On March 26th, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 mass suicide participants. The deceased had been covered with a purple cloth, wearing identical black shirts and sweatpants, and brand new black-and-white Nike Decades athletic shoes.
These were members of the American UFO religious cult Heaven’s Gate based in San Diego, California, who took their own lives in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale-Bopp.
Now, more than twenty years following the deaths, this macabre scene still disturbs today.
The Deadly Meeting Of Applewhite and Nettles
Marshall Applewhite met Bonnie Nettles when he was a patient at a psychiatric hospital ‘seeking a cure’ for his homosexual urges and she worked as a nurse. Although Nettles was already married, the pair concluded that they had both met in a past life and extraterrestrials had a divine assignment awaiting them.
Their mission: to contact the extraterrestrials and source like-minded followers along the way. Applewhite and Nettles teamed up and advertised for others to join “the Crew”. Both were sci-fi fans who enjoyed Star Wars, Star Trek and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and most of their philosophies were borrowed from science fiction.
Their main belief system was: “(The Earth) would soon be “recycled, wiped clean, renewed, refurbished, and rejuvenated”, and the only chance to survive was to leave it immediately. Meaning suicide. For members to “be eligible for membership in the Next Level, (they) would have to shed every attachment to the planet”. Family, friends, past jobs and personal interests would have to be left behind as the rules were simple: “no sex, no human-level relationships, no socializing” whatsoever.
According to the New York Times, more than 150 recruits had gathered in the hall of a motel in Waldport, Oregon, ready to hear the words of Applewhite and Nettles. The group had already garnered some media attention over their UFO beliefs and on the night of their ‘disappearance’, CBS Evening News newsreader Walter Cronkite reported, “A score of persons… have disappeared. It’s a mystery whether they’ve been taken on a so-called trip to eternity — or simply been taken.”
In 1985, Nettles died of liver cancer and Applewhite announced to the group that her body (or as he said “broken-down vehicle”) would be cremated and the ashes spread at a lake in Texas. Following her death, Applewhite turned to the internet in the mid-90s to begin his search for more recruits. He finally had enough recruits to move into “The Monastery”; a 9,000-square-foot home in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego.
The Last Supper
The BBC reported, “Just a day or so before enacting their meticulously planned suicides – the cult went out for a last supper together at the Marie Callender’s restaurant in Carlsbad.” A waiter recalled, “They all ordered the exact same thing. It was set up before they came in. They all had iced teas to drink. Dinner salads beforehand with tomato vinegar dressing. Turkey potpie for the entree. Cheesecake with blueberries on top for dessert. They seemed very nice, very friendly, very polite. No one seemed depressed at all or anything like that.”
Then on March 26th, 1997, they decided it was time to “evacuate” the earth. 38 members and Applewhite washed down a mixture of phenobarbital, applesauce and with vodka. They secured plastic bags around their heads to induce asphyxiation.
Police discovered the bodies wearing identical black shirts and sweatpants, and brand new black-and-white Nike Decades athletic shoes. Each member was covered with a purple cloth with a five-dollar bill and three quarters in their pockets. They each wore an armband that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team”.
Surviving member Michael Conyers revealed, “Everything was designed to be… an exact duplicate. You were not to come up with, ‘Well I’m going to make the pancakes this big.’ There was a mixture, a size, how long you cooked it one side, how much the burner was on, how many a person got, how the syrup was poured on it. Everything.”
The cult had issued one final statement on their website (which is still online http://www.heavensgate.com/) that read: “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.”
After an investigation, it is believed the group – aged between 26 and 72-years-old – died in three separate groups over three days. The first 15 died on March 24th, then 15 more on March 25th, and 9 further members died on March 26th. Together, through these devastating circumstances, they became one of the most dangerous cults of all time.
Source and further reading: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/heavens-gate-20-years-later-10-things-you-didnt-know-w473560