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In the photo of his oldest son that he keeps on his desk, Mac Christensen sees an optimist with a love of books and a photographic memory, a meticulous businessman, a devoted son and loving father.

Not a day has gone by in the past 20 years when Christensen hasn't glanced at the photo and thought about Steve, killed on the morning of Oct. 15, 1985, by a homemade pipe bomb built by Mormon forger Mark Hofmann. But he remembers his son in life, not death.

He imagines Steve looking down from heaven, amused to discover that his father has moved on from selling Mormon missionary suits to managing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Gary Sheets loved Steve Christensen as a son. Until shortly before his death, Steve was Sheets' business partner and close associate.

The older man came to rely on his young colleague's judgment, candor and competence. Steve was "brilliant but without ego," Sheets recalls.

Upon hearing of an explosion in the Judge Building on the morning of the 15th, Sheets ran down the block from his office; he was told Steve was dead. He ran to Mr. Mac's clothing store a few blocks away to see how Mac Christensen was doing. The two shaken fathers embraced.

Within hours, Sheets faced yet another overwhelming loss - his wife of 27 years, Kathy Webb Sheets, was also killed with a Hofmann bomb.

Mac Christensen and Gary Sheets were longtime friends (Sheets once had 150 Mr. Mac suits); now they were united in sorrow. But the decades brought the two different challenges. Sheets had to rebuild his personal and professional life, brick by brick. Christensen had to help nurture Steve's four boys and help them know the father who was brutally snatched from them.

Both felt sorry for Hofmann's father. And they had to relinquish the impulse toward vengeance.

"I was always an eye-for-an-eye guy until this happened," Christensen said this week. "But you have to forgive. You can't have any hatred."

Today the Christensens will go to the cemetery in Centerville, as they do every year on this day, to celebrate their son's life. Steve Christensen is buried within 50 yards of his historical idol, B.H. Roberts, an early 20th-century LDS general authority who wrote candidly about the Mormon past.

"Steve always wanted the truth told," his father says.

Dealings with Hofmann: Steve Christensen had a library of 15,000 books, many of them on LDS Church history. If he liked a book, he would often buy two copies, one to keep, the other to share with a friend or colleague. He had read them all.

It was that fascination with Mormon history that attracted Christensen to Hofmann. When Christensen purchased the so-called "white salamander letter" from Hofmann for $40,000, Sheets was incredulous. The letter said the gold plates upon which The Book of Mormon was written were guarded by a salamander, not an angelic visitor named Moroni, as Mormons believe.

Sheets couldn't believe Christensen would pay that kind of money for a document that challenged traditional LDS beliefs about the origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Truth is of God and consequently one of the most valuable gifts we can possess," Christensen told Sheets in 1984. "If this is a true document, it is part of our history, our legacy from the past. . . . It can't hurt us."

Sheets recounts this and many other conversations in his 2003 book, Trial(s): A True Story. He wanted to tell his version of the events that unfolded before and after that October day. He felt that he and his company at the time, Coordinated Financial Services (CFS), were caught in a vortex of misinformation.

Hofmann set the bombs, he later admitted, to distract attention from his illegal document deals. He knew CFS was in financial trouble and hoped that if he killed Christensen and Kathy Sheets, investigators would conclude the bomber was a disgruntled investor. At least initially, some people did.

In the harried days after the bombings, some news reports alleged that CFS had investors in Las Vegas and that this was a Mafia hit. One reporter said the company had lost $400 million in investments. A KSL Radio report said the Sheetses were going through a "bitter divorce."

None of that was true.

Sheets spent years trying to counter such allegations. He sued KSL for the divorce story and eventually got a cash settlement from Bonneville, KSL's owner. He also sued Salt Lake County for giving Kathy Sheets' diary to a journalist writing about the Hofmann case; he won that one, too. And, after a painful 1988 trial for fraud in a federal court, he was declared not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Ever an optimist, Sheets has found solace through the past 18 years with his second wife, Diane Jackson Sheets, an LDS convert from New Zealand. The couple live in St. George where Sheets, at 71, still sells insurance ("I never want to be involved in anything risky again") and Diane Sheets manages 700 rental units.

"I married well over my head - twice," he quips. "That shows I'm a pretty darn good salesman."

Before his wife's death, Sheets was a workaholic who spent every Saturday and most holidays at the office. He was the chairman of Children's Miracle Network, on the Utah Symphony board and the board of advisers to the Utah Jazz, and an LDS bishop. After his wife died and his company declared bankruptcy, Sheets refocused his energies on the relationship with his four children and, eventually, 16 grandchildren. He sold his Mr. Mac suits for $30 each to pay for his daughter's study abroad.

"There's a closeness now that's been a blessing to all of us," he says.

The family gets together for Thanksgiving every year and the Sheetses come to Salt Lake often, mostly to see their grandchildren perform or for church milestones such as baptisms.

They don't go too often to Kathy Sheets' grave, but do take time out to sit on the bench dedicated to her near their old home in Cottonwood Heights. She would have liked that.

Lessons learned


Prosecutors say their efforts paid off; Hofmann remains in prison.

MORMON SCHOLARSHIP: Hofmann's forgeries helped transform the writing of Mormon history.

TIMELINE: Trail of forgery deception leads to murder and prison.

LESSONS LEARNED: Hofmann forensic techniques teach new generation of investigators to spot forgeries.