Disappearance of Lori Hacking
Lori and Mark Hacking
Mark Douglas Hacking, 28, and Lori Kay Soares, 27, were inseparable from the moment they met while on a trip with some friends to Lake Powell, Utah in 1994, Debbie Howlett reported in a July 29, 2004 USA Today article. For the ten years they had been together, their friends and family were impressed with their strong, intimate relationship. They were young, deeply in love and preparing to move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Mark was going to attend medical school. Moreover, Mark and Lori recently learned that she was five weeks pregnant. They had everything to look forward to.
However, on July 19, 2004, Lori went out and didn’t return. That morning around 10, Mark called Lori’s office at Wells Fargo in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she worked as a trading assistant. During a brief conversation with Lori’s colleague, Brandon Hodge, Mark inquired about Lori, Paul Foy reported in a July 27, 2004 AP Online article. Hodge told Mark that she never made it in to work, which was unusual since Lori was always known to be punctual. Foy wrote that the phone was then passed to Lori’s supervisor, Randy Church, who recalled Mark saying that Lori went jogging at around 5:30 that morning at Memory Grove Park, but had not come home. Church urged Mark to immediately call the police.
Mark then called the Salt Lake City Police Dispatch at approximately 10:07 a.m. Around the same time the call was made, Mark also called some of Lori’s friends asking if they knew of where she was. According to a July 27, 2004 article in The Salt Lake Tribune, the worried husband said that “he had run the jogging route 3 miles each way to search for his wife.” Even though her car was parked at the entrance of the park, there was no sign of Lori.
When Mark called the police a second time around 10:49 a.m., asking them for assistance in finding his wife, they told him that “they generally respond to missing person calls after 24 hours and suggested he call hospitals and the jail.”
The Search Begins
Missing persons poster of Lori
At that point, Lori’s family, friends and colleagues volunteered to help Mark in the search. Some of her friends flew in from other parts of the country to participate. Unfortunately, they were coming up empty-handed.
Press conference with Mark’s parents (right) & Lori’s parents
The following day, July 20th, Lori’s family held a press conference, pleading for any information on her disappearance. Hundreds of missing persons posters bearing Lori’s image and contact numbers were hung around the city. Before long, the search for Lori had become a community crusade involving more than 1, 200 volunteers. She was both admired and respected and people were very concerned for her safety and the safety of their community.
Mark’s efforts to find his wife were cut short when he was admitted to the University of Utah’s psychiatric unit for a mental breakdown. The loss of his pregnant wife appeared to have sparked a severe emotional crisis. In a bizarre twist of events, he had been hospitalized when police found him wandering around a Salt Lake City motel naked except for a pair of sandals.
Mark Hacking, mugshot
From early on in the case, the police discovered that Mark was not the person he claimed to be. Mark told Lori and her family that he graduated with honors in psychology from the University of Utah. He also told them that he had been accepted to the medical school at University of North Carolina, which is why he and Lori were preparing to move there.
However, Mark’s father, Dr. Douglas Hacking, knew what Lori and her parents didn’t. On July, 22, Dr. Hacking told reporters that his son never received his bachelor’s degree and had never been accepted to medical school. Mark’s education was just an elaborate lie, which he fabricated because he felt under pressure to excel academically, CNN reported on July 23, 2004.
Lori’s family was shocked at Mark’s deception but refused to let it deter them from finding their daughter. Many involved in the search believed that if Mark was capable of lying about his education, he could be lying about what happened to Lori. Others believed that just because he lied didn’t necessarily mean he was involved in her disappearance. Besides, he told his and her parents that he had nothing to do with it, when they asked him.
However, the police believed otherwise. From the moment the police took on the case, Mark was named a “person of interest.” The evidence, which was slowly mounting, pointed to him as their primary suspect.
Outside Hacking’s apartment
On the day of Lori’s disappearance, the police conducted a search of the apartment. During their search they became convinced they were dealing with a homicide. Evidence collected at the apartment included the couple’s box spring, a receipt for a new mattress and bedding, a bloody knife found in the bedside drawer in the couple’s bedroom, pieces of carpet, clothing and a letter found in a spare bedroom allegedly written by Lori. Other important pieces of evidence taken from various locations included:
- a trash bin from outside the couple’s apartment,
- a cut up mattress that matched the couples’ box spring was found in a trash bin near the University of Utah hospital where Mark worked as an orderly,
- a clump of dark hair found in a Dumpster outside a Chevron gas station near the hospital,
- material taken from two cars owned by Mark and Lori,
- surveillance video tapes taken from three locations: a hospital, a Mormon church located near the park where she allegedly disappeared, and a convenience store.
Interestingly, police also discovered that between 9:45 and 10:23 a.m. on the day Lori went missing, the time Mark claimed to have searched the park and called the police and Lori’s colleagues, he was buying a new queen-size mattress at a local bedding store. Even more intriguing, the front seat of Lori’s car, which was found near the park, was adjusted to fit a much larger person. Lori was only 5’4″ but the seat was moved back to accommodate someone around 6′ tall.
Another piece of incriminating evidence found at the apartment were Lori’s car keys. Had she driven to the park to jog, one would expect that she would have had her car keys with her when she disappeared.
As the evidence mounted, it became increasingly clear that Mark was involved in Lori’s disappearance. Worse yet, over the subsequent days it also became likely that she was dead. Lori’s family braced for the worst possible outcome but refused to give up hope in finding their daughter. Even if she was dead, it was important to them to find her body so that she and her unborn baby could receive a proper burial. The wait would prove almost unbearable.
Unraveling the Lies
Scott and Lance Hacking
Less than a week following Lori’s disappearance, the police gathered a significant amount of evidence, which pointed to the possibility that Mark had murdered Lori in their apartment sometime in the early morning hours of July 20th and disposed of her body in an unknown location later that same day. The investigators’ suspicions were confirmed on July 25, 2004 when they received critical information from Scott and Lance Hacking, who claimed that their brother Mark had made a startling confession.
On July 24th, Lance and Scott went to the psychiatric ward where Mark was admitted and pleaded for him to tell them what happened to Lori, Mathew LaPlante reported in an August 30, 2004 article in The Salt Lake Tribune. LaPlante said that the brothers gave Mark the afternoon to think it over. When they returned later that evening Mark admitted that he had indeed murdered Lori.
The precise events leading up to Lori’s murder are as yet unclear. However, what is known is that while she was at work on Friday, July 16th, she called the University of North Carolina medical school to get information concerning financial aid and learned that her husband was not enrolled there, Travis Reed wrote in an August 10, 2004 AP article. AP.’s Foy reported that Lori’s colleagues noticed she was “visibly upset” after the phone call and that she “started to cry.” She then left work early and went home, probably to confront Mark.
Court documents stated that around 5 p.m. that day, Lori called an employee at the University of North Carolina and left a voicemail that suggested that Mark told her the reason why he was not enrolled was due to a computer malfunction. It appeared as if Mark fabricated another story because there was no known computer malfunction and records indicated that he was never enrolled at the school. Yet, Lori may have believed his story of the computer malfunction because later that night, the couple went to a party at her supervisor’s mountain cabin and they seemed to be getting along well, Howlett stated in her article.
However, the lie would resurface again on the evening of Sunday, July 18th. According to Travis Reed, Mark admitted to Lori that he “lied about his education and future plans,” which resulted in an argument between the couple. Reed reported that after the argument Lori went to bed and Mark stayed up, played Nintendo games and then packed some moving boxes. Court documents stated that during the packing, Mark allegedly came across a .22-caliber rifle. Then at around 1 a.m., he went into the bedroom where Lori was sleeping and shot her in the head.
Mark told his brothers that after he murdered Lori, he wrapped her body up in some garbage bags and the bloody top of the mattress, which he cut away with a knife, then disposed of her body in a Dumpster at around 2 a.m., Paul Foy reported on August 11, 2004. Mark purportedly disposed of the bloodied mattress in a church trash bin and the gun in another unidentified Dumpster. The following day, Scott and Lance Hacking told the police of their brother’s gruesome confession.
Mark Hacking in custody
The revelation led to Mark’s arrest on August 2, 2004 and his subsequent transfer from the psychiatric clinic to Salt Lake County Jail. He was officially charged with 1st degree murder and three counts of obstructing justice one week later. His bail was initially posted at $500,000 but later increased to one million dollars.
Building a Case
Mark’s confession prompted the end of a two-week long search for Lori, which involved thousands of volunteers. Instead, the authorities organized a new search for Lori at a Salt Lake County Landfill. It was hoped that her body would be discovered somewhere amongst the thousands of tons of garbage.
Police and volunteers search landfill
The search for Lori at the landfill was expected to last about a month but would take much longer than initially anticipated. Several thousand tons of compact garbage more than 30 to 40 feet deep and two soccer fields in length needed to be rifled through by volunteers, Court TV reported in a September 15, 2004 article. Cadaver dogs were also used to help in the search.
The Court TV article stated that there were 38 volunteers including, police officers, firefighters, public safety officials and Urban Search and Rescue Team members who helped look for human remains at the World Trade Center. They spent on average 11 hours a day, four days a week conducting the backbreaking search. The crew, dressed in steel-plated boots, coveralls, thick leather gloves, masks and protective eyewear, combed through the rank trash using pitchforks, yet eventually resorted to digging through the garbage with their hands, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. All of those involved believed that their time and effort is well spent, even though many are uncertain if they’ll ever find Lori’s remains.
Even without Lori’s body, Police Chief Rick Dinse said, “We have a good case here. We are hopeful we can find the body but we believe this case is strong enough that we could prosecute without it,” Howlett reported in the August 3 USA Today. The prosecution’s case was indeed strong. Mark’s confession to his brothers would likely be admissible at trial and be particularly damaging to the defense case. Stephen Hunt and Ashley Broughton’s August 10 article in the Salt Lake Tribune quoted Assistant Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker as saying, “The brothers will be good witnesses…they have nothing to personally gain.”
The material evidence against Mark was also damaging to the defense case. Investigators have genetically matched Lori’s blood to that found in Lori’s car, on the couple’s bed rail, headboard and mattress, as well as the blood found on the bedroom carpet and the knife found in its sheath in the kitchen, which was believed to have been used to cut up the mattress. Investigators also discovered a letter allegedly written by Lori days before her death, which said, “I hate coming home from work because it hurts to be home in our apartment…I can’t imagine life with you if things don’t change,” La Plante reported on August 13 in the Salt Lake Tribune. The article further quoted Lori as saying, “I got someone I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with unless changes are made.”
Video surveillance picture of Mark entering store
Furthermore, prosecutors were compiling video evidence of Mark. One surveillance video showed him entering a Maverick County Store to buy cigarettes, checking his hands and fingers and then driving away in his wife’s car approximately “18 minutes after the time police believe Lori died,” CNN stated in an August 4, 2004 article. Other video evidence that may be used at trial will likely include images of Mark disposing of Lori’s body in a dumpster and video of him driving her car to the park, where he initially said she had gone missing.
It was initially believed that the prosecution team, led by Salt Lake County D.A. David E. Yocom, Deputy D.A. Angela F. Micklos and attorney Robert L. Stott, would seek the death penalty in their case against Mark. However, the prosecution decided instead to file a first degree murder charge against the defendant, which carries a possible penalty of five years to life in prison, Reed reported in an August 9, AP article. Reed claimed that the absence of Lori’s body prompted the decision. Moreover, he suggested that the prosecution team would not file a homicide charge to account for Lori’s unborn baby because police were unable to confirm she was pregnant.
Gil Athay,defense attorney
On August 16, Mark, accompanied by his lawyer, D. Gilbert Athay, appeared before 3rd District Court Judge William Barrett to schedule a date for his preliminary hearing. Stephen Hunt wrote on August 18 that when he appeared in court he was “wearing a bullet-proof vest and flanked by seven bailiffs.” Hunt suggested that it was unclear whether there were death threats made against Mark but the “unusual security measure” was often used for high profile cases. The preliminary hearing was scheduled for September 23, 2004.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Athay may ask the court to “inquire into Hacking’s mental competency.” It is believed that Mark’s alleged mental illness may be a significant factor in the defense’s case. Hunt reported that Mark fell from a roof in his early 20s, which resulted in a head injury and “because evidence of brain damage could support an argument for reduced charges,” it will likely be used at the preliminary hearing and trial.
On August 27 “a series of investigative subpoenas was unsealed” dating from July 21 to August 30th, which showed how “detectives cast a broad net early in their investigation of Lori’s disappearance,” Canham stated in the Salt Lake Tribune. The subpoenas included surveillance videos of a Morman church located near the park and from the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, cell phone and financial records, television footage of Mark on July 19 and 20th taken by local TV stations, and credit reports.
Before the preliminary hearing, the defense and prosecution teams will have to scour through all the evidence and find material that will help support their cases. If the defense team is unable to produce a strong enough case there is a chance that they might settle for a plea agreement. Hunt and LaPlante quoted Salt Lake City defense attorney Mark Moffat who said, “You want to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case and strength of any defenses to know if an offer is appropriate.” It is unknown whether a plea agreement is in the works or if the case will indeed go to trial.
Lori Kay Hacking
As the case prepares to go to trial, Lori’s family, friends and colleagues mourn her death. On August 14, 2004 a memorial service for Lori took place at the LDS Windsor Stake Center in Orem, Utah. More than 600 people attended the service, which included a display of Lori’s “wedding dress, a poster-sized photograph of her and a plastic bucket used to gather donations for the search effort,” AP reported on August 15, 2004.
Mother leaves memorial service
Members of Mark’s family attended the service and his father, Dr. Douglas Hacking, gave the opening prayer, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. He was quoted in the article as saying, “We truly appreciate the influence [Lori] has had in our lives…We’ve all been touched by her in some way…We hope she can feel our love for her today.” Lori’s mother, Thelma Soares, was one of several family members who also gave a moving speech that day during the hour and a half service. She spoke of her daughter’s life and of the “class and style” for which she was known. It was clear that everyone who knew Lori sorely missed her.
In remembrance of Lori, Thelma Soares set up a scholarship fund in her name. By mid-September 2004, the fund grew from $12,000 to $81, 000, $50,000 of which was donated by the acclaimed television talk show hostess, Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed Mrs. Soares, Court TV reported in a September 15, 2004 article. According to the article, the scholarship is awarded to a woman that has been “disadvantaged by financial hardship, abuse, family difficulties or other life circumstances” who attends the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and needs financial assistance for her junior and senior years.
At around the same time Oprah made her generous donation, Mark announced from his prison cell that he intended to write a book “about everything,” the proceeds of which would go to the Lori Kay Soares Hacking Memorial Scholarship Fund. It is uncertain how much of the book, if any, has yet been written or whether there is a publishing deal lined up. What is certain is that we have not heard the end of Mark Hacking.
The Discovery of Lori
On October 1, 2004, after a little more than two months since Lori was reported missing, her body was finally found at the Salt Lake County Landfill. According to Ashley Broughton of the Salt Lake Tribune, police Sgt. J. R. Nelson made the heart-wrenching discovery after sifting through garbage by hand and was quoted saying, “I pulled this group of trash out of a bag and hair came out of the bag.” He further stated that upon closer inspection he saw that the bag also contained what appeared to be a human jawbone and teeth.
Searching for Loris body at the Salt Lake County Landfill
The area was quickly enclosed and treated as a crime scene. Investigators worked for hours gathering Lori’s remains and other evidence that might be used during the murder trial. Despite advanced decomposition, it didn’t take long for the human remains to be identified as those of Lori Hacking.
Lori and Mark’s families expressed “a mixture of grief and relief,” Matt Canham of the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The newspaper printed a press release by the family in which they thanked the police and all of those who contributed in the search for Lori. They also stated that they were relieved that her “mortal remains” would finally be laid to rest “with dignity befitting the valiant daughter of God she was.” Mark Hacking also expressed relief that Lori had finally been found.
Loris mom Thelma Soares
Unfortunately, the medical examiners were unable to determine whether Lori was pregnant due to the condition of the body. Moreover, they were unable to find the rifle that ended Lori’s life. None-the-less, prosecutors believe that with the discovery of her body, their case was significantly strengthened because they were able to prove that she was actually murdered.
On October 30, 2004, Mark attended his arraignment hearing at the 3rd District Court. To the surprise of Lori’s family, Mark’s lawyers entered a plea of “not guilty.” They hoped that the defense team would change its strategy, especially after the discovery of Lori’s body but they did not. Hunt said that Lori’s mother, Thelma Soares, “berated her son-in-law for prolonging her family’s agony” and quoted her as saying, “In pleading not guilty, Mark continues to hurt us.”
Mark is charged with a felony count of first-degree murder, as well as second-degree felony counts for obstruction of justice because he lied to investigators and tried to dispose of evidence. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison. His trial is expected to begin in late April 2005.
Mark Hacking and Attorney in Court
On April 15, 2005, Mark Hacking stood before Third District Judge Denise Lindberg and admitted publicly that he shot his pregnant wife Lori Hacking in the head with a .22 rifle as she lay sleeping on the morning of July 19, 2004, it was reported in The Salt Lake Tribune. As Mark confessed to committing the dreadful crime, sobs from Lori’s mother, Thelma Soares, filled the courtroom. Mark was “originally charged with first-degree murder and three second-degree felony counts of obstruction of justice” but later “pleaded guilty to the murder charge in exchange for prosecutors’ dismissing the obstruction charge” it was further reported.
During the hearing, which lasted around 10 minutes, Mark showed no visible signs of emotion. According to Stephen Hunt and Matt Canham’s Salt Lake Tribune article, Soares exclaimed afterwards that she was chilled by her son-in-law’s gruesome confession but was relieved that he finally took responsibility for his actions. Lori’s father, Eraldo Soares, was quoted in the article saying that Mark’s admission of guilt was “like a knife going right through my heart.”
Mark’s sentence will be decided on June 6, 2005. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Thelma Soares said that she hoped Mark would get a “stiff sentence” maybe even life in prison. She was further quoted saying that she knew “that when he meets the real judge he will get what is coming to him.” Based on the evidence against Mark, there is a strong chance that Thelma will get her way and justice will finally be served.
A month prior to the hearing, Lori’s parents made a decision to remove the name “Hacking” from their daughter’s gravestone. It was clear that they wanted to distance Lori in name as much as they could from Mark. Lori’s mother said that they did it because “Mark obviously didn’t want her (Lori) anymore,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The gravestone now reads “Lori Kay Soares”Filhinha,” which is Portuguese for “little daughter.” It is how likely how they will always remember her.