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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate News Week of 4/23/97

April 28, 1997

Editor's Notebook: Don't censor Net because of a few nuts

Guest /Thomas York , Puget Sound Business Journal (selections)
Full story:
I suppose it was just a matter of time before somebody took the 20-year-old "Star Trek" craze a little too seriously.

A few weeks ago, 39 kindred souls in San Diego killed themselves in the belief they would immediately join an alien spaceship on the other side of the Hale-Bopp comet.

It's been impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without seeing a story on Heaven's Gate.

And in the rush to blame someone or something for these deaths, pundits and authorities alike are pointing at the Internet.

To be sure, cult members made good use of the Net. They employed it to post their beliefs and recruit new members.

And the Net was a lucrative means of support. How else could they afford a mansion in the ritziest part of San Diego?

That they made the Internet their medium of choice for preaching to the masses has some citizens in a frenzy.

They say all that's dark and evil about the Net is somehow to blame for the suicides.

Now, I understand this. We always want to blame something for phenomena we don't understand.

Nevertheless, I want to strike a blow for common sense.

The Net is neither an instrument of the devil nor one of God. It's a neutral force in a neutral world.

Some 100 years ago, these same naysayers might have been screaming the same thing about the telephone, the electric light bulb or the gas-powered automobile.

Granted, the Net differs from earlier inventions that transformed society.

It is a phenomenon with no chairman or chief executive to hold accountable.

The Pentagon designed it in the scariest days of the Cold War so we still could communicate if any part of the country were atomized.

Fortunately, we figured out how horrifying nuclear war could be before we had a chance to try out the new computer network.

Still, obstructionists depict cyberspace as a place where pornography runs amok and where cultists, weirdos and wackos are doing everything in their power to convert and destroy our youth -- not to mention older generations.

And they point to the Heaven's Gate crowd as proof.

To be sure, dirty pictures appear on the Net. And cultists of every stripe cruise the chat rooms and user groups.

But you'll find plenty of dirty pictures at the local convenience store, and cult recruiters prey on every college campus.

Our political system was founded on a fondness for free speech. With a few exceptions, we can say what we want, when we want, where we want.

Free speech really isn't all that free. We've paid a high price for it over the past 220 years.

Given the cost, you'd think we'd be a little more understanding of the value of being able to say what we think without fear or intimidation.

The pressure to saddle the Internet with free-speech restrictions is mounting -- and the lunatics in San Diego didn't help matters much.

Which is all the more reason for those who love the First Amendment to put up their guards.

© 1997, Puget Sound Business Journal

April 25, 1997

Former cult member blames self for wife's suicide

AP Wireservices (selections)
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A man who joined the Heaven's Gate cult with his wife but left before she and other members committed suicide said he feels responsible for her death.

``I took her to a place ... where she chose to end her life and I wasn't there for her,'' Steve Hill told television station WLWT Thursday.

Hill and his wife, Yvonne, joined the cult in August. He returned to Cincinnati seven weeks later.

Hill gave his first interviews about his experience Thursday to WLWT and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Hill, a 32-year-old computer buff who worked for Formica Corp. in the suburb of Evendale, found Heaven's Gate on the Internet.

``The cult people, they seemed to sympathize with us and our problems,'' he said. ``That's what drew us in. No one else seemed to care.''

Those problems included numerous anonymous, harassing phone calls. Hill said someone was stalking them. He did not say who he thought was behind the calls.

``The phone calls have been going on for years,'' he said. ``Sometimes they'd asked if I was seeing another woman, if I'd had an affair. I wasn't. Sometimes they'd just hang up.''

Their cars also were vandalized.

He began exchanging e-mail with members of the group. Later, they talked on the phone and he decided to join.

His wife, who at first was against leaving, agreed to join the cult after giving birth to twins in August. They named the girls DoRae and TeJa after cult leaders Do -- Marshall Herff Applewhite -- and Ti -- Bonnie Lu Nettles.

The Hills gave away their belongings and gave up power of attorney over their children -- now ages 8 months, 4, and 6 -- to her family. Ms. McCurdy-Hill's 19-year-old son also stayed behind.

But Hill didn't find what he was looking for in the cult. It was too constraining, he said. They would wake at 5:30 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m. He had no time with his wife.

``She was so controlled mentally that she didn't respond to me as a ... wife,'' he said.

Hill developed a severe ear infection that threw him off balance. His wife and Applewhite tried to talk him into staying, but later agreed to let him leave.

Cult members escorted him to the airport and stayed until his flight left. He never had a chance to be alone with his wife.

His wife's death has created a rift between him and her family.

Ms. McCurdy-Hill's family has not spoken publicly about the cult except for one statement issued through two ministers.

Hill said he now is trying to get custody of the children and freely admits it was wrong to abandon them.

``Hindsight is 20-20,'' he said.

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.

``He stated he was very busy,'' the center told Ohio probation officers. His probation was transferred to California when he moved from the Cleveland area. Matzorkis was living in suburban Lakewood when he pleaded guilty to the 1990 car theft.

Ms. Cleary gave Matzorkis 30 days to make arrangements to do the community service or face a six-month prison term. ``I apologize,'' Matzorkis told the judge.

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 23, 1997

Durango cult member figures prominently in settling of estate

AP Wireservices (selections)
DURANGO, Colo. (AP) -- The name of a former Durango real estate developer who joined the Heaven's Gate cult keeps popping up as California officials struggle to settle the cult's estate.

The group left no written wills.

Although settling the estate could prove to be a monumental challenge, investigators have found two key documents relating to the cult's business enterprises.

Both documents appear to have been filed by John ``Mickey'' Craig, a former Durango developer, under the alias Logan Lahson. Craig joined the cult in 1975.

The name appears on an application for a federal tax-identification for Higher Source Contract Enterprises, a company operated by cult members. It also appears on a trademark application. It is the only name that appears on both documents.

Officials charged with distributing the property said the appearance of Craig's name does not mean his family will be entitled to any more than the families of other deceased cult members. That is because Logan Lahson is not a real name and because the cult jointly owned all assets and profits.

``We have found a body of information that indicates very strongly that everything owned by the 39 individuals was turned over to the group,'' said Susan Jamme, deputy public administrator for San Diego County. ``Paychecks were turned over to the group, even Christmas presents were viewed as group property.''

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