Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

There’s a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode about the Murder Among The Mormons case, and Stephen Colbert’s in it

Stephen Colbert plays a master forger in “The Saint”
Stephen Colbert plays a master forger in “The Saint”
Screenshot: Law & Order: Criminal Intent

If you’ve already made your way through Netflix’s latest true-crime series, Murder Among The Mormons, then you’ve also probably been doing some internet sleuthing about Mark Hofmann, the murderous master forger at the center of Jared Hess and Tyler Measom’s documentary. Hofmann refused to be interviewed for the production, but there’s a lot of information readily available about the 36-year-old case that goes beyond the scope of the series. Hell, there’s even a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode based on Hofmann’s crimes—and it stars Stephen Colbert.

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The season-three episode “The Saint,” which first aired March 14, 2004 on NBC, saw Colbert, then just a year away from debuting The Colbert Report, take on the role of James Bennett, a collector and authenticator of rare documents—and, as we soon learn, forger of many of said documents. Detectives Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) uncover the antiques dealer’s fraudulent activities while in pursuit of a killer, who also turns out to be Bennett.

Directed by Frank Prinzi, “The Saint” reworks the stories of Hofmann and the series of mail-bombs he deployed in October 1985, two of which killed Mormon bishop and fellow document collector Steve Christensen, as well as Kathy Sheets, the wife of Christensen’s former boss. The religious institution at the center of the story is not the Mormon Church, but some other Christian or Catholic organization (no denomination is given). A foundation created in the name of a Brother Jerome has spent years campaigning for that do-gooder’s sainthood. But those plans are derailed by the discovery of a “Goat Letter” (a riff on Hofmann’s incendiary “Salamander Letter”), which purportedly presents evidence that Brother Jerome wasn’t moved by the Holy Spirit, but by the Devil—a considerable deviation from Hofmann’s fake letter, which suggested Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith was led to the gold plates that held the tenets of his religion by folk magic instead of God.

As Bennett, Colbert is a big old history nerd, his cadence crescendoing when providing document analysis. But he’s just as resentful as he is bookish, which jibes with Hofmann’s background as well. The Late Show host is also clearly having fun in the role of a mastermind who, just as Hofmann did, elicits a kind of appalled awe from investigators. Even Goren admits Bennett’s “not just good” but “extraordinary.”

“The Saint” (and the rest of Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is streaming on Peacock.