordon Hinckley, who thought, of course, that he was buying genuine documents.
LAMB: You say that the Mormon church has 12 million people in it worldwide?
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: Go back to, again, the date thing. He's been in prison, you say, since 1986.
LAMB: The Amherst library purchase was 1997.
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: Now, where were you when you first read that "New York Times" story?
WORRALL: I was at home on Long Island, having breakfast, and read the story about this Emily Dickinson poem turned up. Of course, nothing was known about Mark Hoffmann. There was no connection. And as I said, I didn't really note it. And then I read a second article that said it was a forgery. And I remember putting down the paper and turning to my wife and saying, "Who would do such a thing? Who could do such a thing?" Then I remembered the first article...
LAMB: What were you doing for a living?
WORRALL: I'm a full-time journalist. I'm a magazine writer. And of course, you always -- you know, as a magazine writer, you have your antennae up for a great story. And I just was intrigued by this and thought "Who could manage that? Who would?" You know, he'd fooled Sotheby's. He'd fooled the Jones Library. He fooled everybody, whoever this was, if it was a forger, which it was.
And I called up Dan Lombardo, the curator of the Jones Library, who had bought the poem and then done his own -- as suspicions arose, Dan -- one of the stories I tell in the book -- it's the story of a small-town librarian who thinks he's doing the best thing for his, you know, little home library and finds he's enmeshed in this extraordinary story of money, forgery, auction houses, a rare documents dealer in Las Vegas, gun dealers in Salt Lake City. And the trail eventually leads back to Mark Hoffmann, to a prison cell in Utah.
And when I heard the outlines of the story from Daniel Lombardo, the first 45 minutes over the phone, then I had that, you know, classic -- the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I just couldn't believe that behind this Emily Dickinson poem -- and there was an irony to me immediately, of course. Here's this most reclusive of people, who didn't publish in her lifetime, who called publication -- publication is "the auction of the mind of man" -- of all people, she became the object of this extraordinary, convoluted literary scam.
And I was just fascinated by all of the multiple levels of it. And I tried in the book to tell, you know, all of these different stories -- the story of Emily Dickinson, the story of Mark Hoffman, Daniel Lombardo's story -- and to mesh them together, if you like.
LAMB: And the Mormon church.
WORRALL: And the Mormon church because you couldn't tell Mark Hoffman's story without looking at the culture that he grew up in, which shaped him in a -- in a deformed kind of way.
LAMB: Now, you're from where originally?
WORRALL: I'm British, yeah.
LAMB: What part of...
WORRALL: Born and bred.
LAMB: ... Britain?
WORRALL: Well, I was an Army brat, so I grew up -- at age 6 months, I was shipped off on a plane to East Africa, and then Paris and then Singapore, came back to England when I was 9.
LAMB: And when was the first time you came to the United States?
WORRALL: Well, I came first in '73, just traveling as a young -- I'd just graduated from college, but I'd always had a sort of relationship, always been interested in America and the American myth and American literature. And I studied literature at college. And I lived in Germany for a number of years in the '80s. And then I met my now wife in the early '90s and moved over here and, you know, became a correspondent, magazine writer, writing on American stories for Europe publications mostly.
LAMB: Are you still a British citizen?
WORRALL: Yes, I am.
LAMB: And you live here full-time since...
WORRALL: Well, I've lived here full-time since '91, yes.
LAMB: Since 1991?
LAMB: So this is five years ago, when you got into all this.
LAMB: Have you met Mark Hoffman?
WORRALL: No, despite repeated attempts. He's about as reclusive and secretive as Emily Dickinson. And he -- we tried -- the book originated as a magazine story that was commissioned by "Harper's" magazine in New York and...
LAMB: What year?
WORRALL: This is 1998, that kind of time, 1999 I wrote the first story. And it had a tangled publication history. "Harper's" couldn't bring it down to a length that we thought worked. It was then bought by "The New Yorker." "The New Yorker" walked away from it, eventually. And I won't get into too much detail on that, but they were worried that Sotheby's were going to sue them, which I don't think they would have.
It was eventually picked up -- the article -- God bless him, by George Plimpton at the "Paris Review," who -- we had to do a lot of legal -- very thorough legal vetting. And you know, I remember having to write -- answer 290 questions from Plimpton's lawyer because there was a lot of legal issues at stake. The book doesn't quite prove that Sotheby's knew this, that they were selling a forgery by a double murderer, but it certainly asks a lot of questions about what they did know. And I leave it to the audience, the reader, to decide what it is -- you know, what they did or didn't know.
LAMB: And since the book, Sotheby's has had its own problems since then?
WORRALL: Sotheby's has had its own very great problems. Of course, the former chairman of Sotheby's Alfred A. Taubman is currently in the same situation as Mark Hofmann. That is he's in a federal penitentiary for the price fixing, what became known as the price fixing scandal, commissions fixing.
And I think in a sense that says a lot about the kind of culture. I can't speak about nor would I want to comment on how it is now, but I think it's safe to say that now what we know about what the chairman of Sotheby's was doing that was illegal for which he's in jail, I think it's fair to say that as most companies reflect habits and behavior of their CEOs, whether it's Enron or Sotheby's, I think it's fair to say that the culture of Sotheby's at that time was not quite as, how should we say it, as honest as it could have been.
LAMB: Did you ever ask the New York Times why they believe this was a real poem?
WORRALL: No, I didn't actually. I didn't. I think they had no reason to wonder why it wasn't.
LAMB: Would they have taken that from Sotheby's?
WORRALL: They would have taken it from Sotheby's. Here it was in the Sotheby's catalog. There seemed to be, you know, sufficient reason. It looked like an Emily Dickinson poem, and I suppose they were generally satisfied that Sotheby's had done its due diligence and their experts had decided it was authentic and ipso facto it was.
LAMB: Who owns Sotheby's?
WORRALL: Sotheby's is owned - well I think it's about to be sold actually, isn't it, because Alfred A. Taubman was both the chairman and the owner of Sotheby's?
LAMB: Originally a British company?
WORRALL: Originally a British company, absolutely, founded in the late 18th Century, and it's very interesting and one of the stories I tell in brief, a sort of snapshot history of Sotheby's, is one of the interesting things is, you know, in the early days of Sotheby's Foundation in London in the 18th Century, which was a fairly raffish century, probably our most you know raffish, Sotheby, the auction houses were regarded in a very poor light.
They were regarded as, you know, basically secondhand salesmen of people's old furniture and paintings and honesty was not something they were associated, and they certainly weren't associated with glamour. They were sort of yard sales, glorified yard sales.
And, of course, our age obsessed as it is with celebrity has sort of transformed, and the auctions houses have been very clever in transforming themselves into, you know, icons of high life really. You know to go to a Sotheby's sale or a Christie's sale now, whether you buy a Vermeer or a Van Gogh or not is regarded much the same as, you know, having a seat at the best restaurant in New York or, you know, going to watch polo in Bridgehampton.
LAMB: So did anybody ever publish this in magazine form?
WORRALL: Yes, it came out in the Paris review.
LAMB: Got to the Paris Review. You finally got to that point?
WORRALL: Yes, thanks to George Plimpton who loved the story and actually called it Emily Dickinson goes to Las Vegas, which I thought was great, because one of the connections, one of the back stories, was the document, the poem had passed through the hands of a historical documents dealer in Las Vegas, of all places, not a place that's really known for historical documents or its culture but more for gambling obviously.
It had passed through the hands of a historical documents dealer there called Todd Axelrod (ph) and it was discovered by Daniel Lombardo and later by myself that it had been in Axelrod's possession for a number of years. He exhibited it in his showrooms for sale for $40,000. Then the trail sort of went cold and years later it popped up at Sotheby's.
And, incidentally, one of the great - the initial article was a sort of piece of detective work. It was connecting all of the dots. We had a sort of skeleton structure of how this poem had got from Mark Hofmann's hands, a double murderer currently in jail in Utah via Las Vegas to Sotheby's in New York and to the Jones Library in Amherst.
And one of the reasons the story fascinated me was this extraordinary journey across America that this document had taken and passed through these different hands. In the initial article, the main thrust of it was to join the dots together. How did it get from Hofmann to Las Vegas, from Las Vegas to Sotheby's? What did Sotheby's know? What did the dealer in Las Vegas know? Who was telling the truth? Was anyone?
LAMB: Is there more information in this book than there was in the article?
WORRALL: Much more.
LAMB: About what basically? What kind of things are new in the book?
WORRALL: Well, obviously when I got an advance from Penguin Putnam Dutton who published the book and had a year to write the book, and one of the first questions you're asked is, you know, what's in this that could make a book? Why do we want to know more about this?
And really what has become expanded greatly is the role both of Emily Dickinson, her life story, which is a parallel story of in a way almost secret identity in the way that Mark Hofmann's is. There's much more about the Mormon Church.
There's much more about the history of literary forgery, which I became fascinated in, and I tried to tell a lot of different stories, but to keep the story moving forward fast. There's a chapter I do on handwriting.
I became fascinated in the neuro psychology of handwriting, the complexity, and every time we pick up a pen and a piece of paper it's an extraordinary, complex process that's involving 50 muscles in our shoulder, arm, and hands and neurological reactions. And so I wanted to tell lots, as many different stories as I could in the book.
LAMB: As I read the book, I kept saying OK, who did he murder? Who did he murder? Who did he murder? And, you don't tell us for a long, long, time.
WORRALL: That's right.
LAMB: Did you do that on purpose?
WORRALL: Yes, of course. Yes, of course.
LAMB: Do you want to tell our audience who he murdered?
WORRALL: No. I think I'll leave it for them to go and buy the book.
LAMB: How much did you decide before you sat down to do interviews that you would not tell an audience like this in other words?
WORRALL: Oh, like this?
WORRALL: Not much, actually, but that, I did give that away several times, and it's just - it's better that the reader discovers that.
LAMB: It does take a long time and you did that on purpose?
WORRALL: Yes, absolutely. I mean every writer does that, whether, you know, whether it's a non-fiction book or a novel, of course you know you delay the climax of the book, if you like, and not that that is the sole climax.
And to go back to that thing about what changed in the book, the real breakthrough with the writing of the book and where it took on a new dimension and became much more, as I hope it is, than a long magazine article, and I don't think it is, it's a book, was when I started to see these uncanny parallels between the two main characters, the poet and the murderer.
And at this point I need to say, of course, I'm in no sense equating Mark Hofmann, a forger and a murderer with Emily Dickinson, but they do have one thing in common and I think it's why, one of the reasons I was fascinated by both of them.
And I think people will be interested when they read the book because we're all fascinated by genius, whether it's Michael Jordan, you know shooting three pointers or a great ballet dancer, or a great painter or great writer. We're all fascinated by those people that seem to have some extra superhuman talent.
Emily Dickinson certainly did, very, very great, wonderful, wonderful poet who I - one of the pleasures of writing the book was finding out a lot about her. Mark Hofmann was also a genius. He's in my opinion the greatest literary forger that there's ever been and there's a long history of literary forgery ever since man first picked up actually a papyrus reed and scratched on a...
LAMB: Let me go back to that, though. You're saying he's the greatest forger in history?
LAMB: How do you make that determination?
WORRALL: Well, I think the variety of the - not the volume. He did 1,000 documents which is a lot but there was a great French literary forger in the 19th Century who did many more than that, I think, something like 30,000, extraordinary number.
So it's not the volume, it's the quality and the variety and you know just to sort of backtrack a bit for the viewers, you know, I think we're all more familiar, as I was when I came to the story, with art forgery. There's been some very famous art forgery, Van Meegeren who did the Vermeers and many others. Books have been written.
But literary forgers have not been so extensively covered, and it's a fascinating sort of - I came to think of it as a sort of parallel world of literary creativity because these are very gifted people who invent poems or documents. They can simulate the handwriting. They alter the paper.
Hofmann was a great technician. So it's not the quantity, it's the quality and the technical skill. Most literary forgers, they specialize, you know, as most art forgers do. They do Vermeer or they do Monet. Literary forgers tend to specialize as well.
They'll do, if it's an American forger, there was a very great one in the 19th Century called Joseph Cozie (ph) a little Irish-American, lived in New York, did great, great forgeries, fooled everybody, everybody. He did what would have been the original manuscript of Poe's "The Raven" or a working copy of it, got everything right, Edgar Allan Poe's handwriting, the paper, everything.
But most forgers have tended to specialize. They choose one thing. They do Lincoln or they do Daniel Boone or they do Edgar Allan Poe because they get good at that one thing and then they stick with that. Hofmann as far as we know did 130 different handwritings, and not just clip signatures but sustained documents.
LAMB: Lincoln, George Washington?
WORRALL: Everybody. I mean he forged all of the great figures of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Lucy Smith, the prophet's mother, and the list goes on and on. They found a list in his prison cell in 1989 in Utah where he listed the Mormon forgeries and his non-Mormon forgeries, and on the list of non-Mormon forgeries he did there is every iconic American figure, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martha Washington, Miles Standish, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, and fourth down on that list that was found was the name Emily Dickinson.
LAMB: Who is the person that caught him?
WORRALL: Well he was, and again I don't want to give too much away, he murdered two people. He was about to be exposed or he believed he was about to be exposed as a forger and as a fraudulent. He was a con man as well. He ran what are called ponzi schemes, using historical documents.
He would take money for documents he hadn't produced. He would take money to buy documents that were going to be worth a huge amount of money and then he wouldn't deliver the documents and then, you know, he would run these schemes.
And like all criminals, you know, he started to get too clever and he thought he could never be caught and he started to get greedy. And one of the curious things about Hofmann was that his Achilles heel, if you like, and every criminal has some fatal flaw, his was that he was a passionate collector of children's, historical children's books, above all British children's books.
When he went to prison, he had America's finest collection of historic children's books, above all he had a First Edition of "The Lord of the Rings," signed by Tolkien. He had the First Edition of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," extraordinary. He had Enid Blighton books. He had Beatrix Potter books signed by the author.
Of all the strange things, and this was his obsession, actually he was collecting them to leave to his children, and he was spending, actually the roots of his downfall was that he was himself buying at auction and at Sotheby's among others large numbers of genuine First Editions. This was his passion.
He was a bibliomane as they're called, somebody who is maniacally obsessed with old books. He loved them, had a genuine love of them, and above all children's books, and he amassed this extraordinary collection and he was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction buying these things.
And, of course, his forgeries, he couldn't produce them fast enough to pay for all of the books he was buying, the genuine documents, and he started to cut the corners. He was about to be exposed and he savagely murdered two people with pipe bombs, and he was then arrested on suspicion of those.
But to prove he was a murderer, they had to first prove that he was a forger, that there was a motive for the murders, and the motive was the forgery, and they could not at first find any sign of forgery in the documents.
They had been, incidentally, one of his great forgeries, the Oath of Freeman, which would have been, if it were genuine, the first piece of printed Americana, the first document printed on the North American Continent in 1638. Hofmann forged it. It was nearly bought by the Library of Congress here in Washington for one million dollars.
After they had bombarded it, you know, with all of the expertise they had, that document passed a Carbon 14 dating test at the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory in Davis, California. It was that good.
LAMB: By the way, has anybody come after you legally?
WORRALL: Not yet, no.
LAMB: Not yet?
WORRALL: No, hopefully not.
LAMB: Expect them?
WORRALL: I don't think so. I don't think so. Sotheby's doesn't sue people because - I hope I'm not proved wrong. It just doesn't want to go to court and make things worse.
LAMB: The Mormon Church, are they happy with your book?
WORRALL: I don't know. It's been reviewed in the Mormon newspaper, The Deseret News. I thought it would get savaged and it was a reasonably polite and friendly review. They did say that I did a hatchet job on Salt Lake City and painted an outdated picture of the Mormon Church but you know. Of course the thing about that, and I'd like to say that is, I had to look at the culture of the Mormon Church from the inside, from the eyes so to speak, through they eyes of Mark Hofmann.
LAMB: Did you talk to Gordon Hinckley, by the way, the president of the church?
WORRALL: No, I didn't.
LAMB: Did anybody at the Mormon Church talk to you?
LAMB: Did you try to talk to them?
WORRALL: No, I didn't actually. I relied on my main source for the Mormon, for the LDS account of this whole episode, very painful episode in their modern history, was a very, very good book that was written in the '80s by Richard Turley called "Victims," which was a book commissioned by the LDS Church and it had chapter and verse of all of his Mormon forgeries, and I relied - that was in a sense that was their official statement.
That was their official summing up of this whole painful event, and to be honest I assumed that Gordon B. Hinckley would not interview with me, and if he did, he probably would not say anything that was different from that book.
LAMB: So the audience knows what's going on here again, going back over it, he would take forged documents to the church and say: "Do you want this, $40,000," and if they didn't buy it, that would go somewhere else and then the public would see, it would undermine the church. It basically would in many cases prove that a lot of their basic tenets of their religion aren't accurate?
WORRALL: Well it was more cynical and devious than that and more Machiavellian. He first, as you said, he won the confidence of the church, producing documents that appeared to authenticate the religion. Having won the confidence of the church, his real goal and his unique and long history of literary forgery, he intended to use literary forgery, forged documents, to bring down the Mormon Church, to discredit the Mormon Church.
And having won their trust, he began to produce documents that called into question the founding myths and legends of Mormonism. It would be as though a disgruntled Catholic were to forge letters by St. Paul that proved that St. Paul was a homosexual let's say. They were that damaging to the church.
LAMB: Then once he would sell them the documents and they bought them?
WORRALL: They would be hidden away.
LAMB: Hidden away, but he'd leak it that they were there?
WORRALL: That was the ultimate. He was a spin doctor long before - one of things that interests me about Mark Hofmann was the way that he prefigured a lot of things that have become part of our world subsequently, spin doctoring, you know, image and reality.
We live in an age of sort of shimmering surfaces, and I think he understood we were moving into that age, and he understood that ultimately, you know, there is no difference, or if you're clever enough and devious enough, there is no difference between something genuine and something forged if it's that good, and indeed between who you are on the outside, who you appear to be, and who you are on the inside.
And he understood something very deep about human nature, and he used that and manipulated that, and as you said, specifically to go back to your question, having created documents that were shattering for the Mormon Church if they became public and they were taken, they were bought and then hidden away so that people could not see these documents.
Mark Hofmann sort of, you know, stuck the knife in even further by and leaking stories to the newspapers, to the press, about the document that he had just sold. So the press then became, it became a news story about supposedly this extraordinary document, the Salamander Letter, the most famous of his Mormon forgeries.
That became a news story in itself that this document had been found and then, of course, that put the Mormon Church in an extraordinarily embarrassing position because they had to then admit yes, they had bought this documents and yes, they had so to speak kept it away from the public.
So they were then, if you like - Hofmann wanted to show, prove that they manipulated history that they manipulated reality and history, and he used forgery, which is itself a manipulation of history to do that.
LAMB: One of the things you point out is that he went through the Mormon ritual and was a missionary over in England for a while?
WORRALL: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: But also went through something called the endowment ceremony?
LAMB: Where did you get the information on what the endowment ceremony is?
WORRALL: These are very secret, as you know probably, Mormon rituals. One of the things that Mormons are sworn to is to not reveal any of the temple rituals, which are pretty strange to say the least, and I think anybody reading the book and reading my account of the endowment ceremony will be very surprised, you know.
People are sort of naked and in white sheets and they have oil anointed on them, and it all sounds like something out of Ancient Rome or something, not modern America. You know they're immersed in water and all of this.
I got that information actually from somebody in Salt Lake City. I think I'll choose not to name the name but somebody who's an ex-Mormon and who has now devoted their time and energy to telling what they regard as the truth about Mormonism, that you know, they're a dissident Mormon and they make those things public because they believe that both Mormons and non-Mormons have a right to know the truth about this religion.
LAMB: Has there ever been a book written that explains all the handshake and the endowment ceremony and all that?
WORRALL: Not so far as I know in that, you know.
LAMB: So is this going to be one of the first times that people can read about this?
WORRALL: That's right. I believe so. I believe so. It's highly sensitive information.
LAMB: Before we run out of time, I just want a couple quick things. Dan Lombardo who was the fellow that bought the original Emily Dickinson poem, forged poem, for $21,000, where is he now?
WORRALL: Well, that was one of the things I loved about the story. As I said earlier, for me it was a story partly of a small town librarian, buys this wonderful documents, thinks he's doing a great thing for his hometown. Suddenly, he's enmeshed in this world of deception and illusion and money and forgery and gun dealers and a double murderer.
And Dan was a - we became very close through the course of writing this book. He was of great help to me, and all power to him. Some people perhaps when he began to be suspicious of the poem might have, you know, kept the truth about it hidden, but he relentlessly went on a mission to find out what was the truth and eventually established enough evidence, collected enough evidence to confront Sotheby's. They refunded the money.
But the experience, his journey is very interesting because the experience for him buying this forgery and finding that what he thought was going to be the pinnacle of his career and the best thing he ever did for his local community, turned out to be this awful event.
And really he thought, you know, his life was finished in Amherst and his career as a curator would be finished and he was deeply, deeply disillusioned by the whole series of events. I mean it shattered all of his illusions about the auction houses, about the manuscript trade, and he threw off his job and gave up the job and left and at one time was in pretty bad shape, you know, he really felt that his life had melted down.
But as it turned out, this came to be an opportunity and he started a new life as a writer. He's practicing Zen Buddhism. He's living on Cape Cod and is a very, very happy man. So, you know, in a sense, I also wanted the book to be a sort of morality tale, not just another true crime story about, you know, an interesting bad man, but a sort of morality tale. And the book ends with everybody, I think, getting their just rewards. Emily Dickinson wins eternal fame. Daniel Lombardo has a new life and the forger is where he belongs.
LAMB: Who is Doralee Olds?
WORRALL: Doralee Olds was Mark Hofmann's wife.
LAMB: Did you talk to her?
WORRALL: Olds - yes, I did on two occasions.
LAMB: Here's a picture of her where, back in 1988?
WORRALL: At the hearings, yes.
LAMB: And when did she divorce him?
WORRALL: In 1989, after he had been sentenced and he was in jail. Doralee Olds, Olds is the maiden name and she reverted to her maiden name once she became divorced. Yes, I talked to her twice at length, very fascinating woman and woman I felt very sympathetic towards.
There have been questions. People have raised questions about what she knew or didn't know. I mean Mark Hofmann did his forgeries in the family house down in the basement, and people have said well how could this woman not know, you know, what was going on down in the basement that he was creating these forgeries?
But I choose to give Doralee the benefit of the doubt and there's a reason for the specific to the culture that they both lived in, which is that Mormon wives are not expected to ask their husbands questions about what they're doing. They're not expected actually to ask their husbands questions about much at all, let alone you know what are you doing down in the basement honey?
So she was a sort of a true faithful Mormon wife who didn't ask any of those questions, and I like to believe, and you could say I've chosen to believe because she has suffered enough and had a very, very hard time obviously, I choose to believe that she didn't know.
LAMB: How much of all this story was reported in The Deseret News, the Mormon newspaper?
WORRALL: Oh, the original story?
WORRALL: Oh, a huge amount, a huge amount. I mean it was reported in "TIME" Magazine. The Hofmann case of the Mormon forgeries in the '80s was a pretty big news story. It was on television when the murders took place. It was in "TIME" Magazine. It was a big event because it was as something that involved the Mormon Church.
When it came to the book, you know that's only part of the story. I tried to concentrate on this one forgery, this Emily Dickinson forgery, and as I said the book took on a greater depth when I discovered the strange, uncanny parallels between these two people. They both wore one thing on the outside.
Emily Dickinson was the well to do daughter of a leading family. She was another thing on the inside. They were both graced with very, very, -- you know, they were both geniuses at what they did, her writing poetry, him forging these documents, and what interested me in writing the book, if you like to bring these two characters together, a bit like electric was and see what sparks would fly.
LAMB: I hope I'm not giving anything away on this, but...
LAMB: I need to ask you about this, though, because one of the things you learn is that he has now a withered hand?
LAMB: Which is an interesting irony in the whole book, how did it happen, and what impacts that had on him that you know of?
WORRALL: Yes, after his wife Doralee, we just talked about, divorced him he tried to commit suicide, Mark Hofmann in jail. He took a huge overdose of sleeping tablets and he, you know, passed out, was in a coma and he lay on his right side and crushed his whole arm and the circulation was cut off for many hours, eight, ten hours, something like that, and that permanently damaged his right hand. And, as far as I know, he's not able to forge now as a result of it. He was also injured in a bomb blast because - now I'm starting to give away rather too much.
LAMB: Because we don't have much time, we won't let you go any farther with that because there are a couple things I need to ask you. Was it first degree murder that he was convicted of?
WORRALL: No, it wasn't. It was second degree murder.
LAMB: When is he eligible for parole?
WORRALL: He's eligible for parole in 2006.
LAMB: And The New York Times, after all they started all this, have they reviewed your book?
WORRALL: No. I'm waiting for it.
LAMB: So there hasn't been a word in the newspaper about it, so far at the time we're taking this?
WORRALL: No, oddly enough, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and many others have, but The New York Times seems to be staying away. I don't know why.
LAMB: Here's the cover of the book. Our guest has been Simon Worrall. He lives on Long Island. He's a British citizen and he wrote a book called "The Poet and the Murderer." Thank you very much for the interview.
WORRALL: Thank you, Brian. It was a pleasure. Thanks.
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