It's one thing to study and live by Scripture. It's another to suddenly find yourself embroiled in a real-life drama with biblical "brother's keeper" overtones. But that's exactly where Scott and Lance Hacking, both devout Mormons, found themselves on the morning of July 24. As they drew two chairs up to their brother Mark's bed in the psychiatric ward of the University of Utah Hospital, they began posing questions that pointed toward the toughest question of all: Did you kill your wife?
A week earlier, such an interrogation would have been unthinkable, given the seemingly loving bond between Mark, 28, and Lori, 27, his wife of five years. But Lori had been missing for six days, time during which Mark's elaborate lies about a medical school career had unraveled. Despite fears that Mark, too, had so unraveled that a death sentence might hang in the balance, Scott and Lance pushed for answers. "We felt it was important to find the truth, no matter what it was," says Scott, 33, a physician. Still, says Lance, 34, an electronics engineer, "it was hard to approach the brother that I love and ask questions that I never thought I would ask anybody."
The pain worsened when they returned to the hospital that night at 11 and Mark confirmed their darkest fears. "Lori's dead and I killed her," he told them. Admitting that he was scared and didn't know what to do, he told them that on the night of July 18, he and Lori had gotten into a fight in their Salt Lake City home after he confessed to her that he'd lied about his plans to attend med school. After she went to bed, he played video games and did some packing. Later, as she slept, he shot her in the head with a .22-cal. rifle, then wrapped her body in garbage bags. In the predawn hours he deposited it, the gun and part of the mattress in three separate trash bins on the University of Utah campus.
Following the confession the three brothers shared an hour-long hug. "You expect that you'll have feelings of anger and disappointment," says Scott. "I felt an absolute love for Mark." He also felt "a great sense of relief" at getting answers, while at the same time feeling "incredible remorse that I might contribute to an insurmountable sentence for my brother." Indeed, on Aug. 9 prosecutors filed a first-degree murder charge against Hacking, which carries a possible penalty of five years to life in prison. If police recover Lori's body and discover she's pregnant, as she told friends, the charge could be amended to a capital offense.
Days after Mark's confession, Scott took the information to the police. His father, Douglas, told the Salt Lake Tribune of Scott's tortured decision to turn Mark in. "I don't know if I have ever seen anybody experience that much anguish," Douglas said. "He felt like he might be betraying his brother and compromising his chances in the court. On the other hand, he felt that he may have some information that the police didn't have."
Although some 1,800 searchers turned up the day after Scott informed the police, the Hackings did not call off the hunt for Lori until July 31. "The truth is that I don't know if what Mark told me is the truth or if it will help find Lori any sooner," Scott says. Douglas similarly noted that Mark "had lied before and he lied straight to me," a reference to Mark's earlier denial of any involvement in Lori's disappearance. That lie, of course, followed years of deception about academic achievements and career plans—a portrait that shattered after Lori's death. Despite the confession—and the physical evidence the police say they have—Mark is not without legal recourse. "Remember, Mark was housed in a psychiatric unit for the period of time these brothers are claiming they spoke with him," Gilbert Athay, Mark's attorney, told KUTV News in Salt Lake. "To me, that creates a substantial issue."
Rather than shunning the Hackings, neighbors and friends in their church-based community have offered renewed support since the family's decision to come forward. "So many people have passed notes to my parents and given them hugs and love," says Lance. Nor, for the most part, have the Soareses—Lori's family—backed away. "I don't hold them responsible or guilty. Mark screwed up," says Paul Soares, 35, Lori's brother. "They are truly suffering too." Only Lori's father, Eraldo, has shown any anger. "As the facts about my little girl's death emerge, I am outraged," he said in a statement issued Aug. 6. "The gutless attempt at covering up this monstrous act is appalling." Meanwhile police continue to sift through Salt Lake's main landfill, looking for Lori's remains. Says Det. Phil Eslinger: "We can't imagine having a loved one and thinking for even a second that the dump could be her final resting place."
Jill Smolowe. Carolyn Campbell and Cathy Free in Salt Lake City
On Newsstands Now
- The Little Couple: A New Mom's Fight to Live
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Princess Kate's Style Secret!
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine