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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

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 television.

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.

Low-key approach

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 business.

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.''

Lingering fascination

``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 1985).

``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 group.''

Despite the divorce, she recalled Moore as ``very outgoing. He had a very sunny personality. He was always interested in things, very interested in life.''

`Motor Boy'

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 and alcohol.

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.

Tearful apology

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 dispatcher.

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, she said.

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.

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 "Jeopardy."

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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