By John Hanlon
The fascinating new Netflix series Murder Among the Mormons tells the story of a series of high-profile Salt Lake City bombings in the mid-1980s. The case involves people with direct connections to the Mormon Church, leading to rampant speculation on the news and a slew of obvious suspects.
The program’s first episode notes that the Mormon Church is a relatively new one. Because of curiosity about the Church’s origins and founder Joseph Smith, there was a whole business surrounding early Mormon documents in the early 1980s. Document dealers who were fortunate enough to find some of these early documents were often rewarded handsomely by the Church.
High-ranking figures in the Church who were intrigued by these documents and arguably even concerned about their contents were often eager to purchase them and claim ownership of them.
The main story in the series starts in 1980. At the time, documents relating to the foundation of the Church were in high demand. Over the course of the next few years, document dealers understood the value of such rare property. One such document — nicknamed the Salamander letter — directly raised questions about the foundation of the Church itself.
After more documents come to light in the ensuing years, a series of bombings in 1985 rocked the document-dealing industry, leading to questions about the Church itself and the high-stakes involved.
The three-episode series delves into different aspects of the case. The first episode focuses on the industry and the foundations of the Mormon Church. It ends with a tragic series of bombings that leaves two people dead and one seriously injured. The second episode delves into the investigation into the case while the third one offers a resolution, revealing some provocative insights into the culprit's ability to evade the authorities.
The interviews conducted in this serious are with many of the individuals who were involved with document dealing at the time of the bombings. Many of the interviews really strive to capture the power of this industry and the dangers posed by revelatory documents coming to light. Despite the industry's uniqueness, it's easy to get absorbed in the story (and the wonderfully-bizarre aspects of it).
It’s also easy to see how this occupation could lead into some dangerous territories.
The first episode hints at a possible conspiracy, leading the viewer down one path. But then the second and the third episodes offer new revelations, leading to some surprising and revealing twists. Even in a brisk three episodes, the series brilliantly manages to create and then undermine audience expectations. The first episode suggests that the story is going down one path while the latter two reveal what was truly going on.
Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Tyler Measom (An Honest Liar), there’s much to appreciate about this limited series. From presenting a solid glimpse into an unique industry that audiences might not be familiar with to setting and then toying with expectations, the series ably presents the case and then offers a look back at how everything unfolded.
Although the series never talks about the victims here as much as it could (one wonders how involved the families of the victims were), it does show the price of some of the mistakes made here and in the end, the program reveals some systemic flaws that the case exposed. Flaws that only caught up with the culprit when it was too late.