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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate News Week of 4/9/97

April 15, 1997

Battle brewing over control of Heaven's Gate business

AP Wireservices (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A former Heaven's Gate member and the county are disputing ownership of the suicide cult's World Wide Web design business, which may be worth $1 million despite all its employees being dead.

The county plans to auction off the cult's earthly belongings and give the proceeds to surviving family members, said Susan Jamme, the county's deputy public administrator in charge of the case.

But Richard Ford, a former member who discovered the cultists' 39 bodies in a rented Rancho Santa Fe mansion on March 26, said members wanted him to assume ownership of the business known as Higher Source.

``If they want to start some ugly, post-death battle then we may have to pursue to legal action,'' said Ford's attorney, Robert Zakari. ``The county is interested in making money under the ruse of protecting the families.''

Zakari said Ford, who also goes by the name Rio DiAngelo, received a diskette detailing plans for the business on March 25, the same day two farewell videos and three letters arrived in the mail.

Zakari refused to release the instructions, but he said they show Ford and his company, Interact Entertainment, are supposed to take over the business, which they believe is worth more than $1 million.

But Ford severed all ties to the cult in February, when he left to work for the entertainment and computer company, Jamme said. The cult's financial ledger shows Ford received $1,012.50 when he left.

``The ledger said `exit fee,''' Jamme said. ``Two days later he was working for Interact.''

Jamme said it's possible the estate also will try to claim some of the money Ford receives from ABC for a television movie.

The auction of the cult's belongings has been set for June 7.

In another development, Zakari said San Diego County sheriff's investigators watched a videotape taken by Ford on the day he discovered the bodies. Investigators decided they did not need the tape.

April 14, 1997

Judge won't release psychiatric evaluation of cult leader

AP Wireservices (selections)
CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) -- A St. Louis County judge refused to release the only known psychiatric evaluation of cult leader Marshall Applewhite, who led 38 followers to commit suicide last month in California.

Judge Kenneth M. Weinstock on April 10 denied a request by The New York Times, which cited a ``compelling public interest'' to release the document.

Applewhite pleaded guilty in 1974 to felony auto theft and spent four months in the St. Louis County Jail.

At the time, Applewhite told his attorney that a ``higher power'' had told him to rent a Mercury Comet at Lambert Airport, travel to Texas and take the car with him. The attorney immediately got a court order committing Applewhite to the St. Louis State Hospital, which conducted a psychiatric evaluation.

The Missouri attorney general and St. Louis County prosecuting attorney strongly opposed making the report public.

Assistant Attorney General Lee Clayton McMurray said records of the state Department of Mental Health were closed by law.

Joseph Martineau, representing The Times, argued that dead people had no privacy rights.

McMurray said state law made no exception for dead people; their medical records remained confidential forever.

Webmasters Try to Counter Negative Portrait of Internet Users

By Dallas Heltzell, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo., Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (selections)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.--Apr. 14--''For sale: Attractive mansion in prestigious Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. ... Previous owners suddenly departed. Must sell!''

Since last month's mass suicide of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members, the stream of such ghoulish jokes on the Internet has flowed as freely as Kool-Aid at Jonestown. This parody of a real-estate ad appears on the front page of HigherSource.Org (, along with the beaming bald visage of Heaven's Gate leader Marshall Applewhite, the electronic strains of the ``M A S H'' theme song ``Suicide is Painless,'' and the slogan ``We kill ourselves working for you.''

But there's something about HigherSource.Org that stands far above the other satire pages that appeared on the World Wide Web. There's a serious underlying message. In fact, the main reason the parody page exists at all is that Snuffy and Varak got mad.

``Snuffy'' is James Domengeaux, who owns Comspace.Com Inc. in Houston. ``Varak'' is Mike Emke of Emke and Associates in San Diego. When they're not designing Web pages, they compare notes and gossip with their peers from around the world on an Internet Relay Chat channel called WWW.

On the night of March 26, the talk on WWW was angry. Because the suicide cult had built Web pages for a living and had outlined their plans online as well, the media was painting the 'Net as full of predators and kooks. USA Today's front page trumpeted, ``Cybercults earn money, recruit on Web.''

``These people could have been selling daisies at the airport,'' Domengeaux said, ``and the media wouldn't come down on the daisy industry.''

Their message is simple: ``Not everyone on the 'Net is a pedophile or religious cult member. Millions ... use the Internet every day for business, research and other legitimate reasons.''

[Visit GT Online, the World Wide Web site of The Gazette, at]

April 13, 1997

Most at dead cult leader's high school reunion don't remember him

AP Wireservices (selections)
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) -- When Marshall Herff Applewhite's former high school classmates got together over the weekend, they had little more than vague memories of the Heaven's Gate leader.

``The general consensus is that he was a nice, quiet, intelligent boy from a wonderful family,'' said Margaret Haney Levy, the organizer of the joint reunion of Corpus Christi High School's classes of 1947-49.

Only a smattering of the 270 people at Saturday night's gathering remembered Applewhite. Some recalled him only as a face in the crowd.

Their memories of him were as a clean-cut guy with a quick grin; a quiet and studious classmate with a gift for music.

``Since the suicide, I have been racking my brain to remember more about him,'' said Jack Best, a local dentist and city councilman. ``I know he lived down the street from me, but I can't visualize him.''

Jimmy Moye, a retired Houston dentist, said he and Applewhite went to high school together and met again in their 20s in Sherman, where they both sang in a Presbyterian church choir.

When Moye moved to Houston, he joined a Unitarian church choir directed by Applewhite.

Moye lost touch with Applewhite for a while, but more than 15 years ago he read in a Houston newspaper that a group led by Applewhite was getting ready to leave Earth in a spaceship.

So, Moye said, the mass suicide didn't shock him.

``When this came about. I said, `it figures,' '' Moye said.

A Cult Is a Cult, 2,000 Years Ago and Today

By Nicolas B. Tatro, Associated Press (selections)
QUMRAN, WEST BANKTHEY WERE cleanliness freaks who bathed frequently. They lived in desert caves, which they dug from a mixture of limestone, clay and sand -- a sophisticated method of first-century BC climate control.

The caves of these secretive scholar-monks helped preserve their great achievement, the Dead Sea Scrolls, according to recent discoveries about the day-to-day life of the Essenes, an extreme breakaway Jewish sect.

Findings include a contract written on a pottery shard, discovered last year. In it, an initiate turned over his orchard and a slave to the community known as ``Yahad,'' (Hebrew for ``together''), which was part monastery and part modern-day kibbutz, where money and property are pooled.

``This was an acceptance form for a new member,'' said Janet Amitai, an archaeologist who is organizing an international gathering of scroll scholars at the Israel Museum on July 20-25.

``A cult is a cult, 2,000 years ago and today,'' she said.

Archaeologists also found caves showing signs of human habitation within easy walking distance of the community center, where members of the sect ate meals and took ritual baths.

Magen Broshi, who discovered the caves last year, said they confirmed that ``Yahad'' was based at Qumran, which some scholars had doubted.

Retreating to the man-made caves was the best way to survive in the intense desert heat because the marl exuded moisture and provided a cool refuge from the wind and sand.

``The Qumranites were not primitive, not troglodytes. They were very sophisticated because they discovered that it (cave-living) was the best solution in the harsh climate of Dead Sea prior to the discovery of air conditioning,'' Broshi said.

``This was a center of very extreme fundamentalist Jews of this time,'' said archaeologist Avner Goren of the Albright Center in Jerusalem.

The sect lived in the desert, slept in caves and adhered with rigorous discipline to the words of the Torah, shunning religious law and interpretation laid down by the Temple priests.

At the same time, it amassed significant wealth by pooling members' resources. Members ate meat at least once a day -- a luxury in this ancient period, Goren said.

Speaking to reporters at the site, Goren said the commune members were fastidious; they bathed frequently and covered themselves with cloaks when they defecated in the rocky plains.

EXPERTS BELIEVE the number of sect members ranged from 100 to 200, but disagree over whether it was an all-male society.

Goren said skeletons of women and children had been uncovered near the site recently, indicating some of the members may have been women.

Broshi disputed this interpretation, however, saying the remains were on the fringe of the burial site and the bones were in heaps, indicating they had been brought from a distance and had not lived at Qumran.

``There were no women,'' he said. ``This is the first monastic community in the Western world.''

Suicide cult freaked out UFO buffs

By Paisley Dodds, Associated Press (selections)
EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. -- For a group that shares stories about being sucked out of cars by aliens or losing livestock to laser beams, the uninvited visitors who believed they would reach the afterlife in a UFO were just too weird.

When members of the Heaven's Gate cult tried to join discussions at the annual Ozark UFO Conference three years ago, they were permitted only to drop off literature.

This year, it can't avoid the subject of Heaven's Gate and its members' mass suicide.

``I remember them showing up, talking about Jesus and UFOs,'' said Tabby Runnels, a 33-year-old from Tulsa, Okla. ``They also made weird chirping noises. They were really weird.''

``That whole Heaven's Gate incident has made a conference like this the object of ridicule,'' said Lou Farish, coordinator of the Ninth Annual Ozark UFO Conference. ``The difference is that they integrated UFOs into a set belief system. We're all individuals here with individual minds.''

April 11, 1997

Mass Suicide-List

By The Associated Press (selections)
The causes of death of the 39 Heaven's Gate members, as listed by the San Diego County medical examiner:

-- Thirty individuals died as a result of ``acute alcohol and phenobarbital intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag.''

Dana Tracey Abreo, 35, (female) Denver
Robert John Arancio, 46, Texas
Raymond Alan Bowers, 45, Jupiter, Fla.
Ladonna Ann Brugato, 40, Englewood, Colo.
Margaret June Bull, 53, Ellensburg, Wash.
Cheryl Elaine Butcher, 43, Texas
Michael Howard Carrier, 48, Texas
Betty Eldrie Deal, 64, Texas
Alphonzo Ricardo Foster, 44, Detroit
Darwin Lee Johnson, 42, Orem, Utah
John M. Craig (aka Logan Lahson), 63, New Mexico
Jacqueline Opal Leonard, 71, Littleton, Colo.
Jeffrey Howard Lewis, 41, Texas
Gail Renee Maeder, 28, Salt Lake City
Steven Terry McCarter, 41, Albuquerque
Joel Peter McCormick, 29, Salt Lake City
Yvonne McCurdy-Hill, 39, Ohio
David Geoffery Moore, 41, Los Gatos, Calif.
Nancy Dianne Nelson, 45, Mesa, Ariz.
Norma Jeane Nelson, 59, Texas
Thomas Alva Nichols, 59, Arizona
Susan Elizabeth Nora Paup, 54, New Mexico
Lindley Ayerhart Pease, 41, New Hampshire
Margaret Ella Richter, 46, California
Michael Sandoe, 26, Boulder, Colo.
Brian Alan Schaaf, 40, New Mexico
Joyce Angela Skalla, 58, New Mexico
Gary Jordan St. Louis, 44, New Mexico
David Cabot Van Sinderen, 48, California
Gordon Thomas Welch, 50, Arizona

-- Four died as a result of ``acute phenobarbital intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag.''

Lucy Eva Pesho, 63, New Mexico
Erika Ernst, 40, California
Lawrence Jackson Gale, 47, Lake Forest, Calif.
Suzanne Sylvia Cooke, 54, New Mexico

-- One died of ``acute alcohol, phenobarbital and butalbital intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag.''

Denise June Thurman, 44, Texas

-- One person died of ``acute phenobarbital and hydrocodone intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag.''

Judith Ann Lahson, aka Judith Ann Roland, 50, Texas

-- One person died of ``acute alcohol, phenobarbital and hydrocodone intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag.''

Susan Frances Strom, 44, Texas

-- One person died of ``acute phenobarbital and hydrocodone intoxication.''

Julie Lamontagne, 45, Las Cruces, N.M.

-- One person died of ``acute alcohol, phenobarbital and hydrocodone intoxication associated with probable asphyxia by plastic bag. Contributory cause: Constrictive coronary arteriosclerosis.''

Marshall Herff Applewhite, 65, Texas

Heaven's Gate leader had heart disease

By Matthew Fordahl, Associated Press Writer (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Heaven's Gate leader Marshall Applewhite suffered from heart disease, and it may have sped up his death after he took a deadly mix of drugs and alcohol, the medical examiner said Friday.

Autopsy results confirm Applewhite and 38 followers killed themselves using a mix of drugs, alcohol and plastic bags. Only Applewhite has a contributory cause listed of ``constrictive coronary arteriosclerosis.''

It's not clear whether the charismatic cult leader knew that the arteries to his heart were narrowing -- a frequent problem in older people that can lead to heart attacks. Applewhite was 65.

``The doctor who did the autopsy said she wanted to put on the natural disease he did have,'' said San Diego County Medical Examiner Brian Blackbourne, who added it ``maybe slightly'' contributed to his death.

Unless he had been checked by a doctor, the only indication of the disease would have been chest pains, Blackbourne said. There is no indication that he experienced the symptom.

Former cult members said Applewhite told them he was dying of liver cancer, although his autopsy showed no sign of that disease.

Suicide is official cause of California cult deaths

By Leonard Novarro, Reuter (selections)
SAN DIEGO, Calif, (Reuter) - Suicide has been ruled as the official cause of death of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members whose bodies were found last month in a Rancho Sante Fe mansion, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said Friday.

San Diego County Sheriff's detectives, meanwhile, said the investigation into the suicides, which grabbed worldwide attention, was all but closed.

All of the cult members used phenobarbital and all but one used a plastic bag to induce suffocation, according to the medical examiner's autopsy report.

The only cult member who did not use a plastic bag was identified as Julie Elmira Lamontagne. Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Blackbourne said she died from a combination of phenobarbital and hydrocodone.

Asphyxia by plastic bag contributed to 38 other deaths, according to the report, which based its findings on the presence in the trash can behind the house of nine plastic bags with rubber bands around them and the relatively low, nonlethal levels of phenobarbital in many of the bodies.

In addition, a note recovered from the scene said ``Use plastic bag to be sure,'' the report said.

Thirty cult members died by combining alcohol and phenobarbital and four used just phenobarbital. Traces of the barbiturate butalbital were found in one of the victims, while four others, including Applewhite, showed traces of hydrocodone.

Earlier reports by the sheriff's department said Applewhite and his followers died after mixing phenobarbital with apple sauce or pudding before washing it down with vodka. Sheriff's detectives have been unable to trace where the cult members got the drug, but believe their source was in Tijuana, Mexico.

On the fence about respect for Heaven's Gate

By Sue Hutchison, San Jose Mercury News (selections)
SEVERAL Calvin Klein-clad members of the noontime crowd at Mac's Smoke Shop in Palo Alto grunted in disgust as they stood surveying the news rack. And they weren't even looking at the porn section.

One man, balancing his young son on his hip as he scanned the covers of Newsweek and People, snarled to no one in particular, ``I'm so tired of this cult stupidity. Look at this (headline): `The lives of 39 ordinary people.' They're not ordinary people. They're nuts.''

Since police first found the Heaven's Gate disciples lying under those purple shrouds with their Nikes on, the media and the public have seemed to be on the fence about showing respect for the dead.

BUT JOURNALISTS have been tripping over one another to quote cult experts who insist that almost anyone might be lured into a group like Heaven's Gate. And what about the grieving cult members' families? We should mourn these people as though they had been murdered, the cult experts say, even though they murdered themselves.

Still, almost everyone I've spoken to about the cult has admitted to being in quiet agreement with Ted Turner, who launched a thousand talk radio shows two weeks ago when he remarked at a news conference that the mass suicide was ``a good way to get rid of a few nuts.''

AND, WITH ALL due respect to the families of cult members, how can journalists report that many Heaven's Gaters had had themselves castrated ``to promote androgyny'' without conceding we're covering a freak show? When national news organizations begin to print and broadcast ``explanations of the cult members' belief system,'' using sober tones and pious headlines doesn't do much to separate the text from what you'd find in supermarket tabloids featuring paparazzi ``fat photos'' of Elizabeth Taylor on the cover.

Our culture is uncomfortable enough about death and dying, let alone suicide. Just ask Jack Kevorkian. Still, most of us have come to accept, if not condone, that some people kill themselves if they're in physical or emotional pain. But it's asking a lot to expect us to understand why people would check out just because they want to be part of their own private Star Trek adventure.

When we start becoming obsessed with every facet of how the Heaven's Gate cult lived and exactly why and how the members killed themselves, you have to wonder who's more unbalanced. Them or us?

I agree with the guy at Mac's who walked away from the cult covers and seemed to be talking to his son, who had fallen asleep on his shoulder: ``Why can't we just realize that these were pathetic, lost people and not try to pick this thing apart for the next three months? It's pornographic.''

In this case, that's respect for the dead.

[Write Sue Hutchison at the Mercury News, 310 University Ave., Palo Alto, Calif. 94301; or e-mail]

April 9, 1997

Letterman's list

Complied from San Jose Mercury News Wireservices (selections)
David Letterman, by a secret process only he and his writers know, has discovered some revelations in the Heaven's Gate diaries:

Before ``Do and Ti,'' the cult leaders were briefly known as ``George and Weezy.''

Decision to leave Earth was made right after group watched ``Booty Call.''

One guy kicked out of group for having ``bad attitude about castration.''

They knew for sure that the world was ending when Michael Jackson became a father.

Group felt life was not worth living now that Jenny McCarthy has left ``Singled Out.''

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