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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate News Week of 4/2/97

April 8, 1997

Surviving cult member refuses to hand over videotape

AP Wireservices
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The former Heaven's Gate cult member who discovered and videotaped the bodies of 39 mass suicide victims has refused to hand over the tape to investigators, officials said.

Detectives are seeking a search warrant to seize the video shot by Richard Ford, but it's questionable a judge will grant one because nobody committed a crime, said Lt. Jerry Lipscomb of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

``He has given us everything else we requested but the video,'' Lipscomb said Monday. ``He didn't say why he wouldn't give us the video.''

Ford, who also uses the name Rio DiAngelo, left the cult in late February after three years as its 39 members were planning to commit suicide. They believed their souls would be taken to heaven in a spaceship.

In his only print interview, Ford told Newsweek that he brought the video camera ``to keep the facts accurate.''

Neither Ford nor his attorney, Robert Zakari, could be reached for comment. They both work for Los Angeles-based InterAct Entertainment Group, which is handling Ford's contract with ABC for a TV movie.

In his interview on ``PrimeTime Live,'' Ford explained the group's anti-government bias, saying members feared the FBI would work with families trying to find their relatives.

``We thought there was a possibility of some sort of confrontation,'' he said. ``When we were living in New Mexico -- having Waco happen -- we were concerned that us being a group that the government may not understand, that the government might come after us for some reason.''

Ford also told ``PrimeTime Live'' that cult leader Marshall Applewhite was suffering from health problems, including a pinched nerve in his back. Applewhite's castration, which Ford said was done in Mexico, also caused problems because doctors ``goofed up.''

``It didn't heal as fast as if it would have if it was done properly,'' Ford said.

April 7, 1997

Relatives of suicide cultist preach forgiveness at funeral

By Jeff Donn, Associated Press Writer (selections)
BRIMFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- Julie LaMontagne's family and friends never really said goodbye when she was swallowed up almost 20 years ago into a reclusive cult.

This week, her remains back in family hands, they are finally saying farewell and also trying to lay to rest their anger toward the cult that shepherded her to death with 38 others in a mass suicide at Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. But even if they forgive, they can't necessarily understand.

The 45-year-old introspective former nursing student became an influential member of the Heaven's Gate cult. She was said to be a close associate and nurse of cult founder Marshall Herff Applewhite. She ran the cult's bakery and served as its dietician.

One of the last two members to die, Ms. LaMontagne used her nursing skills to make the others comfortable as they ingested drugs and alcohol mixed with apple sauce or pudding, authorities said.

Some relatives at Monday's half-hour service said they believe that Ms. LaMontagne has finally found the final peace she craved.

One of four children, she was the only daughter of Doris and Jules LaMontagne. When her parents separated, she and two brothers went to live with a foster family in Brimfield. Those at Monday's service remembered her as bright, quiet and conservative in her attitudes.

She graduated in 1974 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst nursing school. She was recruited into the cult there in 1975, according to her foster mother. Her family rarely saw her afterward and eventually lost track of her.

Joe Grise, of Brimfield, who grew up near the LaMontagne family, said he had not seen Ms. LaMontagne in 30 years. The news of her death still pained him, and he blamed the cult, as did others who knew her. ``We were all angry at the time,'' he said.

The family said it spent thousands of dollars trying to find Ms. LaMontagne over the years. Monday, her brothers passed around her cremated remains, taking turns tucking it under their arms.

Houston Chronicle Computing Column

By Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle, Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (selections)
Apr. 7--OLD-LINE MEDIA NEED NEW LOOK AT INTERNET: When the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide near San Diego last month, a horrible tragedy occurred. I'm not talking about the deaths themselves, which certainly were horrendous, but rather the way the mainstream media treated the story.

In many cases, the Internet became the villain. Thanks to the spin placed on the story, not only is the Net a haven for pornographers, pedophiles and right-wing terrorists, but now it's also a hangout for wacko cultists with a death wish.

Television, which doesn't handle complex stories well, was the worst offender. Most broadcasters focused on the fact that the Heaven's Gate members apparently earned money by designing and building sites on the World Wide Web. The implication in many of the pieces aired after the bodies were found was that the Net was somehow to blame, or at the very least has become a gathering place for weirdos.

The Digital Nation is a proud community, and its citizens were not pleased. The marketing director for a Houston-area Web design firm called me to say jokingly that they were planning a press release promising not to kill themselves.

On discussion forums across the Net, Web developers reported with astonishment that relatives and friends had called them, after hearing about the suicide on the news, to inquire whether they were all right. Suddenly, anyone who hacked out HTML had the potential to off themselves.

One group of Webslingers decided to fight back using its own medium. Less than 24 hours after the bodies were found, a parody Web site appeared at (the cult's business Web site was that poked fun at both the cult and the news coverage.

In many cases, the mainstream media don't seem to know how to present the Internet to its audience. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many reporters and editors are dumbfounded when it comes to personal computers. Unfortunately, many of my fellow journalists are near-Luddites, even though they use computers every day in their work.

And professionally, many are afraid of the Net. They worry that it will make them irrelevant -- and indeed it might, if they don't learn something about how to use it. The smart journalists are learning how to report and edit for the new media -- mastering it before it masters them.

[Have a topic you'd like to see addressed? Chronicle computer columnist Dwight Silverman wants to know. Send your comments and suggestions to the address in the Feedback box on the front of]

Heaven's Gate cult's nurse, dietician buried

AP Wireservices (selections)
BRIMFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- Family members spent thousands of dollars and countless hours over 20 years trying to persuade Julie LaMontagne to leave Heaven's Gate and come home.

The 45-year-old former nursing student from Brimfield was an influential member of the California-based Heaven's Gate cult. She was said to be a close associate and nurse of cult founder Marshall Herff Applewhite. She also ran the cult's bakery and served as its dietician.

``Julie was happy in life and happy in what she believed,'' said Andrew LaMontagne of Windsor, Vt., eulogizing his sister during a private Mass at St. Christopher Church in Brimfield, where she grew up in a foster family after her parents separated.

One of the last two members to die, Ms. LaMontagne used her nursing skills to make the others comfortable as they drugs and alcohol mixed with apple sauce or pudding, authorities said.

Her remains were scheduled to be taken to a Springfield cemetery.

About 65 people attended the Roman Catholic Mass.

Heaven's Gate deaths reveal Net defenders' thin skin

By Jonathan Weber, Los Angeles Times (selections)
THE news of the mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe had barely hit the wires when a now-familiar rallying cry began to echo through cyberspace: Don't blame the Internet.

Just because the Heaven's Gate adherents had a Web design company and proselytized on the global computer network doesn't mean the Internet had anything to do with their deaths, numerous Net activists and online journalists asserted. And down with the media for daring to suggest any such connection.

Uneasy feeling

Yet even as I did my part to assure that coverage of the suicides treated the Internet angle responsibly, I was feeling uneasy with many Net defenders' knee-jerk leap to the barricades. To dismiss out of hand the possible significance of the links between the Net and the cult seemed facile, even defiant of common sense.

As it turns out, old-fashioned reporting -- including some solid work by online journalists -- soon showed that the Internet was, in fact, a fairly minor aspect of this baroque story. And it was ultimately treated as such by most of the media.

But the eagerness of many in the online world to dismiss the Internet angle at the outset is emblematic of an all-too-common disingenuousness about the nature of cyberspace and the consequences of new technologies.

Fringe hangout It seems obvious, for example, that the Internet is an especially comfortable and useful medium for fringe groups of all sorts. Whereas a mainstream religious organization might have TV and radio stations and magazines to bind the flock together and recruit members, a handful of people waiting for a spaceship have no such resources. The Internet gives them a voice.

Netizens assure us that the Net's ability to nurture diverse communities and give anyone a means to be heard is mostly a good thing. But why is it responsible journalism to write about lonely people turning to the Net for enriching human relationships, while it's Net-bashing to suggest that lonely people might turn to the Net and find a destructive cult?

The Internet's most zealous defenders too often seem unwilling to confront the consequences of their own ideology. Let's face it: Free speech can be an ugly thing. All kinds of nut cases can preach all kinds of dangerous stuff, and sometimes people get hurt.

Although it's true, broadly speaking, that the Internet reflects social trends more than it creates them, it's also true that media shape society. Is television a value-free technology whose existence per se is irrelevant to our culture? I don't think so.

This reluctance to address the obvious applies, perhaps even more profoundly, to the very idea of technological progress itself. Netizens tend to regard with contempt those who fear what the Internet and other new technologies might bring. But people have good reason to be afraid. Technological change creates enormous dislocations, and as it accelerates it is shattering all kinds of social institutions and the security they often provide.

Rather than smugly dismiss those who regard Heaven's Gate as a disturbing expression of technologically assisted alienation, the defenders of the Internet need to be more accepting of scrutiny, and better able to articulate why others should share their vision.

[Jonathan Weber is technology editor for The Los Angeles Times' business section. He can be reached via e-mail at]

Former cult member explains mysteries of guns, castration, $5 bills

AP Wireservices (selections)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Two mysteries about the Heaven's Gate cult members -- the $5 bills they carried in their pockets and their warehouse of weapons -- had to do with their fear of police, the man who found their bodies said.

Members began carrying money and identification at all times after one was accused by police of vagrancy, Rio DiAngelo told Newsweek.

He also said cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite was frightened by the 1993 police siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and thought the FBI was stalking his group.

Authorities found five handguns, three rifles and ammunition last week in a warehouse near the cult's rented mansion near San Diego. DiAngelo told the magazine the guns figured for a time in Applewhite's quest for a way to get the group out of their earthly bodies or ``vehicles'' to a ``Next Level.''

DiAngelo said the cultists thought there was no gender at the Next Level, so they adopted an androgynous look and shunned sex. Applewhite decided to get castrated a year ago after two cult members went to Mexico for the procedure. Once Applewhite got castrated, five other cultists did the same.

DiAngelo said that after three years with the group, he had a ``disturbing feeling'' in February and decided to leave but did not consider himself a former member.

DiAngelo told Newsweek he hopes to join the others someday, but suicide ``is not part of my plan.''

DiAngelo said he became involved with Heaven's Gate after hearing members speak in California. He said the cult provided a way for him to escape a troubled life that included a divorce, a violent, unstable mother and other bad relationships.

The group also shared DiAngelo's interest in UFOs, music and Eastern religions.

April 6, 1997

One-time cult member explains mysteries of castration, bills

AP Wireservices (selections)
NEW YORK (AP) -- After Heaven's Gate leader Marshall Applewhite was castrated, five other cult members eagerly followed and ``couldn't stop smiling and giggling'' about the procedure, says the former member who discovered the mass suicide.

Applewhite decided to get castrated a year ago after two cult members quietly went to Mexico for the procedure, Rio DiAngelo told Newsweek. DiAngelo, who said he left ``39 of my closest brothers and sisters'' about a month before they killed themselves, explained some of the cult's mysteries in the magazine's April 14 issue, on newsstands Monday.

Investigators found five-dollar bills in the pockets of the dead -- a curiosity DiAngelo said was a response to a cult member being hassled by police for vagrancy. After that, DiAngelo said, all members carried identification and a small sum of money.

He said he believed that everyone who committed suicide with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol did it ``on their own.'' But DiAngelo said he felt no one wanted to be left behind without Applewhite.

DiAngelo told Newsweek he hopes to join the others someday, but suicide ``is not part of my plan.''

OPINION: Heaven's Gate Suicides Lack Significance Compared To Heroic Deaths

By Philip Terzian, The Journal-Bulletin, Providence, R.I., Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (selections)
Apr. 6--By a curious coincidence, at the moment when members of the Heaven's Gate cult in California were ingesting their poisoned puddings and applesauce, I happened to be standing atop some famous cliffs here on the island of Saipan, in the western Pacific.

In 1944, when the United States invaded the Mariana Islands, Japanese soldiers convinced their wives and dependents that the Marines would rape and torture them if they fell into their hands. Accordingly, as Marines secured the islands, hundreds of women jumped off the high cliffs and into the sea, sometimes carrying their children with them. There is even some film of this harrowing event: You can see Marines in the foreground calling to the women not to kill themselves; the women seem to be listening, they hesitate for a moment, and then they jump.

To our way of thinking, of course, the old Japanese code of death before dishonor is inexplicable: What sort of mother would sacrifice her child to save it from bubble gum-bearing Americans? Of the 31,000 members of the Japanese garrison on Saipan, 29,000 were killed in the battle before a remnant gave up. Inexplicable, to be sure -- but crazily impressive, too.

And yet, half a century later, you have to ask yourself what distinguishes this from the suicide of 39 ill-assorted people in a comfortable estate in Rancho Santa Fe. Two suggestions come to mind.

The first, of course, is that, misguided or not, the Japanese soldiers and civilians chose to die for their country; and in wartime, national self- sacrifice is generally admired. In that sense, I am reminded of General Grant's paradoxical reaction after General Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox, ending the Civil War: ``I felt . . . sad and depressed,'' he later wrote, ``at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.'' Descendants of those same Japanese soldiers now flock to Saipan to buy Disney souvenirs, and revel in the contents of American pop culture.

The other difference, it must be admitted, is aesthetic: The lunatic character of the Heaven's Gate cult makes it hard to invest its actions with grandeur. The notion that middle-class inhabitants of peacetime America, followers of a man who looked like Mr. Clean, should kill themselves with vodka and pills in order that their souls might join a UFO, traveling in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet, and achieve eternal life is -- well, peculiar to some, funny to others, mysterious to all. Undignified, certainly: like slipping on a banana peel on the sidewalk, and dying.

Part of the problem is that deliberate self-destruction makes survivors uncomfortable -- that is often the stated intention of suicides -- and we always search for ``meaning'' in desperate acts, even if meaning is patently elusive. We also demand a certain basic credibility. We honor the Zealots who perished rather than submit to the Romans. We understand the suffering of the terminally ill, and respect their decision to abbreviate the agony. And we think it is tragic when teenagers kill themselves: We know that time tends to heal most wounds, but we also know the anxieties and other burdens of adolescence.

The Heaven's Gate affair is not the first mass suicide in human history, and it won't be the last. But heroic it is not. Like the devotees of the Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana, who drank poisoned Kool-Aid when a visiting congressman disturbed their jungle idyll, the cult of Marshall Applewhite puzzles and amuses, startles and dismays -- but teaches us nothing but the scale of human folly, devoid of the fortitude and sacrifice of war.

[Philip Terzian, the Journal-Bulletin's associate editor, writes a column from Washington. Visit, the World Wide Web site of The Journal-Bulletin, at]

OPINION: Hale-Bopp's Fans Insist That The Comet Won't Be Tainted By Suicides

By Sue Hutchison, San Jose Mercury News, Calif., Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (selections)
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Apr. 6--Last week could've been been an image disaster for Hale-Bopp, but most of the celebrity comet's fans seem to have dismissed its role in last week's bizarre suicides. Hale-Bopp's mesmerized following of amateur astronomers have decided that a cult of kook eunuchs could have mistaken any comet for a space-ship escort.

It's like 16 years ago when John Hinckley decided to fixate on ``Taxi Driver'' as his psychotic motivation to attempt assassinating the president. But it wasn't ``Taxi Driver's'' fault. Hale-Bopp is the Jodie Foster of comets.

Jim Van Nuland, secretary of the San Jose amateur astronomers group, said he knows the Heaven's Gate news has attracted some curiosity seekers, but he's confident the comet will not be tarnished by cult madness.

I had to remind Professor Fraknoi that, well, apparently not everyone understands that. A few people seem to think comets are public transportation of some sort.

``Oh that,'' the professor replied. ``Well, the cult business was just a slight blip in the interest in (Hale-Bopp). Really, this comet has gotten very good press. And all the people I've talked to have been extremely positive about it. You know, it's not fattening or full of violence.''

What else can you ask for in a comet? It's lite and peaceful and puts on one heck of a show. And even if the throng of Hale-Bopp fans who gather Saturday night at Foothill and Fremont Peak State Park wave their butane lighters over their heads in appreciation, they'll still be able to see the comet. Now that's entertainment.

[Write Sue Hutchison at the San Jose Mercury News, 310 University Ave., Palo Alto, Calif. 94301; or e-mail SHutchison(at) Visit Mercury Center, the World Wide Web site of the San Jose Mercury News, at]

2 Heaven's Gate members collected disability

AP Wireservices (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Two Heaven's Gate members claimed to be mentally ill in the years before they killed themselves, and one was collecting benefits, Social Security records show.

Alphonzo Ricardo Foster, 44, of Detroit, had been receiving $890 a month in disability payments for a ``manic disorder'' since December 1988, said Leslie Walker, spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration.

Another member, Robert John Arancio, 46, of Texas, received $626 a month in disability from January 1995 to September 1996 because of schizophrenia. He became ineligible after his income increased, Walker said.

The bodies of 39 cult members, who believed a spaceship would take them to heaven, were found March 26. They apparently earned most of their income designing World Wide Web pages for several companies.

But members generally reported little income over the years, Walker said.

Social Security officials checked all 39 names to intercept benefit checks. In addition to Foster, they found one member was receiving benefits for osteoporosis, and two others collected retirement checks.

Insurance Expert Says Heaven's Gate Cult Should Collect - Even Though Policy on Alien Abduction Should Have Been Illegal

Business Wire Wireservices (selections)
CLAREMONT, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 5, 1997--The Heaven's Gate cult may be entitled to collect the full $39 million on its insurance policy against alien abduction - even though California law should never have allowed such a policy to be written, a leading specialist in insurance law said today.

News reports say the policy, written by Goodfellow Rebecca Ingrams Pearson insurance company in London, covered up to 50 members and would pay $1 million per person for death caused by aliens, as well as alien abductions or impregnations. The beneficiary was the Society of Heaven's Gate.

`It is very clear that the members took their own lives in expectation of redemption in a spaceship they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet,` said John C. McCarthy, an attorney based here.

McCarthy in 1974 won the first case in the nation in which a policy holder successfully sued his insurance company for illegally refusing to pay a claim `in bad faith.` He also is the author of `Recovery of Damages for Bad Faith,` first published in 1975 by Lawpress Corporation. The attorney noted that the members were careful not to mutilate their bodies and were dressed for a trip aboard a space craft. `All of the physical evidence suggests that they expected to be transported to another world,` McCarthy added.

Nevertheless, McCarthy said, `The sale of the policy should have been prohibited by the state insurance commissioner, who is required to approve all policies sold in the state.

`The policy is clearly against the public interest as well as a transparent fraud - except to the Californians who, like the Heaven's Gate members, think they are paying for something of value.`

It is not surprising that the policy figured in the cult's plans, including the timing of the first deaths of some of its members, McCarthy stressed. `If the company pays it, the cult is funded so the remaining members can continue to expand and prosper in style. In my opinion, this should not be a proper purpose of insurance in California.'

The cult paid $1,000 last Oct. 10 for the policy, which was still in effect when 39 of its members died. An insurance company official said the firm had stopped selling such policies because `we don't wish to contribute to a repetition of the Heaven's Gate deaths.`

McCarthy's landmark case, involving a man who lost his foot in an accident, is Silberg vs. California Life Insurance Company, (1974), 11C.3d452. It was decided by the California Supreme Court.

Mother of one Heaven's Gate victim says she is not mad at the cult

AP Wireservices (selections)
VENTURA, Calif. (AP) -- A former Heaven's Gate ``grandma'' whose daughter died in last month's mass suicide still finds reason to defend the close-knit cult.

``Why do they distort? He was such a kind and wonderful man,'' Lorraine Wilber said of Marshall Applewhite, the group's leader.

Ms. Wilber, 78, said she kept in touch with the group almost until the end and was surprised, but not shocked, by the suicides.

``Of course I am sad to lose my daughter,'' she said. ``But I look up to her like an angel. She gave up the world.''

An interview with Ms. Wilber, a former California resident now living in Rolla, Mo., was published Saturday in the Ventura County Star.

She claimed to have helped found the Heaven's Gate group in early 1975 and believes she still is in communication with Applewhite, who was known as Do, and Bonnie Nettles, known as Ti, who died in the 1980s.

``I feel privileged to have known ...,'' she said, freezing in midsentence. ``Ti? Ti? What is it?''

Ms. Wilber said Ti frequently talks to her and recently appeared in the form of a chirping bird at her window.

Ms. Wilber was unclear about how she met Applewhite and Nettles, but said she helped them map out recruiting strategies and a philosophy for the group over her kitchen table in Camarillo, Calif.

Ms. Wilber said she left her husband and two young children to travel with the ``fellowship'' -- she dislikes the term cult.

Former Rodeo Queen May Have Sought A Trail to Lead Her Home From Cult

By Tamara Jones, Washington Post Staff Writer (selections)
Full article:
ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- The pictures of Peggy Bull fan across the dining room table like missing cards from a game of "Memory." Here is Peggy the teenage rodeo queen, the farmer's daughter wading in a mountain creek, the sorority girl sipping champagne on a boat, the hippie strumming a guitar. Peggy laughing, Peggy painting, beautiful Peggy daydreaming in the tall grass.

There are no more pictures for a very long time, and suddenly, Peggy appears again. She gazes into the camera with empty eyes.

Twenty-two years ago, Margaret June Bull disappeared without explanation. Sometime around March 26, at the age of 53, she died the same way. Now, as her family and friends begin to sort through their snapshots, their letters, their distant memories, they still have no idea who or what drew her into the cult called Heaven's Gate.

Sadder still, in different places and different ways, they all have reached the same conclusion:

Peggy Bull was trying to find her way home again.

Rickard, now a landscape architect in Tacoma, still keeps his journals of those years with Bertulis and Queenk, the nickname he gave Bull as a teasing reminder of her rodeo royalty days. "She definitely wasn't your usual little coed, and that made her interesting," Rickard says.

He once asked her what books she would take with her if she had to go underground. She scribbled her choices on a scrap of paper towel -- including "The Iliad" and "The Education of Henry Adams." After she died, Rickard found the list still tucked in an old paperback.

 "Like Peggy, we all seem to share a desire to reach for something beyond our knowledge and mortality," brother John Bull muses. "And all we have is faith. There is never a reason. So asking why they did this misses a very fundamental point. In some sense, we are all members of this cult."

John Bull is 54 now, a college dean with a doctorate in experimental psychology. He is accustomed to scientific answers for behavior. The pictures of his sister cover his dining room table, mined from a box that she herself organized not long ago from old trunks in their grandparents' house. Everything is here. Yellowed newspaper clippings about the rodeo princess. Rickard's black-and-white photographs. Her second-grade report card. Everything is here.

Except an answer.

A Painful Discovery

In the summer of 1975, Rickard opened a letter postmarked Ellensburg and was perplexed to see it was from Bull's grandmother. No one had heard from Peggy for two months and the family was worried.

About the same time, John Bull, who was working in Washington, D.C., got a strange call from his mother.

"She said Peggy had joined this cult and had announced that she was going to be cutting off all contact with the family." Mary Bull had seen an ad for a UFO convention in Washington that weekend. Could John go and look for his sister? Dutifully, he did. He couldn't find her. In a sense, he never did.

She disappeared for 10 years.

Heartbreak at Home With Jack and Mary Bull both dead now, there are only scant recollections of Peggy venturing back into her family's life. John remains angry about those lost years, and the way she toyed with their hearts for so long. He considers her estrangement selfish and cruel.

"Mother was heartbroken," he explains. "I do remember my mother tried to find someone to help her rescue Peggy from this cult early on, in 1975. . . . She tried to solicit help from some Christian ministers that she knew. She was bitter and frustrated with their refusal to help."

Finally, Bull reestablished contact by writing occasional letters -- with no return address -- and phoning home on a fairly regular basis, usually at Christmas.

Worried parents who had lost their children to Heaven's Gate had formed a loose network by then, but the Bulls had resisted joining. Now, John Bull is convinced that this may have given Peggy the trust to return to Ellensburg.

In the summer of 1988, she suddenly showed up. Unlike other cult members who reportedly revisited their old lives on rare occasion, Peggy Bull came alone. She stayed for three months.

"She didn't talk about the religious aspect of this group," John remembers. "She talked about a belief in a higher plane, and that that was where UFOs were from, and that creatures from UFOs were overseeing the development of humans."

John let her blather on. The cult didn't worry him too much. He had concluded that its members "were interested in improving themselves, they were living moral, productive lives, earning their own money, enjoying themselves.

"What harm could there be in that?"

Peggy had brought back a videotape produced by Heaven's Gate to explain their philosophy. John and his wife Suzanne popped it into the VCR. Suzanne was bored within minutes. John, for the first time, was terrified.

Marshall Applewhite, the leader, had what psychologists sometimes refer to as "the schizophrenic stare," he says. His exhortations to his "crew members" to sever old attachments and emotional binds was nothing new, but his talk about being the reincarnation of Jesus Christ was.

"He's crazy," John told his sister. "The man is mentally ill." She just smiled and shrugged and told him he was entitled to his opinion.

Family Ties

Suzanne Bull is convinced that Peggy wanted to detach herself from Heaven's Gate. She was writing letters. That was forbidden. She called. Also forbidden. She secretly gave her parents a work number where she might be reached. She drank wine and ate what she wanted.

And when she came home, far from severing family ties, she worked hard at establishing new ones. She spent hours with Suzanne, quizzing her. What was it like being a wife? What was it like being a mother? How did she cope? Suzanne tried in vain to turn the tables. What were the others in Peggy's group like? Were they all nice?

"She gave me a kind of dead look. `Well,' she said, `some of them are nice. Some I don't like so well. Some are bossy.' "

Christmas Return

In December 1990, Bull arrived unannounced in Ellensburg with an armload of Christmas presents.

"We were floored," Suzanne Bull recalls. "She was just beaming, she was so excited. She made us open them then and there. . . . She'd come home and throw this cult away and be a normal human being."

Peggy seemed "cheerful, happy, vibrant, warm. It was good ol' Peggy." Bertulis, by then divorced, had the impression that Bull wanted "to rekindle our friendship." She told him that she lived a boring life, and joked that she was a nun. She said she had a roommate who was "a former homosexual" and that she worked as a secretary. She refused to say where.

Mary Bull died in August 1993 after battling Parkinson's disease and kidney failure. She had begged her daughter to come home to nurse her, and Peggy had brusquely refused. She turned up more than a month after the funeral.

Bull stayed for Thanksgiving and into early December, spending most of her time putting her father's house in order. She sifted through the trunks full of photographs. She organized the basement meticulously, driving Suzanne Bull crazy with her obsessive need to find a place and a person for every scrap of history.

"She would come to me with all these broken bits and pieces, wondering who they should go to," Suzanne says. "Things like the handle off an old hoe. She was so determined that everything belong somewhere."

And then she was gone again.

The years passed in silence, Peggy never knowing that her nephew Conrad had died of AIDS, that Daphne married and moved to Idaho, that the family farm was sold or that Jack Bull remarried, divorced and died three weeks before the mass suicide last month.

The final picture of Peggy is a grainy videotape. Another cult member sits beside her. To the puzzlement of her family, she glibly announces that she has been on this earth for 31 years and there is "absolutely nothing here for me." But she is not 31. She is 53. She was 31 when she joined Heaven's Gate.

With spring coming to the Kittitas Valley, Peggy Bull will be coming home for the last time. Her family plans to bury her here.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

The dehumanizing of, um, those cultist wackos

Stephanie Salter, San Francisco Examiner (selections) Full article:
STANDING IN the checkout line at the supermarket, I look at the hypercrazed visage of Marshall Applewhite on the cover of Time magazine. As they did in 1995 with a much-criticized "computer enhanced" cover of O.J. Simpson, Time's editors obviously had a statement to make about the subject of this story.

The 66-year-old former music teacher from Texas looks more than insane; he looks inhuman.

Kudos to Time. Most of this nation's news media and a good part of the citizenry have been working hard since the Heaven's Gate suicide story broke to strip Applewhite and his 38 followers of any humanness.

That is what we humans usually do when some of our species alter the behavioral dance and let the side of ourselves that Carl Jung dubbed the "shadow" do the leading.

Ironically, when something like Heaven's Gate crash-lands on our collective consciousness, many of us convince ourselves that - by amassing information and minutiae - we are trying to understand the "why" of weird behavior.

In this pursuit, we of the news media are tireless servants. We live to give galaxies of fascinating facts. In the case of the 39 human beings who quietly committed suicide in Rancho Santa Fe last month, for example, the world knows not only that some of them were castrated, but what kind of ice cream they last ate. (Just like Nicole Simpson.) How useful.

Placed under the glaring light of national media attention - a light that is usually devoid of empathy, understanding or compassion - every aspect of the cult members' lives qualifies as "bizarre."

Even the most banal, common acts, like drinking an overpriced soda at a movie.

Helping the news media to help the citizenry dehumanize the Heaven's Gate people are legions of cult experts. With solemn conviction these learned professors and retired FBI agents assure us that, yes, the Heaven's Gate wackos indeed fit the cult wacko blueprint to a T.

Working together, piling up information, we have all managed to reduce the complex to a cartoon.

Cult member finally comes home

By Coleman Cornelius, The Denver Post (selections)
April 6 - Bruce and Marion Gale went to their graves agonizing over the fate of their youngest son, Larry, after trying to rescue him from a cult whose members believed they would journey to the great beyond in a UFO.

The despairing Denver couple hired private investigators and crisscrossed the country in search of Larry, hoping to wrest him from the grips of Heaven's Gate.

The Gales failed to bring Larry home - a source of pain until they died.

But the cremated remains of Larry's "container" - the cult's reference to the earthly bodies of its members - soon will be buried in his family's plot in Fairmount Cemetery in his hometown of Denver. After 22 years as a devoted Heaven's Gate member, Larry Gale will finally rejoin his parents.

Gale was among the last of the victims to be identified and was listed as being from Lake Forest, Calif., although he grew up in southeast Denver and lived in Colorado until he left home with cult members on Sept. 30, 1975.

Larry's friends from college also are stunned and perplexed. They want to know what attracted the young man to Marshall Herff Applewhite's group - and why Larry was a loyal follower for more than two decades. "Him going into this group and staying in this group always seemed like a big aberration to me," said Phil Schaeffer of Steamboat Springs, Larry's best friend through high school and college. "It seems like the kind of group he would have made fun of." Larry seemed like a basic, middle-class kid from his days at George Washington High School, Schaeffer said.

He graduated in 1972 from Colorado State University in Fort Collins with a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

Larry's family members and college friends described him as attractive, with a ready smile. He was a smart, affable young man who loved the outdoors and often joined hiking, camping and snowshoeing excursions with his closeknit group of CSU friends.

He showed no particular interest in science fiction, religion, the supernatural or anything else that hinted at an offbeat lifestyle. But after college, Larry lacked direction, his brother and friends said. He didn't know what he would do with his life, perhaps a point of vulnerability exploited by a charismatic cult leader, his friends theorized.

Larry found direction on Sept. 28, 1975. While at the grocery store, he had a fateful encounter: He was invited to a lecture about UFOs at the downtown Denver YWCA. It was part of the cult's massive recruitment effort.

Two days later, Larry was gone, according to a news story printed in The Denver Post on Oct. 8, 1975.

Then, information about the cult began to surface in newspaper articles and letters. The Gales became frantic when they realized that dozens of people had vanished in Oregon after attending lectures on UFOs.

Laurie D'Audney, a Fort Collins resident and one of Larry's good friends at CSU, got a letter from Larry about two weeks after his conversion. He also sent D'Audney a collection of writings by "The Two," as Applewhite and his partner, Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, were known.

Over the years, Larry occasionally surfaced. He would call from a pay phone, send a letter or show up at his parents' Denver home.

He was always highly secretive about the cult's whereabouts and was always accompanied by another cultist, who would intervene if Larry's parents asked too many questions or tried to persuade their son to return, Mike Gale said.

Yet Larry reported that he was happy and fulfilled.

"I think Larry found some peace that gave life meaning for him. That's what I want to believe," D'Audney said. "I just feel sad that he couldn't find a place in our world.''

April 5, 1997

Wired and weird

Paul Heinrichs, The Age, Melbourne, Australia (selections) Full article:
CALL them cults. Call it DIY religion. Or call it a plethora of mental health problems. As they say on The X-Files, ``the truth is out there'' - and it's often not very nice.

Australia is experiencing a proliferation of mind-control groups that are taking advantage of the late 1990s' millenarian mood and getting a boost from the hastening demise of traditional or mainstream systems of family, religion and workplace.

The people who monitor the groups' activities fear there is no reason why, in theory, an event such as the bizarre mass suicide of the 39 Heaven's Gate cult members should not happen in this country. Australia, too, is believed to have a number of small, secretive doomsday-style cults, incorporating an extraordinary belief in the powers of extra-terrestrials or aliens.

In Western Australia, a cult offshoot of a larger Indian-style guru group has moved itself to the hills east of Perth, believing another Great Flood will wipe out the rest of civilisation in or about 2000. They are making ready their ``arks''. But some members stayed behind and custody battles over children have ensued.

But cult-watchers in Australia stress it is more commonly a question of the damage cults and other mind-control groups do to people and their family relationships while they are alive that is of concern.

In Adelaide, for instance, six young women from stable family backgrounds became the devotees of a man whose first commandment was for them to go about without underclothes. By now, they have been sexually colonised under the guise of spiritual enlightenment. Not surprisingly, their families are anguished.

According to Sydney's Tony McClelland, who runs CultAware, the main cult-monitoring group in Australia, people have written raising concerns about more than 140 different groups around the country, ranging from churches such as Scientology, which has thousands of members, to associations of less than a dozen.

In Melbourne this week, the director of the Centre for Adolescent Health, Mr Michael Carr-Gregg, warned that cults are using ``love-bombing'' techniques to recruit young people, particularly homesick foreign students.

Mr Carr-Gregg, a psychologist, said he developed his concerns 10 years ago when a relative became caught up in EST, a self-improvement group. Today, he knows of other cases through friends and colleagues, and is particularly worried that vulnerable young people could fall victim to ``spiritual predators'' on the Internet.

The size of the problem is shown by the founding in Melbourne this week of Australia's first specific service for what is called ``exit counselling'', the intervention by professionals to reach people trapped in mind-control groups and to restore them to their original families.

Cult Counselling Australia, based in Caulfield, is run by family therapist Mr Raphael Aron, of Caulfield's Gateway Centre, who for the past 25 years has spent about a third of his professional time taking on intervention cases on behalf of relatives.

He says he has succeeded in retrieving several dozen people a year, although he has had to avoid the toughest cases. These are when there is little prospect of success for reasons particular to the person, or when the cult organisation is so big or powerful that it cannot be broached without repercussions that would destabilise his practice.

Louise Samways, a clinical psychologist on the Mornington Peninsula, is the author of Dangerous Persuaders, the best-read recent book on Australian cults and mind-control groups. The book has sold 10,000 copies since being published in 1994.

Ms Samways thinks it is just luck that Australia has not experienced the suicidal tendencies of the Solar Temple or Heaven's Gate cults. ``I don't think we want to pat ourselves on the back. I think we are just as vulnerable as any other modern Western society where people are under a lot of pressure.

Another theory for the attractiveness of cults comes from long-time UFO researcher John Auchettl, of Phenomena Research Australia. He believes there is a craving for mystery in life, which mainstream science has tried to remove.

But Mr Auchettl has noticed a big change in ufology - the people with the facts are howled down. People do not want proof - ``they'll say, for instance: `don't show us the information, tell us what they've told you. What's the message in it?'''

What they want, he says with a note of regret, is a religious experience.

Drugs, alcohol found in bodies of Heaven's Gate members

By Matthew Fordahl, Associated Press Writer (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Blood tests released Friday show most of the 39 Heaven's Gate cult members ingested a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol before dying in a Rancho Santa Fe mansion.

The toxicology reports confirmed earlier findings that the suicidal cultists ate pudding or applesauce laced with the anti-seizure drug phenobarbital. Most of the members also drank vodka to enhance the drug's potency.

The results only suggest what killed the Heaven's Gate followers. A final cause of death will be announced April 11, said San Diego County Medical Examiner Brian Blackbourne.

The blood tests do not address the issue of suffocation, although plastic bags were found on some bodies. Investigators believe the bags were placed over the members' heads after they drank the deadly potion.

HIV tests -- done at the request of family members and to answer questions from the media -- also came back negative.

All members had phenobarbital in their blood, and levels ranged from 28 to 164 micrograms in each milliliter of blood, Blackbourne said.

The average was 72 micrograms per milliliter. Anything over 100 micrograms per milliliter is considered lethal, he said.

Blood-alcohol contents ranged from .04 to .15 percent and averaged .11 percent. All but six members had signs of alcohol in their blood.

California drivers are considered drunk if their blood alcohol level is above .08 percent.

The pain killer Vicodin, or hydrocordone, was also found in the blood of four members. The amount averaged .4 micrograms per milliliter. Doses in the range of .13 to .60 micrograms per milliliter are considered fatal.

Investigators also discovered a short-acting barbiturate called butalbital in one person and acetaminophen -- commonly known as Tylenol -- in six people.

April 4, 1997

Low-key response to cult suicides

Sad discovery of 39 corpses near San Diego leaves nation regretting shortened lives, but at a loss to intervene
Editorial, San Francisco Examiner (selections)
Full article:
THE NATION'S reaction to the mass suicide of Heaven's Gate cultists in Southern California has been notably quiet. Public curiosity about the bizarre event is intense. Millions of printed words have attempted to explain the phenomenon.

But outrage about the waste of life is for the most part missing. People in general are more sad than angry contemplating the spectacle. There is an overriding reason for this. Suicide seems to have been the more or less conscious choice of the 39 cult members, all of whom were adults, many with demonstrable computer skills.

This distinguished last week's grim discovery in Rancho Santa Fe from the People's Temple catastrophe of 1978 in Guyana. That left more than 900 dead. Not all were adults consenting to suicide in obeying a deranged Jim Jones, but included children, a congressman investigating the situation and a photographer from this newspaper. Murder is not alleged in the Heaven's Gaters' following their seemingly benign but dangerously addled guru Marshall Applewhite.

The biggest mystery lies in the extent of their gullibility: How could they believe the spaceship myth?

False prophets like Applewhite, peddling outlandish religious theories and urging followers to turn off their critical faculties, have far-reaching constitutional protection if they stop short of murder and outright theft of their adherents' property. A law against cults like Heaven's Gate is not in the offing - and indeed many unusual groups in this country do not pose an ultimate threat of destroying themselves and / or others. A good defense for one's children from the possible harm of cultish mind games is to bring them up to respect their own intelligence and ability to make choices, and to love the good things a free life has to offer.

Cult's web page lives on

AP Wireservices (selections)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- While its programmers have gone to a higher source, Heaven's Gate's web page lives on, apparently taken over by former members and friends.

The fight is on for control of, the latest sign that the cult still has a following that hopes to spread its gospel through the Internet.

The cyberspace turf battle began three days after authorities found the bodies of 39 men and women in a multi-million dollar mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego.

The cult's propaganda site -- -- was updated on Saturday and the contact name and server names were changed.

In addition, its commercial site -- -- is now being run by Interact Entertainment Group, the software firm that employs the former cult member who found the bodies, Rio D'Angelo.

Another former member who goes by the name Rick was upset that someone might have ``commandeered'' the site. He planned to start a new one at, an address originally registered by the cult in 1996, but never used.

As if that weren't enough, two new addresses have been registered in the past few days: and They are registered to an Internet hosting service in Fayetteville, Tenn., that is run by Holly Craig and Chris Milus, whose names the cult used to register other sites.

Craig told the Nashville Banner last week that she met the Heaven's Gate members in San Diego and agreed to host their Web sites.

Heaven's Gate opens window on `Garbage Eaters' and other cults

By Helen O'neill, AP National Writer (selections)
Wearing long hair and backpacks, the Garbage Eaters wander the West Coast, rummaging in Dumpsters for supper and spiritual salvation.

Painstakingly they remove all traces of mold before dining on the rotting scraps of the material world they disdain. They blame their stomachaches on Satan.

Heaven's Gate did far more than introduce the world to 39 believers who blissfully shed their ``earthly containers'' to board a spaceship to a beautiful world.

It also cracked open a window on thousands of alternative beliefs and lifestyles around the country, including the garbage-eating Brotherhood, led by Jim Roberts, an ex-Marine and former preacher the group believes is Jesus.

From a self-proclaimed shaman called Thunderhorse who roams the Southwest with a few disciples to followers of Rael, a 51-year-old former race car driver from France who believes humans were created in laboratories by aliens, they spread their messages and seek converts.

``It's not a question of what's out there, but what isn't out there,'' says Janja Lalich of Alameda, Calif., a 52-year-old cult expert who ``escaped'' from a San Francisco-based Marxist commune in the 1970s.

``There are preachers and prophets, shamans and warriors, diet cults and martial arts cults, Bible cults, UFO cults, psychotherapy-based cults and groups that mix them all.''

Other groups are preaching other brands of truth.

--In Yelm, Wash., a woman called J.Z. Knight has built a highly profitable spiritual empire based on her ability to ``channel'' Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior from Atlantis.

--In Chicago, a lesser-known channeler called Dorothy Martin developed a following based on messages from the spaceship commander Sananda. Martin changed her name several times and eventually moved to Arizona, where she died. But believers still wait for Sananda to swoop down in his spaceship and save them.

--And in Chanhassen, Minn., worshipers flock to a pyramid-shaped marble temple on a wildflower prairie to chant their love song ``Hu'' to God. Eckankar preaches that, through light and sound, you can touch the heart of God.

Many fringe belief groups are constantly refashioning themselves, changing names and locations as their leaders move on.

There still are Branch Davidians practicing quietly in Texas. Disciples of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose free-love movement was run out of Oregon in the 1980s, still run meditation centers around the country under the name Osho.

And on a spectacular 28,000-acre compound in Paradise Valley, Mont., just north of Yellowstone National Park, members of the Church Universal and Triumphant still are waiting patiently for Armageddon.

Led by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, who dictates messages from Ascended Masters, they are convinced they will be saved when the end arrives.

While her disciples prepare to hunker down in elaborate underground bunkers, nomads like The Christ Family are doggedly traipsing the country in a more private pursuit of redemption.

The ragged band of members, who wear long white robes and adopt the surname Christ, keep guardedly to themselves as they smoke ``God's tranquilizer'' -- marijuana -- and beg for food. They shun sex, leather and underwear and follow a leader known as Jesus Christ Lightening Amen.

Report: Cult members took trips to Vegas, Mexico, before suicide

AP Wireservices (selections)
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Heaven's Gate cult members gambled in Las Vegas and visited Sea World, Mexico and several other tourist destinations in the weeks before they committed mass suicide, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

The newspaper said a meticulously kept financial ledger, now in the hands of San Diego County officials, provides a glimpse into the cult's final weeks before they killed themselves in the hope that a spaceship would take them to the ``next level.''

Although celibate and teetotalers, the cultists satisfied their cravings for candy, maple syrup, cookies, soda pop and pizza, the newspaper said.

When investigators found the 39 corpses March 26 at the Rancho Santa Fe mansion the group rented, they also found seven quarts of Starbuck's Java Chip ice cream in the freezer, according to the report.

The group may have been drawn to the gambling mecca not by the lure of easy money but by a public meeting to discuss Area 51, the part of the Nevada desert thought by UFO buffs to be where the Air Force has kept an alien spacecraft, the newspaper said.

According to the Times, group members also went to Mexico and on a bus trip through Northern California and southern Oregon in their final weeks.

Heaven's Gate mass suicide may be subject of TV movie

By Jennifer Bowles, AP Television Writer (selections)
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- ABC has signed a movie deal with the former Heaven's Gate cult member who discovered the bodies of 39 members who committed mass suicide, the network said Thursday.

A source at ABC said the agreement with Richard Ford, also known as Rio D'Angelo, was ``strictly a development deal,'' meaning there is no guarantee the project will make it to television.

The deal was signed in conjunction with The Kushner-Locke Company, a Brentwood production company, and InterAct Entertainment of Beverly Hills.

``We're not interested in any project about this unfortunate incident,'' said NBC Executive Vice President Lindy DeKoven. ``NBC is focusing on expanding the boundaries of the made-for-television format and exploring new territory with different types of programming.''

Cult suicide victim Denise Thurman buried on Long Island

AP Wireservices (selections)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Denise Thurman, who committed suicide as one of the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult, has been buried on Long Island.

As a teen-ager, Thurman had been a cheerleader in high school and apparently joined the cult after leaving Boston University.

The funeral service was private. The Rev. Thomas Marsdem told the New York Post and Newsday that he had noted in his eulogy that her family had to say goodbye twice, once when she left 20 years ago, and again at her death.

One other Long Island native, Gail Maeder of Sag Harbor, was among the cult dead.

Massachusetts cult member reportedly was second-in-command

AP Wireservices (selections)
BRIMFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- Julie LaMontagne, a bright former nursing student from Massachusetts, turned out to be the virtual second-in-command of the secretive group.

``Julie was very, very close to (Heaven's Gate founder Marshall) Applewhite and certainly was with him as one of his partners,'' said Dick Joslyn, a former member who left the cult seven years ago.

LaMontagne and Applewhite ate together, did laundry together and meditated together, Joslyn said. She ran the cult's bakery, wrote a book called ``The Transfiguration Diet'' and published a newsletter on nutrition.

LaMontagne, 45, graduated in 1974 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst nursing school. She was recruited in Amherst in 1975, according to her foster mother, Theresa Boucher, and became a personal nurse to Applewhite.

The family spent tens of thousands of dollars looking for her.

``She was so completely brainwashed,'' LaMontagne's brother, Andrew, said. ``When she chose to join this cult, to make them her family, we lost her.''

But LaMontagne and other members of the cult moved at least 50 times and lived under assumed names.

Applewhite and LaMontagne served as ``the executives who travel around while the rest of the company is doing something else,'' Joslyn said. ``They would go out on scouting trips or work on projects. They would live apart from the rest of the class.''

One of the last two members to die, authorities said LaMontagne used her nursing skills to make the others comfortable as they took poison mixed with apple sauce or pudding.

Cincinnati family plans private ceremony for San Diego cult victim

AP Wireservices (selections)
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The body of Yvonne McCurdy-Hill, 39, has been returned from San Diego to the Jamison & Jamison Jr. Inc. funeral home in Cincinnati, said Eartha Hill, mother of Yvonne's husband, Steven Hill.

An employee at the Jamison & Jamison funeral home, who refused to identify herself, said of the McCurdy's planned ceremony: ``It's private.'' The woman said she was not authorized to give any other details, including when the service was scheduled.

Ms. McCurdy-Hill, a former 10-year Cincinnati postal employee, left her five children behind with relatives last summer to join the cult.

Her husband went with her to join the cult, but later returned to the Cincinnati area. They left their children and possessions behind at the cult's instructions, Eartha Hill said.

April 3, 1997

A partial list of Heaven's Gate belongings

AP Wireservices (selections)
Sent to a county warehouse, with perishables destined for disposal:

Dad's Root Beer, potatoes, evaporated milk, M&Ms, apples, Brer Rabbit Syrup, tomato sauce. Seven quarts of Starbuck's Java Chip ice cream.


A 72-inch Mitsubishi television set, at least six JBL and Dynaco stereo speakers, five other television sets ranging from 12 to 52 inches.


Videotapes of movies approved by cult leader Marshall Applewhite, including Whoopi Goldberg's ``Eddie,'' ``Asteroid'' and ``Gandhi.''

A list of approved television shows (members were assigned seats to watch), including ``X-Files,'' ``Millennium,'' ``Voyager'' and ``Deep Space 9.''

A list of banned films, including Marlon Brando's ``The Island of Dr. Moreau,'' ``Multiplicity'' starring Michael Keaton and ``Goldeneye'' with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The list does not explain why the films were deemed objectionable.


``School of Natural History,'' ``The Cancer Solution,'' ``The Reflexology Workout,'' ``Your Guide to Self Care,'' ``Guide to Ford Vans,' ``Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible,'' three copies of the cult's tome, ``How and When Heaven's Gate May be Entered.''


Red, white and blue bunk beds, mattresses, washer and dryer, folding chairs, folding tables, computer desks.


A 1990 picture calendar on space exploration, six drawings of extraterrestrials, dry-erase board decorated with stickers of Saturn and other planets.


Four Flintstones and football children's lunchboxes containing sewing and haircutting supplies. A cardboard box for apples marked ``Movie Script.''

Mother's heart broken when her son disappeared after joining cult

AP Wireservices (selections)
TWAIN HARTE, Calif. (AP) -- When a woman's son disappeared after joining the Heaven's Gate cult in the mid-1970s, ``it tore her up,'' her husband said.

``For 10 years, she tried to find him,'' said Larry Abreo.

His wife, Carolyn Maud Henke St. Louis, did find her son, but he was already heavily involved with the cult, Abreo said. His wife died in 1989.

The son, Gary St. Louis, 43, was remembered as a brilliant student in high school, but a loner. His half-sister, Dana Abreo, 32, was a bright student who always read novels, friends said.

Both St. Louis and Abreo were among 39 cult suicide victims found in Rancho Santa Fe last week.

Abreo graduated from Summerville High School in Tuolumne City in 1980 and moved to Denver to pursue a paralegal career. Family members said St. Louis convinced Abreo to join Heaven's Gate five years ago.

Services held for Oregon native who died in cult's mass suicide

By Landon Hall, Associated Press Writer (selections)
NEWBERG, Ore. (AP) -- About 200 people turned out for funeral services today for LaDonna Ann Brugato, one of 39 people who committed suicide at the Heaven's Gate mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., last week.

Brugato, 40, was working as a computer programmer in Colorado when she disappeared about three years ago. The driver's license found on her body an address in Englewood, Colo.

She graduated from a Catholic high school in Portland and later graduated from a vocational school with a degree in computer programming. Her family also described her as a gifted violinist.

Joe Brugato, said he had hired a private investigator, who tracked her to a private mail box company in La Jolla, Calif., about 10 miles from the suicide scene. He said he was within a week of finding her when he learned of her death.

He said he lost contact with his daughter after she joined the Heaven's Gate cult, but did receive a couple of letters in which she said she was in a traveling ministry and was devoting her life to God.

Joe Brugato has emphasized the dangers of cults, saying his daughter fell under the spell of the group even though she was a well-educated, intelligent woman.

Mass suicide prompts jokes, satire

By Jonathan Oatis (selections)
NEW YORK (Reuter) - The Heaven's Gate mass suicide prompted shock, horror -- and the inevitable jokes. Lots of jokes.

`` ... It was the biggest suicide in San Diego since the Republicans nominated Bob Dole'', Jay Leno of NBC television's ''Tonight Show'' cracked in a recent monologue.

``Let's just hope this isolated incident doesn't give cults a bad name,'' Leno said.

[Several Heaven's Gate humor Web sites are listed under Yahoo's broad Society and Culture: Religion category. The list can be found at Gate/. Mr. Showbiz's home page, with a link to the Haiku section, can be found at The Higher Source parody page is at The Heaven's Gate cult parody page is at]

Blaming the Net -- A parent laments: Why did it have to be the Internet?

Robin Raskin, editor in chief, FamilyPC (selections)
Full article:
When I first heard that the mass suicides in San Diego were tied to the Internet (the cult members built Web sites to raise funds and recruited on the Internet), an exhausted sensation overtook me. I'd just come off months of television and newspaper interviews about kids' safety on the Internet, and while I'd been realistic in my responses to those queries -- the Web can be an equal opportunity offender in that there's something to offend just about any parent -- I am certainly a big believer in Internet-literacy as a critical skill needed by well-rounded children.

As a result, when I heard that the Heaven's Gate cult used the Internet to espouse its beliefs and recruit members it was as troubling to me as if they'd used a home in my own neighborhood. I wondered: "Why blame the Internet?" If it had been a TV cult that used late night infomercials to recruit new members, no one would be questioning the value of television. But, for the Internet, the whole tragic affair is another blemish (or, rather it's a huge blemish) -- on a young medium that's already been pegged as a large contributor to the fall of civilization.

We've got to face up the reasons the new medium is so vulnerable to misuse. One reason is that the Internet is a pretty good medium for cons, cults, and scams. It's a cheap publishing platform for people interested in dealing in that kind of information, and kids can easily stumble upon and study up on cultism or other "forbidden topics" on the Internet.There are no well-established traditions or brands where you're sure to find trusted information -- the sign-posts parents usually use to help steer their kids to credible sources.

In an Internet Mom earlier this year, I talked about how my daughter stumbled upon the cult of Artemis while she was innocently looking for a suitable nom de plume. Little did I know that my plea to teach children to question the source of information would become such a critical issue a few short months later.

Equally depressing is the fact that the sites built by the Heaven's Gate members saw their traffic skyrocket in the days following the mass suicide. If sensationalism runs rampant in traditional journalism, it's gone amuck on the Internet.

But, I remain optimistic about the transformational powers of the Internet. And I remain committed to raising Internet-literate children who understand the beauty but also the ugly sordidness of this medium. I hope we can mourn where appropriate, place blame where it belongs, and work to make the medium all it promises to be.

[E-mail Robin at]

April 2, 1997

April 2

The San Diego Union-Tribune on the Heaven's Gate cult

With a week's hindsight, it may be time to offer a short summation of some recent events. It will be a long time before the words ``Heaven's Gate'' are forgotten in these parts.

Heaven's Gate members held different views. They appear to have welcomed death, and to have taken their lives hopefully, without despair, convinced they would hook up with the spaceship they believed traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

Extraordinary as it was, it was hardly unprecedented. Look far enough into history and little is new, and even modern history offers parallels. Cults are as old and as strange as the human mystery itself. Human beings, who can never know all the answers, will never cease seeking them.

Sometimes, as in Marshall Applewhite's case, the seer pretends to be possessed by a ``higher source.'' He convinces followers it is not him speaking, but the angels themselves. Such self-assuredness, used on the lonely, the confused, the vulnerable, is a source of a great power. In Applewhite's case, it was powerful enough to lead his followers over the cliff.

They, of course, did not think they were going over the cliff, but to the promised land. Whoever's right about that, his power was clearly strong enough to overwhelm the basic human instinct for survival, which means it was powerful indeed.

But to seek a single explanation is to oversimplify.

Heaven's Gate members thought they were on to something. They were almost certainly wrong, and the chances that they found their spaceship are not high.

To most of us, their decision was mindless, resulting in a needless waste of life. They knew that and took their chances anyway. End of story.

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