"From the first second, he worshipped her," says friend Ross Williams of Mark and Lori.
Soares and Hacking Family/AP
Say this for Mark Hacking: When it came to playing the role of loyal husband and earnest medical student, he truly had an actor's gift – including the right props. At a family gathering in Salt Lake City in June, for instance, he showed off a new stethoscope that he said he would be taking along when he started medical school at the University of North Carolina in the fall. "He said he was excited to have his name etched on the back," recalls his sister-in-law Stephanie Hacking. Weeks later, while sorting through some college texts with another family member, he described in detail how much he loved one of the classes he'd supposedly taken – abnormal psychology.
Someday, for criminologists, Hacking himself may be considered a textbook case. In the days after his wife, Lori, 27, was reported missing on July 19, it quickly became clear that Mark, 28, had spent years spinning one breath-taking lie after another: Not only wasn't he headed to medical school in North Carolina, he hadn't even graduated from the University of Utah. As for Lori, whom he claimed had disappeared while jogging – that turned out to be another, far more serious, lie. On Aug. 2 Salt Lake police arrested Hacking on a charge of aggravated murder, which carries with it a possible death sentence. Though at press time investigators were still searching the county landfill for Lori's body, Police Chief Rick Dinse declared, "We believe this case is strong enough that we could prosecute without it." According to a police document, investigators have a "reliable citizen witness" who says Mark admitted to killing Lori while she slept and then throwing her body in a trash bin.
Mark's arrest didn't come as much of a shock, even to the couple's families, who as the deceptions tumbled forth could see which way the investigation was heading. "We just have to turn the situation over to the legal system to do what they can do," Mark's father, Douglas, told PEOPLE the day before the arrest. But the question still lingered: How could someone have fooled so many people for so long? "I've been a cop for seven years, and he didn't arouse a single suspicion in me," says Mark's close friend Ross Williams, who has known him since preschool and is now a state probation and parole officer. "He had me 100 percent."