Heaven’s Gate cult members found dead

Heaven’s Gate cult members found dead

Following an anonymous tip, police enter a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive suburb of San Diego, California, and discover 39 victims of a mass suicide. The deceased—21 women and 18 men of varying ages—were all found lying peaceably in matching dark clothes and Nike sneakers and had no noticeable signs of blood or trauma. It was later revealed that the men and women were members of the “Heaven’s Gate” religious cult, whose leaders preached that suicide would allow them to leave their bodily “containers” and enter an alien spacecraft hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

The cult was led by Marshall Applewhite, a music professor who, after surviving a near-death experience in 1972, was recruited into the cult by one of his nurses, Bonnie Lu Nettles. In 1975, Applewhite and Nettles persuaded a group of 20 people from Oregon to abandon their families and possessions and move to eastern Colorado, where they promised that an extraterrestrial spacecraft would take them to the “kingdom of heaven.” Nettles, who called herself “Ti,” and Applewhite, who took the name of “Do,” explained that human bodies were merely containers that could be abandoned in favor of a higher physical existence. As the spacecraft never arrived, membership in Heaven’s Gate diminished, and in 1985 Bonnie Lu Nettles, Applewhite’s “sexless partner,” died.

During the early 1990s, the cult resurfaced as Applewhite began recruiting new members. Soon after the 1995 discovery of the comet Hale-Bopp, the Heaven’s Gate members became convinced that an alien spacecraft was on its way to earth, hidden from human detection behind the comet. In October 1996, Applewhite rented a large home in Rancho Santa Fe, explaining to the owner that his group was made up of Christian-based angels. Applewhite advocated sexual abstinence, and several male cult members followed his example by undergoing castration operations.

In 1997, as part of its 4,000-year orbit of the sun, the comet Hale-Bopp passed near Earth in one of the most impressive astronomical events of the 20th century. In late March 1997, as Hale-Bopp reached its closest distance to Earth, Applewhite and 38 of his followers drank a lethal mixture of phenobarbital and vodka and then lay down to die, hoping to leave their bodily containers, enter the alien spacecraft, and pass through Heaven’s Gate into a higher existence.

READ MORE: 5 20th Century Cult Leaders

Heaven's Gate (religious group)

Heaven's Gate was an American new religious movement, often described as a cult. It was founded in 1974 and led by Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985) and Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997), known within the movement as Ti and Do respectively. [1] Nettles and Applewhite first met in 1972, and went on a journey of spiritual discovery, identifying themselves as the two witnesses of Revelation, attracting a following of several hundred people in the mid 1970s. In 1976, the group stopped recruiting and instituted a monastic lifestyle. Scholars have described the theology of Heaven's Gate as a mixture of Christian millenarianism, New Age and Ufology, and as such it has been characterised as a UFO religion. The central belief of the group was that followers could transform themselves into immortal extraterrestrial beings by rejecting their human nature, and they would ascend to heaven, referred to as the "Next Level" or "The Evolutionary Level Above Human". The death of Nettles to cancer in 1985 challenged the group's views on ascension, where they originally believed that they would ascend to heaven while alive aboard a UFO, later coming to believe that the body was merely a "container" or "vehicle" for the soul, and that their consciousness would be transferred to new "Next Level bodies" upon death.

On March 26, 1997, deputies of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department discovered the bodies of the 39 active members of the group, including that of Applewhite, in a house in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. They had participated in a mass suicide, a coordinated series of ritual suicides, coinciding with the closest approach of the Comet Hale–Bopp. [2] [3] Just before the mass suicide, the group's website was updated with the message: 'Hale–Bopp brings closure to Heaven's Gate . our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion — 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew.' [4]

The name "Heaven's Gate" was only used for the final few years of the group's existence, and they had previously been known under the names Human Individual Metamorphosis and Total Overcomers Anonymous.

24 years ago, Heaven’s Gate couldn’t wait

Members of the San Diego County medical examiner's office load one of 39 victims of the "Heaven's Gate" suicides onto a refrigerated truck at a multi-million dollar mansion at Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., in this March 27,1997 file photo/DAVID MCNEW

Dateline Rancho Santa Fe. March 26, 1997. A 911 call came into the San Diego Sheriff’s Communications Center.

It was treated as a prank call at first. From what turned out to be a nearby payphone, the caller said something so preposterous that dispatchers took their time in relaying the information to central command.

“This is regarding a mass suicide. I can give you the address,” the caller said, adding that dozens of people had committed suicide at a Mediterranean-style villa in the gilded San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.

Two hours later, San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Brunk arrived at the rented 9,200-square-foot mansion, located near 18341 Colina Norte (later changed to Paseo Victoria) in a gated community of upscale homes.

What Brunk found was shocking to say the least. All wearing the same black Nike shoes, covered in purple blankets with no noticeable signs of trauma, 21 men and 18 women, ranging in age from 26 to 72, lay dead in peaceful repose.

This was the largest mass suicide in American history. Each had taken a lethal cocktail of phenobarbital mixed with apple sauce and vodka.

As they went in they kept finding more bodies and more bodies, retired San Diego County homicide detective Chuck Curtis told San Diego NBC 7 this week about the suicide scene. Curtis was the first officer there.

“It was an astonishing thing to them that they thought, ‘Is this ever going to end?’” Curtis said, adding, “I’ve never seen anything like it, and haven’t seen anything like it since.”

Many of the Heaven’s Gate 39 adherents who were found dead in a Rancho Santa Fe mansion had been with the group for most of their adult lives. Their leader was Marshall Applewhite. Just before the suicide, he posted an alarming video saying of group members, “They’re about to leave and they’re excited to leave,”

They were ready to go — somewhere. Deputies found them with their bags packed. Most were neatly laid out on beds, covered with purple shrouds. They wore running shoes and matching uniforms with “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” patches. Each had a $5 bill and three quarters in his or her pockets.

Two deceased members of the Heaven’s Gate cult in a police photo taken March 26, 1997.

The Heaven’s Gate group believed that once free of their earthly bodies, they would be whisked by spaceship to a celestial paradise and a “level beyond human.” They associated the Hale-Bopp comet, which could be seen in the sky that winter, with the spacecraft they awaited. They thought it was traveling behind the comet.

They left video manifestos explaining that disciples were “exiting their human vessels” and beaming up to an extraterrestrial-piloted spaceship zipping along in the blue ion tale of the comet Hale-Bopp, a bright light in the night sky for more than a year.

They didn’t refer to it as suicide. They called it graduation. Those who stayed behind were the ones killing themselves, they said.

Applewhite was the group’s leader. Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles was second in command.

A preacher’s son from West Texas, Applewhite started on the straight and narrow. He served in the US Army, married, had two children and taught music for a while at the University of Alabama. In 1970, he was fired from his job as a music professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston for “health problems of an emotional nature” after school administrators learned he had an affair with a male student.

Friends and former members of Applewhite’s group said their leader met nurse Nettles in 1972 at the psychiatric hospital where he hoped to find a cure for his desires.

Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles

Known as “Bo” and “Peep” — and later “Do” and “Ti” — Applewhite and Nettles spread their teachings as the way to a “next level” of existence, to be found in outer space. Applewhite insisted that his relationship with Nettles, who died in 1985, was nonsexual.

The group’s recruiting drives were followed by periods spent in near hiding. In its final years, its message was spread through the Internet. As many as 200 followers willing to conform to stern prohibitions against sex, alcohol and smoking joined the group over the years.

They believed in androgyny. Men and women wore cropped hairdos and were cocooned in baggy clothing. Applewhite and at least five male adherents proved their fidelity to the cause by undergoing castration.

The early 1990s proved very good for the group, especially as members achieved a certain proficiency in web site design. The first well-known American cult of the Internet era, according to Rolling Stone magazine, they used the new technology to share their beliefs with a wider audience and also to make a living. They derived a large portion of their income from designing web pages.

The turning point occurred in 1995 as a rocky hunk of ice known as the Hale-Bopp comet put on a celestial show for those on spaceship Earth as it hurtled through the Milky Way. For 18 months, the world was abuzz with tales of the Hale-Bopp journey.

Applewhite made a cosmic connection. He told his star-crossed adherents that this was their ride to the next life planet. In October 1996, Applewhite rented that Rancho Santa Fe mansion from none other than Sam Koutchesfahani, who bought the home in 1994 for $1.3 million. Koutchesfahani lost the mansion to foreclosure, and was later convicted of (unrelated) fraud and conspiracy.

Hale-Bopp knocked on Heaven’s Gate’s door beginning on March 21, 1997 as its rooster-tail glowed above on the night of its closest approach. Last supper consisted of 39 identical meals at the nearby Rancho Santa Fe Village’s Marie Callender’s: turkey pot pie, blueberry cheesecake, iced tea.

Starting March 24, group members began their ghastly descent into sedative phenobarbital (dissolved in apple juice) and a vodka chaser, with Applewhite and two female followers stage-managing the tableau of death. Fifteen members died that night.

Fifteen more died the next day, followed by nine on March 26. Investigators said the leader was the seventh to die on the third day, followed shortly by the two women. Many of the dead had been tethered to Applewhite’s long leash since the early days of wandering in 1975.

As the deaths became known, and turned The Ranch into an unwelcome target of media frenzy, Applewhite’s final video testament was sent out into the world.

The tapes, including 90 minutes of Applewhite’s New Age babble and pitiful farewells from disciples trying to justify irrationality, have had 2 million views on YouTube, according to the New York Daily News. (Former disciples who missed the spaceship maintain the group’s website, frozen in time from March 1997).

“We’re about to return to whence we came,” Applewhite intoned to the camera. “I can lead you into that kingdom level above human. That can’t happen unless you leave the human world that you’re in and come and follow me. Time is short. Last chance.”

San Diego County Coroner technicians grab the body of a suicide victim from the Heaven’s Gate cult as they are unloaded from a forklift onto a gurney on March 28, 1997/File Photo

A year after the suicides, former members got into a legal fight with San Diego County officials, who wanted to auction the cult’s belongings to reimburse the families of the deceased for funeral expenses, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Mark and Sarah King said they had done video and audio work for Heaven’s Gate and that the group wanted them to safeguard its property, especially the religious teachings. They negotiated an agreement to buy the writings, artwork and other items for $2,000, and they agreed not to profit from the sale of any of it.

The bunks and shrouds discovered at the mansion are now on display at the Museum Of Death in Hollywood, California. Mannequins wear the actual clothes taken from some of the bodies.

The website for the cult is also still working and looks just like it did decades ago.

Oddly enough, the group brought down the mansion’s value. Atlas Obscura reports that it was priced for nearly half its worth a little while back. Later, the house was destroyed, a new house was built from scratch and even the street name was changed.

Each body found in the mansion was draped in a purple cloth and adorned with black and white Nike sneakers/File Photo

Today, only a few Heaven’s Gate believers remain. Two of them sit on the other end of the website’s sole contact email address, and will promptly respond to your inquiries. Which seems odd for a group whose members are all widely believed to be dead.

The people who respond to HeavensGate.com queries refer to themselves simply as “Telah” and “we.” They’ll answer questions if you ask—that’s part of the gig—but they’ve wearied of the rubberneckers that have passed through ever since their fellow active members committed suicide in 1997. Which is perhaps to be expected when you’re the only official contact point for one of the largest, most bizarre mass suicides in human history

Starting 10 days ago on the comment section of The Escondido Grapevine, Sawyer, the survivor interviewed by Inside Edition and Glaive, a commenter, engaged in a lively discussion of the group and its aftermath. That can be found here.

The Los Angeles Times earlier this month spoke with sociologists and religious studies scholars to add some context to the event for “Heaven’s Gate remains in orbit. They continue to evaluate and write about the group’s foundations, arguing whether it was fundamentally Christian or New Age, trying to put it in context with America’s long history of spiritual yearning. They debate whether members were brainwashed into joining and staying. They discuss the timing of the suicides.”

And they ponder a provocative question: Are the forces that helped shape Heaven’s Gate still in play in American society?

Or, to put it another way: Could it happen again?

Comet Hale-Bopp, which the Heaven’s Gate cult members believed was their ticket to an alien spaceship.

Gallows humor has long been a way for people to deal with tragedies, to give themselves some distance and relief from the horror. But with Heaven’s Gate, there may have been something else at work, Benjamin Zeller said. He is an associate professor of religion at Lake Forest College near Chicago and the author of a 2014 book about the cult.

“In some ways, I think it was too close for comfort,” Zeller said.

Too close because many of the beliefs that group members held are similar to those found in more mainstream religions. Belief in a heavenly father. Belief in the importance of the soul over the body. Belief that they were engaged in the eternal fight of good versus evil. Belief in salvation, in an afterlife somewhere up there. Belief in end times.

“It’s too easy to just dismiss them as nuts,” Zeller said.

Of course, they differed in significant ways from established theology, according to the experts interview by the Times, primarily the belief that heaven is a literal place, and that you get there on a spaceship — but that fits, too, into the broader American counterculture movement that emerged from the 1960s and spawned all kinds of new religious thinking.

“We saw the mainstreaming of angels, crystals, shamans, ascended beings — all that otherworldly stuff,” said Janja Lalich, a Chico State University sociologist who also has written a book about Heaven’s Gate. “You saw it with TV shows like ‘Touched by an Angel.’ Cults that built themselves around this kind of a belief system had an easier time because it didn’t seem so strange.”

This controversial Saturday Nigh Live opening bit starring Will Ferrell aired two weeks after the mass suicide.

The street name of where the cult lived was changed. Neighbors bought the property and built a new house very similar to the old one. This photo of the location taken Nov. 25, 2020/The Grapevine

High on the hill, the rebuilt house at the Heaven’s Gate site, Rancho Santa Fe/The Grapevine

Heaven's Gate member found dead

A man believed to have been member of the Heaven's Gate cult was found dead at a California hotel yesterday.

Another apparent cult member survived an apparent suicide attempt and was hospitalised after the authorities rushed him to a local hotel, San Diego police said.

The CNN cable television network reported that it had received a videotape from the two which was similar to one sent out before the mass suicide of 39 cult members on 24 March.

One was a former member of the cult and the husband of a woman who had died then.

They were found at a Holiday Inn, near the site of the earlier deaths, in Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego.

Marshall Herff Applewhite, a former opera singer, died in a luxury mansion outside San Diego with 38 cult followers, aged 24 to 72.

They died, dressed in identical uniforms, after eating a mixture of alcohol and the drug phenobarbitol with apple sauce, and having broadcast their beliefs on a World Wide Web site.

Each of them made video statements, saying that they had left their earthly "vehicles" in order to join a spaceship which was flying in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet.

"Planet earth is about to be recycled," Mr Applewhite had warned. "The only chance to evacuate is to leave with us."

The two men apparently wanted to catch up with Mr Applewhite and his followers. One of the men said he hoped he had "not missed the bus", CNN reported.

The network said it would not broadcast the tape until their identities were confirmed.

A computer designer, Richard Ford, known as "Rio D'Angelo" in the cult, discovered his fellow members' bodies and had been billed as Heaven's Gate last survivor.

He capitalised on his position to sell the television and film rights to his story.

In an earlier suicide bid, on 1 April, a 58-year-old recluse was found dead in his home in a remote mountain canyon in northern California after committing suicide. He had left a note indicating he believed that he would also join the dead Heaven's Gate cult members.

The "Heaven's Gate" cult helped to design computer web pages.

Who Was Bonnie Nettles?

Before 1972, Nettles was a registered nurse who was married with four children. But that was the year Nettles started believing a monk from the 19th century named Brother Francis was giving her instructions. That was also around the time she conducted seances and studied astrology, spiritual ecstasy and occult studies.

In that same year, Nettles reportedly went to see many fortune tellers, who told her she would meet a mysterious, tall man with a fair complexion. That description fit Applewhite perfectly. On New Year's Day in 1973, Nettles left her husband and children to devote her time to Applewhite and their beliefs.

The creepy reason these Nikes are worth a fortune

THIRTY NINE dead bodies were found all wearing the same shoes. The only survivors have revealed why they chose to wear them.

39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult were found dead like this. Covered in purple sheets and wearing a pair of Nike Decades. Source:Supplied

THIRTY-NINE bodies, dressed in identical black uniforms, lay dead in a spacious San Diego mansion, as police combed the grisly scene.

They were all members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, who believed that — through suicide — their souls would be transported from their lifeless bodies to a spaceship which was supposedly trailing the nearby Comet Hale-Bopp. From there, they would be beamed to a “level of existence above human.”

When the mass suicides splashed onto the nightly news on March 26, 1997, the cultish images of these bodies clad in all black uniforms left an indelible impression on the public. One thing stood out most among the horror: all 39 bodies were wearing matching black-and-white Nikes.

The shoes remained in focus when the unsettling photos peppered publications such as Time and Newsweek in the following weeks. Saturday Night Live helped further cement the connection between the cult and the company with a tasteless Nike commercial spoof of the events — the slogan “Just Do It” was too tempting a punchline to avoid.

Not surprisingly, Nike went into crisis mode, quietly discontinuing the line, and refusing to issue a press release about the tragedy.

While the story soon faded from prominence, the shoe’s limited availability, coupled with its morbid place in history, has resulted in the otherwise unassuming Nike Decade becoming one of the most sought after sneakers in the world. Resellers often ask for prices in the thousands for a single pair.

This pair of shoes is being advertised on eBay for $6660. Source:Supplied

Chip Newell is one such collector, and he certainly knows the value of these shoes.

He is currently selling a pair on eBay for the inflammatory price of $6,660, displayed with a picture of Heaven’s Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite to really hammer home the point.

Not surprisingly, his listing attracts criticism from many who feel it’s offensive Newell admits he had to remove any mention to the cult in his listing, as it violated eBay’s ‘tragedy’ rules. “My mum doesn’t think it’s funny, either”, he notes.

Despite their eerie exit from this realm, some members of Heaven’s Gate still inhabit Earth. The cult even maintains a website: A gaudy, pre-2000-style hub which features book excerpts, 𠇎xit statements” by students, and an essay titled, “Our Position Against Suicide” — a befuddled rant which runs counter to the group’s most famous action.

The site is maintained by ex-members Mark and Sarah King, who were among only eight members of Heaven’s Gate who didn’t commit suicide in 1997. They were chosen by the cult’s leader Marshall Applewhite to remain behind on Earth as the group’s 𠇌ommunication centre”, a job which involves — among other more mystic tasks — tending to emails, which they diligently continue to do two decades later.

Marshall Herff Applewhite, alleged leader of the 'Heaven's Gate' cult. Picture: Channel 9 Source:AP

They explained to me, via email, that the easy iconography of the matching shoes has been blown out of proportion.

“We were looking for a good buy on shoes”, the couple explains, of the decision to sport such iconic kicks.

“The Nike Decade was a discontinued line [they were actually still in production at the time] and the shoe store manager indicated he could come up with about 40 pairs of those shoes for us at a good price. We shopped around and found his deal to be the best in relation to the kind of shoe we wanted.”

Heaven’s Gate cult members, found dead in their bunk beds. Picture: Channel 9 Source:News Limited

According to records still kept by the Kings, the shoes were bought on March 1, for $US548.45, from a store in North County, San Diego. Just over three weeks later, the shoes were representative of much more than savvy shopping.

“It has been turned into something bigger than it really was”, they explain. “They were to demonstrate uniformity. We were all in the same attire, like team unity. It, again, got blown out of proportion.

𠇊ny shoe that would have been selected would have done this. If it would have been Adidas or Converse or New Balance, they all would have been supported or received publicity. We thought that it actually hurt Nike more than helped, anyway.”

Dick Joslyn, former member of the Heaven's Gate cult, displays his black Nike sneakers at a news conference Friday, April 18, 1997 in San Diego. Picture: AP Photo/Denis Poroy Source:AP

This much would appear to be true. Despite almost all Nike’s various ranges from the �s and �s having been successfully reissued over the years for nostalgia purposes, the company is obviously content to let the Decade fade into history.

Speaking to Ad Week in 1997, company spokesperson Jim Small gave the only public statement on the matter Nike have offered to date: “The Heaven’s Gate incident was a tragedy. It had nothing to do with Nike.”

But two decades later, the tragedy and the sneaker company remained inexorably linked.

If only that Nike logo wasn’t quite so obvious. Source:News Limited

26-3-1997: Heaven Gate Sect Members Found Dead in California

Windowofworld.com – Police found 39 victims of mass suicide in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive suburb of San Diego, California.

All were found lying peacefully in matching dark clothes and Nike sneakers and had no visible signs of blood or trauma.

Launching from History, Thursday (25/3/2021), it was recently revealed that the man and woman were members of the “Heaven Gate” religious cult.

Its leaders preached that suicide would allow them to leave their body “receptacles” and enter an alien spaceship hidden behind the comet Hale-Bopp.

The cult is led by Marshall Applewhite, a music professor who survived a near death experience in 1972.

She was recruited into the cult by one of its nurses, Bonnie Lu Nettles.

Heaven Gate Teachings Lead Followers to Death

In 1975, Applewhite and Nettles persuaded a group of 20 people from Oregon to leave their families and possessions and move to eastern Colorado, where they promised that a spaceship would take them to the “kingdom of heaven.”

Nettles, who calls himself “Ti,” and Applewhite, who takes the name “Do,” explain that the human body is just a container that can be left behind for a higher physical existence.

Because the spacecraft never arrived, membership at Heaven Gate dwindled, and in 1985 Bonnie Lu Nettles died.

During the early 1990s, the cult resurfaced as Applewhite began recruiting new members.

Immediately after the discovery of the comet Hale-Bopp in 1995, Heaven Gate members became convinced that an alien spacecraft was heading for Earth, hidden from human detection behind the comet.

In October 1996, Applewhite rented a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, explaining to the owner that his group consisted of angels who were Christian-based.

Applewhite advocated sexual abstinence, and some members of the male sect followed his example by undergoing castration surgery.

In 1997, as part of a 4,000-year solar orbit, the comet Hale-Bopp passed near Earth in one of the most impressive astronomical events of the 20th century.

In late March 1997, when Hale-Bopp reached his closest distance to Earth, Applewhite and 38 of his followers drank a deadly mixture of phenobarbital and vodka and died.

They hope to leave their body vessels, enter an alien spaceship, and pass through the Gates of Heaven to a higher existence.

Heaven’s Gate — A timeline

Many of the Heaven’s Gate adherents who were found dead in a Rancho Santa Fe mansion March 26, 1997, had been with the group for most of their adult lives. Their leader was Marshall Applewhite.

Purple shrouds covered all but two of the bodies, and all the victims were wearing black Nike running shoes.
They were found with their bags packed. Most were neatly laid out on beds, covered with purple shrouds. They wore running shoes and matching uniforms with “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” patches. Each had a $5 bill and quarters in his or her pockets.

The Heaven’s Gate group believed that once free of their earthly bodies, they would be whisked by spaceship to a celestial paradise and a “level beyond human.” They associated the Hale-Bopp comet, which could be seen in the sky that winter, with the spacecraft they awaited. They thought it was traveling behind the comet.

The Heaven’s Gate cult had existed for more than two decades. Its recruiting drives were followed by periods spent in near hiding. In its final years, its message was spread through the Internet. Here is a timeline of the group’s history.

1972: Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, a nurse, meet at a Houston hospital. They set out on a spiritual quest and open a metaphysical bookstore.

January 1973: Applewhite and Nettles close their bookstore and set out to find their spiritual mission.

February 1973-August 1974: Applewhite and Nettles travel around the country, camping in parks and skipping out on motel-room bills.

Aug. 27, 1974: Applewhite and Nettles are arrested in Harlingen, Texas, on charges of credit-card fraud and auto theft. The charges against Nettles are dropped, but Applewhite is extradited to St. Louis and spends six months in jail.

March 1975: Applewhite and Nettles go to Ojai. Two of their recruits are a mother and her adult daughter.

April 1975: About 80 people meet at a Hollywood Hills home to hear Applewhite and Nettles. Twenty-four people from that meeting agree to meet in Gold Beach, Ore., with Applewhite and Nettles two weeks later.

May 5, 1975: The followers meet Applewhite and Nettles in Gold Beach. The leaders now call themselves Bo and Peep.

June 1975: Applewhite and Nettles abandon several followers in Sedona, Ariz.

Aug. 24, 1975: Applewhite and Nettles make a public appearance at Can

ada College in Redwood City.

Sept. 14, 1975: The group meets in Waldport, Ore., expecting a spaceship to land. No spaceship shows up, but more than 30 people agree to join the group. The cult gets its first negative publicity over the fiasco.

Fall 1975: The group camps at the Colorado National Monument, waiting for a spaceship to pick up the members.

April 21, 1976: Nettles announces that the group no longer will hold public meetings. Many people leave the group during the next year. Its numbers drop from about 100 to two dozen. Nettles now calls herself Ti, while Applewhite goes by the name of Do.

June 19, 1985: Nettles dies of liver cancer.

May 27, 1993: The cult places a one-third-page ad in USA Today and once again begins recruiting members, this time using the Internet to spread its message.

June-October 1995: Heaven’s Gate members spend several months living in a compound in a remote New Mexico town.

October 1996: After living in several north San Diego County homes the year before, the cult moves into a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe.

March 26, 1997: The bodies of 39 cult members are discovered in the mansion.

May 1997: The husband of one of the dead cult members kills himself at an Encinitas motel. A member for 20 years, he had left the group in 1994. He had expressed regret that he was not with them when they died. A second former cult member who attempted death with him is revived.

February 1998: The second former cult member’s body is found in a tent in the Arizona desert, nine months after he survived the earlier suicide attempt.

Nov. 22, 1999: A county auction of Heaven’s Gate belongings raises $32,707. Some of the money pays for the auction the rest goes to family members to help cover burial costs. Two former members who had tied up the estate in probate court eventually reach a settlement with the county and pay $2,000 for items of most significance to the cult.
– Source: Heaven’s Gate: A Timeline, San Diego Union-Tribune, Mar. 18, 2007

Heaven’s Gate is born

After Applewhite met Nettles, the earliest incarnation of a cult began to form. Nettles was the wise mystic and Applewhite the charismatic speaker. Together, they spent months touring the country spreading their message. Believing they were on a spiritual mission and earthly laws didn’t apply to them, they perpetrated a variety of crimes including credit card fraud and auto theft. Applewhite was sentenced to prison and during that time began to refine his beliefs.

The Sad, Strange Story of the Heaven's Gate Cult

On March 26, 1997, San Diego police followed up on an anonymous tip and entered a home located in one of the city's wealthy suburban neighborhoods, according to History.com. Officers were greeted by the stench of decomposing bodies. Inside lay the corpses of 39 people – all dressed in identical tracksuits and shoes – who had committed mass suicide, thanks to the teachings of the infamous Heaven's Gate cult.

The group killed themselves as the Hale-Bopp comet approached Earth, in hopes of leaving the confines of their human lives to a ride on an alien spacecraft hiding in the comet's wake. America and the rest of the world were both horrified and confused.

The group had its roots back in the '70s, when a Texas music teacher named Marshall Applewhite lost his job after having an inappropriate relationship with a male student, according to Rolling Stone. Not long afterward, he met a nurse named Bonnie Nettles. Both had an interest in biblical prophecy, and Applewhite was convinced that the two were bonded somehow because they'd met in a previous life.

For her part, Nettles told Applewhite that she knew they'd meet someday . because extraterrestrials had preordained their encounter.

Together, the two blended multiple religious teachings from the New Testament with various bits of eschatology, mysticism, astrology, asceticism, reincarnation and science fiction, as well as aspects of Applewhite's Presbyterian upbringing. All of this was influenced by Nettles' belief that a monk from the 1800s often had conversations with her, providing life guidance.

The two didn't have a romantic relationship. Instead, they bonded in their efforts to ascend to a higher plane of existence and ultimately reach the kingdom of heaven. Applewhite became calling himself "Do," and Nettles became "Ti." Or else they called themselves "Bo" and "Peep."

In the mid-1970s, they convinced a group of 20 Oregonians to leave behind their families, lives and worldly possessions for Colorado. There, they waited for an alien spaceship to arrive. It never did, so the group began dwindling.

In 1985, Nettles died from cancer, leaving Applewhite depressed. But he was undeterred. By the early 1990s, he'd tweaked his beliefs and started recruiting new members. The group bounced from place to place, sometimes living in campgrounds around the country, occasionally panhandling and always looking to recruit new converts, reported the New York Times.

A Master Manipulator

Throughout the years, hundreds of people joined and cycled in and out of the group. To improve retention rates, Applewhite gradually began to control many aspects of members daily habits and routines. He was a master manipulator. As his techniques improved, more people stayed on to follow him, and became fanatically devoted.

"Cult leaders come in many shapes and sizes with assorted facades. One mask is in the form of a teacher," emails Rick Alan Ross, author of "Cults Inside Out." "Marshall Applewhite was a teacher and he regarded the members of Heaven's Gate as his 'class' of students. He claimed to have the keys to self-improvement, with tantalizing promises of a panacea, a magic formula for evolution to a level above human."

Members were forced to wear to the same clothes and have the same haircuts. They gave up their jobs, families, possessions and their sexuality. Several male members (including Applewhite) even agreed to be castrated, to help them loosen ties to their earthly lives.

"Cult members can appear 'brainwashed,' because they are so cocooned within their leader's contrived bubble world," says Ross. "Applewhite tightly controlled his devotees who lived communally in a house that he controlled. They were isolated from family and friends and could not travel outside the community without an accompanying escort."

When astronomers in 1995 discovered the comet Hale-Bopp, Applewhite came to believe that the aliens were finally on their way, hiding behind the comet as it raced toward Earth. He also felt sure that Nettles was aboard the ship.

Applewhite rented a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego. To make money, the group designed websites for several customers. (In fact, the Heaven's Gate website is still functioning.) As Hale-Bopp came closer by the week, Applewhite figured the only way to join Nettles was for the group to leave their "container" bodies and elevate to the ship.

The Final Days

So, in late March 1997, he persuaded 38 other people to drink a blend of phenobarbital and vodka, and then, for good measure, wrap plastic bags around their heads. Their corpses were shrouded in purple cloth, for privacy.

Watch the video: CNN: Heavens Gate suicides remembered