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Heaven's Gate News Week of 4/16/97
April 22, 1997
Man who tipped police to cult suicides fined as probation violator
- By Thomas J. Sheeran, Associated Press Writer (selections)
- CLEVELAND (AP) -- A man who tipped police to the San Diego cult
suicides of 39 people was fined $2,000 Tuesday for a six-year probation
violation exposed when his probation officer saw him on national
Nick Matzorkis, 34, of Beverly Hills, Calif., ignored the provisions of his
1991 probation on his guilty plea to grand theft auto. He bounced a $2,400
check on a 1989 car purchase, probation officer Ralph Godec said. Godec had
spotted the former Ohioan on television last month and alerted authorities
in Los Angeles.
The probation requirements included 200 hours of community service, paying
a $1,000 fine and keeping in touch with a probation officer.
In addition to the 200 hours of community work he never served, Matzorkis
must perform an additional 50 hours.
Ms. Cleary gave Matzorkis 30 days to make arrangements to do the community
service or face a six-month prison term.
Godec recognized Matzorkis in television coverage of the Heaven's Gate
cult suicide. Matzorkis, now owner of Interact Entertainment of Beverly
Hills, and Richard Ford, a World Wide Web page designer who worked for him,
called authorities March 26 after they went to the cult's mansion in
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and found the bodies.
Ford, a former cult member, had received a video in which the cult
members said their final goodbyes.
April 20, 1997
Cult experiencing life after deaths
- The selling of the suicides has taken off, but who will reap profits?
By Pamela Kramer, San Jose Mercury News Los Angeles Bureau
- LOS ANGELES -- What began as a string of bizarrely made-for-TV moments by
the 39 people who died -- or exited their ``vehicles'' -- is moving toward
the next level: mass marketing of a mass suicide.
Movie negotiations. Resurrection of their Web site. And now, as San Diego
County officials sift through the paper and diskwork left behind, the
question of who has the rights to it all.
Currently riding high-profile on a media wave -- the cover of Newsweek,
ABC's ``PrimeTime Live,'' NBC's ``Today'' and CNN's ``Larry King Live'' --
is Rio DiAngelo.
DiAngelo appears to be trying to add dignity to the scenario.
``I can help people understand how these people thought and the way we
lived,'' he says.
DiAngelo demurs on the question of how much money he stands to make feeding
the curiosity. In fact, he seems to find the question crass.
More pragmatic is Robert Rich, chief executive officer of the Beverly Hills
multimedia firm that employs DiAngelo and may share with him the rights to
the Higher Source Web site design business -- which may be worth $1 million
-- as well as the potential TV-movie deal.
``That's exactly what the group wanted -- the marketing of a tragedy,''
Rich said. ``Only they didn't call it a tragedy.''
The group -- or class, as its surviving ex-members call it -- committed
suicide in waves over at least three days, consuming phenobarbitol-laced
dessert cups and then tying plastic bags over their heads.
(``Today'' show host Katie Couric asked about the color. Said DiAngelo:
``We liked the color purple. ``It's got a nice vibration, it goes with
black. I don't think there's a big mystery to it.'')
``I suppose you could say they were savvy marketers,'' Rich said. ``This
whole thing was a media play, and they knew it. It's probably one of the
greatest media plays of all time.''
DiAngelo's attorney, Robert Zakari, said his client 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 indicated
that DiAngelo and InterAct Entertainment are supposed to take over the
Susan Jamme, the county's deputy public administrator in charge of the
case, said DiAngelo cut his ties to the group when he left in February. The
cult's financial ledger shows DiAngelo received $1,012.50 when he left.
``The ledger said `exit fee,' '' Jamme said. ``Two days later, he was
working for InterAct.''
``It's taken on a life of its own, at the expense of what appear to be some
talented people,'' said Lt. Jerry Lipscomb, the San Diego County Sheriff's
Department homicide detective who headed the investigation into the
suicides discovered March 26. ``Rio DiAngelo is fanning the fires with his
presentations in various media.''
Another former member of the group said he's worried that DiAngelo is going
solo, in apparent contradiction to the teachings of Marshall Applewhite
(Do) and his co-founder, Bonnie Nettles (Ti, who died of liver cancer in
``For 22 years, that's what Ti and Do had hammered into (our) heads,''
former member Rkk Edwards said. ``He's claiming he's a sole survivor doing
this on his own. That's alarming to me, given that he knows there are
others out there.''
For now, Rio has business associates instead of cult partners. And it's
an odd assembly.
InterAct, where Rio works, started out about three years ago as a small
seller of long-distance telephone services. Later, Rich and partner Nick
Matzorkis launched 1-800-SEARCH, intended to find long-lost loved ones.
That service, heavily advertised on daytime talk shows, became the bread
and butter that launched the firm onto the Internet -- which led to its
connection with Heaven's Gate.
``It was an irony for the group, too, that here's a group of people that
wants to work for us, and they knew our biggest business was finding lost
friends and family members -- and they had deliberately lost their friends
and family members,'' Rich said.
Story comes out
Originally, members of the group said they were monks. Late last fall, Rich
said, ``they told us they weren't exactly monks, but they were more like
space aliens, and they told us the whole story on how they were going to be
picked up by a UFO and taken to a higher level. . . .
``They were very self-deprecating, they made UFO jokes. They really were a
fun group of people,'' Rich said.
And then, the suicide happened.
One man's path to Heaven's Gate
- Ex-Heaven's Gate member urges others not to
follow, but defend their friends.
By Tracy Seipel, Mercury News Staff Writer (selections)
- CARMEL -- With each day, Nancie Brown learns something new about her son
David Geoffrey Moore, who left home 21 years ago to join the nomadic
Heaven's Gate cult.
The 40-year-old Moore -- who grew up in Carmel, Berkeley and the Santa Cruz
Mountains near Los Gatos -- was among the 39 cult members who committed
suicide last month in a rented hilltop mansion in Rancho Santa Fe,
believing they would ascend to a ``level beyond human'' on a spaceship
trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.
``It helps me to talk about it. . . . Although I don't condone suicide, I'm
not ashamed of David and I'm not ashamed of his life,'' Brown said in the
back yard of her modest home during an interview two days before a Friday
news conference she held in San Diego with former cult members.
``I'm proud of him -- that he was a good person, that he developed his
skills, and that his employers say he was an honest person.''
She seemed self-conscious admitting that the teachings cult leader
Marshall Applewhite espoused -- and that her son clung to -- sound as
bizarre to her as they do to the rest of America. Still Brown said she
remains steadfast in her love for the son who was looking for something she
could never give him.
`Communication with God'
``He was looking for what no parent can give a child, which is that
communication with God,'' said Brown, who said she's comforted by a sort of
journal she kept on her son, his occasional contacts with her and her own
painful parental odyssey.
A move, then a divorce
The family later moved to California and both parents settled into teaching
jobs. By the time David Moore turned 5, the couple divorced. Brown began
raising him and his two brothers on her own.
``Divorce was very hard on the children -- the visitations and the goodbyes
and all that. And for many years, I blamed myself -- that (Moore's joining
the cult) was something related to the divorce,'' she said.
But later she found that many cult members had come from stable homes:
``That didn't seem to be a precipitating reason why somebody would join the
Despite the divorce, she recalled Moore as ``very outgoing. He had a very
sunny personality. He was always interested in things, very interested in
In October of 1975, Moore and his high school girlfriend, Jana Prucha, saw
a newspaper article advertising a meeting somewhere in the Bay Area about
UFOs, said Prucha, now a 38-year-old businesswoman who is married with two
children and living in Texas.
They hitchhiked to the meeting, but it was over by the time they got there.
Two members of the group gave them a ride back to school, and along the way
talked to them of their leaders, Bonnie Lu Nettles and Marshall Applewhite.
Joined with teacher
Moore and Prucha were intrigued, and along with a teacher at their school,
decided to join the group and seek them out.
``We were on the leading edge of looking for self-improvement,'' said
Prucha, who left the cult out of boredom in 1980. ``Unfortunately, our
experimentation didn't allow us to check out other things.''
During their early days in the cult, Prucha and Moore were separated
from each other. Prucha recalls ``crying for the first three weeks.'' They
were also required not only to remain celibate, but to refrain from drugs
The pair were asked to adopt new names that would not remind them of their
past, she said. Prucha chose Jasper; Moore chose Alex. The names were later
added to the word ``Ody,'' and the vowels were dropped. For the last half
of his life, Moore would be known as ALXODY.
But Brown recalls a different scenario than Prucha's: She said Moore told
her he attended several of the group's meetings in the Bay Area, and told
his family he felt the group was for him.
But Brown was not content to let her son disappear -- and neither were
other families whose relatives had joined the cult and had heard
little or no word from them. So in 1983, Brown organized a family support
network of relatives of cult members who were seeking to contact their
loved ones in the cult. Eventually, through newspaper articles,
Applewhite and Nettles relented and allowed their members to make contact
whenever they wished.
In the end, Brown believes her son found some peace with Heaven's Gate.
``He said, `I want you . . . and tell Dad for me -- that I don't blame you
for anything that happened with your divorce or my growing up years. I
don't hold you responsible for yourselves. I don't have any resentment.' He
said that to my face,'' said Brown, ``when he came to say goodbye.''
Authorities release tapes of calls alerting them to cult suicide
- AP Wireservices (selections)
- SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The man who first alerted sheriff's deputies that 39
members of a cult had killed themselves spoke calmy and without
emotion, according to transcripts obtained by a newspaper.
During the anonymous phone call placed March 26, the man later identified
as Richard Ford, didn't let on that he'd just walked through the Rancho
Santa Fe mansion with a cologne-soaked shirt covering his nose and carrying
a video camera.
The North (San Diego) County Times reported in today's edition that Ford's
voice lacked emotion when he told of the deaths of those he later called
``39 of my closest friends and brothers and sisters.''
``I think there was a religious group that committed suicide,'' he told the
Ford and his boss, Nick Matzorkis, had driven to the Rancho Santa Fe
mansion that morning. A day earlier, Ford, working in Beverly Hills, had
received two videotapes and a suicide note from the cult.
According to the tape, Ford told Sheriff's deputies that he didn't know how
many decomposed bodies were inside, and that he learned of the deaths
through the mail.
Ford also uses the name given to him by the cult, Rio DiAngelo.
Later that evening Ford walked to a mall to eat dinner and watch Jim
Carrey's comedy film ``Liar, Liar.''
``It didn't cheer me up, but I guess people like the movie,'' he said.
When he returned home, detectives were there to question him, take his
fingerprints, clothing samples, and the videotapes and letters he received
in the Federal Express package.
Ex-wife: Former Heaven's Gate member owes $31,500 in child support
- AP Wireservices (selections)
- ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) -- Former Heaven's Gate member Richard Ford, who
appeared on national television after discovering the group's mass suicide,
owes $31,500 in alimony and child support, his ex-wife told a newspaper.
The couple divorced in 1988, after eight years of marriage.
Ford, who also uses the cult name Rio DiAngelo, joined Heaven's Gate in
1994 after dropping off his 11-year-old son at his grandparent's house.
According to his ex-wife his last words were: ``I'll never see you again.''
The ex-wife said according to the terms of their divorce Ford was to pay
$375 a month until their son is 18. Instead, Ford, 43, ruined her credit
rating, and left her to pay back his half of a $3,700 loan to her father,
Ford, whose shaved head appeared on the cover of Newsweek, chatted with
Diane Sawyer and Larry King on national television, but he has not made any
effort to contact his parents, wife or child.
Ford has disavowed any direct link to his previous marriage or son. He says
he ``achieved'' his true soul with the cult. His son was a product of
his ``human vehicle,'' he said.
Ford and the woman married in Long Beach in 1980, separating in 1986 and
divorcing in March 1988, court records show. Ford had a hard time holding
down a steady job, and after their son was born, he grew resentful about
having to work full time, she said.
return to Home
April 17, 1997
Journal by Frank Rich
- "Heaven's Gate-gate," New York Times
- The media alimentary canal now digests events so quickly that
yesterday's tragedy is not only instantly repayed as farce by Leno and
Letterman but then goes directly to video (a made-for-TV movie), all
within the Warholian 15 minutes. Thus is the Heaven's Gate mass suicide
already sliding toward its final reward, as a future answer on
Along the way some usual suspects -- the Internet, repressed
homosexuality, California -- have enjoyed star turns as culprits
responsible for the 39 dead. When intense deliberations found them all
not guilty, a happy ending wsa manufactured, largely in the liberal
press, to bring the desired closure: Heaven's Gate was a religion,
however strange to outsiders, that was sincerely practiced by its benign
faithful. Let them rest in peace.
'What is a cult but a collection of believers, like the early
Christians, who have not yet achieved dominant status' asked a typical
cult apologist in The New Republic. 'Every religion is 'bizarre' for
those who do not accept its tenants.' A Washington Post op-ed piece
last Saturday was headlined 'Cult or Religion? Judge Not..." and
similarly noted that virtually every feature of Heaven's Gate, from
castration to mass suicide (remember Masada?), has a historical
antecedent in established religions.
True enough, but isn't this the same abdication of all critical
distinctions that can usher 'Star Wars' into the academic pantheon on
the grounds that it recycles Greek myths? Many new faiths, with or
without UFO's regurgitate aspects of the Bible. And while these new
creeds are all entitled to practice freely and with our tolerance, does
that mean we must look the other way at the few among them that might be
the fiefs of madmen who destroy lives? While one man's cult is often
another man's religion, some cults may actually be cults.
This is the message that those who have studied cults in the two
decades since Jonestown have been trying to get out, especially as we
steam toward Saturday's Waco-Oklahoma City joint anniversary. Yet
somehow as Heaven's Gate has been increasingly sentimentalized in the
press as a latter-day Shaker commune, that message has been lost. Jim
Siegelman, the co-author of "Snapping," a study of contemporary cult
groups, points out that 'the whole debate over the beliefs and
theologies of Heaven's Gate and any other suspected cult is a red
herring. What makes a cult a cult is not its religion, whatever it is,
but the practice of mind control techniques, usually by a charismatic
leader, that robs its members of their "independence or thought."
Those techniques, which have nothing to do with spirituality and
everything to do with psychological coercion achieved through isolation
and sensory deprivation, are likened by another expert, Cynthia Kisser
to tolalitarian 're-education camps.' Like Mr. Siegelman, she says that
'it's not the beliefs that led Heaven's Gate down the path to death but
the dynamics of the group.' Another sect could share the Heaven's Gate
theology word for word but would be unliketly to spawn 39 body bags with
out the manipulations of a Jones or Koresh or Do and Ti.
The effectiveness of such manipulations was chillingly revealed in
Diane Sawyer's interview on ABC last week with Rio D'Angelo, the 40th
Heaven's Gate member who left a month before the suicides. Like a
brainwashing victim in "The Manchurian Candidate," he easily rattled off
answers to questions about his beliefs but couldn't respond to the
simplest queries requiring him to recall the house he inhabited with Do.
Mr. Siegelman, a fixture on TV talk shows during the feeding frenzy
expects now to go into 'deep freeze' until the next cult disaster comes
along -- just as his warnings were forgotten between Waco and Rancho
Santa Fe. Ms. Kisser, who sounded the alarm about other cults in a Wall
Street Journal essay on Heaven's Gate, also will have trouble being
heard as the headlines fade. The organization she ran for nine years,
the Cult Awareness Network, is under new management peopled with
Scientologists. Once the country's pre-eminent battler of cults, it
responded to the Heaven's gate tragedy with broadsides decrying the
'anti-religious hysteria' of anyone who dares to oppose them. [Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.]
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