New Netflix Miniseries ‘Murder Among the Mormons’ Puts SLC in National Spotlight



Local bookstore owner Ken Sanders is featured in the new true crime miniseries “Murder Among The Mormons.” (Courtesy Netflix)

By Cade Anderson, Arts Writer


Warning: Contains mild spoilers for “Murder Among the Mormons”

“It’s easy for people nowadays to say, ‘well, couldn’t you see that? What’s the matter with you?’ Well, you know, hindsight’s always 20/20. And in the moment, I didn’t suspect because I didn’t want to. Just have to be honest about it. I didn’t want to,” comments rare documents dealer Shannon Flynn in “Murder Among the Mormons.”

Released on March 3, the true-crime miniseries from “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess is Netflix’s second-most popular item in the U.S. at the moment — placing the beehive state right in the limelight.

A Near-forgotten Local History

“Murder Among the Mormons” is an electrifying recounting of the scandals and secrets that culminated in three bombings that took place in Salt Lake County in 1985. The story likely doesn’t ring a bell for many of us, but not everyone has forgotten it. Within three minutes of the first episode, SLC locals will see a familiar face: none other than town celebrity and bookstore owner Ken Sanders. Sanders’ persona is unmistakably lively for those who’ve visited his shop, and he offers an exciting introduction to a story I can’t believe I didn’t know until now.

A newspaper critical of Mormonism reports on the “Salamander Letter” in 1984. (Courtesy Netflix)

The show’s archival KUTV news clips and modern shots of Temple Square or State Street are probably nothing more than background minutiae to many viewers, but these nods to our local culture made a mysteriously untold history all the more enthralling. Paired with moving interviews and minimalistic, well-framed reenactments, “Murder Among the Mormons” follows a familiar true-crime formula, yet it’s unlike anything I’ve seen on Netflix.

It was shocking to learn that a pipe bomb killed someone only a couple of blocks away from me — or that major religious figures of my childhood like Gordon B. Hinckley and Dallin H. Oaks published and commented frequently on a “Salamander Letter,” which was at one point feared to uproot the entire origin story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Polarly different from “Napoleon Dynamite” yet equally inspired by the uniqueness of Mormon culture in Utah, Hess’ latest work is colorful and uncompromising. “Murder Among the Mormons” locates the precise nexus of religion, greed, hope and the complicated human drive to trust in something bigger than ourselves.

I saw myself in many of the documentary’s main characters as they struggle on-screen to revisit their past ignorance of the violence that took place right under their noses. “I could not accept that I had no suspicion whatsoever… because it went right to the heart of who I am. And that frightened me, that I could be that deceived by someone,” remembers Mormon history researcher and rare document researcher Brent Metcalfe in the documentary.

In a dramatic reenactment, Mark Hofmann shows off various rare documents he’s collected. (Courtesy Netflix)

Where it Might Miss the Mark

In addition to the classic pitfall of over-romanticizing serial killers, “Murders Among the Mormons” might fall short in another arena, too. When I try to imagine watching this with no personal history inside the LDS Church — no prior knowledge of its stories — “Murder Among the Mormons” loses a lot of its allure. The series definitely wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t appeal to a wide audience, yet I can’t help but wonder if it might only be a spectacularly binge-worthy experience for ex-Mormons, active members of the LDS Church, and Utah natives interested in a bizarre chapter of local history. 

While some might not like the show’s brevity, I found it refreshing. Its three episodes wander from time to time but ultimately know exactly where they’re going. I took away from “Murder Among the Mormons” an intense and emotional portrait of the way our communal belief systems both generate and suffer from individual acts of greed. Hess shows us that violence doesn’t arise out of thin air; it slowly evolves out of ideas that we sanction.

Three episodes of “Murder Among the Mormons,” totaling approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, are available to stream on Netflix.

Content warnings: images of violence, mentions of religious crises of faith, and mentions of suicide (all brief and non-gratuitous). 


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