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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate News Week of 4/30/97

May 6, 1997

Former Heaven's Gate cult member kills himself; another fails

By Dana Calvo, Associated Press Writer (selections)
ENCINITAS, Calif. (AP) -- Two former Heaven's Gate cult members sent ``exit statements,'' packed bags, arranged purple shrouds and wore dark outfits and running shoes before trying to kill themselves. One survived.

Sheriff's deputies found the body of Wayne Cooke of Las Vegas and an unconscious Chuck Humphrey of Denver after receiving a call from CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl, who had spoken with Cooke's daughter, police said.

Humphrey, 56, was taken to a hospital, where he was in critical condition today.

OPINION: A Bunch of Kooks and a Wheelbarrow Anniversary

By Mark Patinkin, Providence Journal-Bulletin, R.I.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (selections)
May 6--A number of things:

--Now that most of the Texas separatists have surrendered, various commentators and analysts are arguing that the Texas separatists represent a growing anti-government disaffection rooted in economic anxiety, a feeling of unbelonging and a need to blame outside authority for a lack of control caused by personal failure.

It reminds me of the flurry of magazine covers explaining how the Hale-Bopp cult members' decision to shed their containers and ascend to a higher level aboard a my

stic alien craft symbolized a crisis in America's search for meaning. I'm no expert, but if I may, I'd like to offer a less complex theory for such cases. A bunch of kooks, all of them.

[If you would like to thank Mr. Patinkin for his pithy analysis he may be reached at the World Wide Web site of the Providence Journal-Bulletin,]

One dead, another unconscious in apparent cult suicide imitation

By Dana Calvo, Associated Press Writer (selections)
ENCINITAS, Calif. (AP) -- One person was found dead and another unconscious Tuesday at a Holiday Inn in what authorities said appeared to be an attempt to imitate the Heaven's Gate mass suicide.

San Diego County Sheriff's spokesman Don Crist said the body and the unconscious person were found by deputies at about 12:25 p.m. The unconscious person was taken to a hospital.

Crist said both may have been former members of the Heaven's Gate cult and one was the husband of a cult member who participated in the March 26th mass suicide in a Rancho Santa Fe mansion. CNN reported Tuesday that it received what appeared to be a suicide tape, including a so-called ``exit statement'' from both men.

``I would like everyone to understand that I simply cannot stay here any longer and I am leaving because it is time for me to leave,'' one man said in a letter accompanying the tape, according to CNN.

May 3, 1997

Online communication and censorship

Three authors examine the limits of Internet speech
San Jose Mercury News
Lynn Yarris, science writer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (selections)
THE SUPREME Court has begun hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, the law that makes it a federal crime to put online, where children might see, any ``indecent'' word or image. Passed during this past election year by Congress with virtually no debate, and immediately signed by President Clinton, the CDA is so vaguely worded that -- as even its supporters acknowledge -- it criminalizes constitutionally protected speech. Frank online discussions about safe sex, AIDS or the performance this year of the Golden State Warriors could land you a $100,000 fine and two years in jail. The Supreme Court almost certainly will rule against the CDA, but the justices are likely to issue guidelines that could determine the extent of online First Amendment protection well into the 21st century. There are a number of sites on the Internet where you can follow the hearings -- just do a Net search for ``CDA.'' However, while the high court justices ponder whether the CDA is constitutional, the rest of us might ask: Is online government censorship really necessary?

Almost all political discussions of online obscenity so far have been about sexual material, but, as Platt notes, there may be a more serious problem with hate groups. The recent mass suicide of members of the Heaven's Gate cult has called public attention to the rising use of the Internet by special interest groups to spread their beliefs. These Web sites range from the harmlessly wacky to the creepily bizarre. Again, however, when you consider the full extent of the Internet, the number of these sites would seem to be insufficient to justify the effort it would take to eliminate them.

It keeps coming back to numbers, Platt says. The most reliable online studies estimate that no more than 4 percent of the material accessible on the ``anything goes'' Usenet is unsuitable for a 5-year-old child or Sen. Exon. This averages out to about one message out of every 25 sent out over Usenet. How worried should we be?

Heaven's Gate Estate To Be Restored

AP Wireservices (selections)
RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. (AP) -- The mansion where 39 Heaven's Gate cult members killed themselves has been taken off the market while a restoration crew strips, guts and restores it.

The owner, Sam Koutchesfahani, then plans to move back in before trying again to sell it, said Randall Bell, whose real estate firm is overseeing the restoration.

"Unfortunately, there's a smell throughout the entire house," Bell said. "Anything porous has to be removed -- wallpaper, carpets, some of the wood cabinetry, the vent system. We're stripping the house down to the bare bones."

May 2, 1997

The Purgatory Behind Heaven's Gate

Ex-Member Breaks His Silence on Cult
By Karl Vick, Washington Post Staff Writer (selections)
Full article:
CINCINNATI -- The story Steven Hill tells of life inside Heaven's Gate has little in common with the serene testimonials of other former cult members. Hill offers no assurances that the tidy suicides were acts of enlightened free will. He does not believe the departed have reached a Mother Ship. The cheery "farewell video" sickens him.

Although Hill says he feels some responsibility for bringing Yvonne McCurdy-Hill with him into the orbit of cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite, he maintains that she was ushered to her death by a self-styled messiah he had come to recognize as "a cold, calculating, manipulating" hypocrite.

"People were brainwashed," Hill says. "He wouldn't let them see anything but what he wanted them to see. He made it into a power game."

Hill, who lived with the cult for two months last autumn, is the last known former resident of Rancho Santa Fe to come forward. In interviews with The Washington Post, he said he was breaking his silence in hopes of correcting an image that has grown benign at the edges.

Hill says the group for which he and his wife left behind their four children was a classic cult. Heaven's Gate lured recruits by preying on weakness -- the Hills' vulnerability was an overpowering paranoia -- and members genuflected to a leader whose power was regarded as absolute.

Dependence on the cult was total. "There was choice to leave," Hill says. "But there was a lot of pressure" to stay.

In keeping with the cult's oft-repeated slogan "Break your ties to this world," McCurdy-Hill immediately signed over to Applewhite the $14,000 she had saved for retirement, her husband says. Inside the group, discipline was enforced in small but overwhelming ways. The daily regimen prescribed how you cut your toast at a breakfast table where you arrived after washing up "the way the Leader washed up."

And behind it all, Hill says, was an inkling of menace. When Hill left, Applewhite was talking of arming for an apocalyptic firefight with federal law enforcement officials. Hill's plans for retrieving his wife at one point included a stop at a gun shop.

Yet the talk of violence was less frightening than the power Applewhite held over his followers, Hill says. The first time the couple met Applewhite, he says, they took a ride together during a recruiting trip in Las Vegas. Abruptly McCurdy-Hill asked the leader about something she had read on the Internet. She said a man arrested for murder had said an alien told him to do it, with the promise of resurrection if he was put to death. Noting that the murderer's name ended in the "-ody" suffix preferred by Heaven's Gate members, she asked Applewhite if he was involved.

"Well," the leader replied, according to Hill, "I can tell the driver of this van to drive off the edge of the cliff. Do you understand?"

For his part, Hill says he obeyed the rules of Heaven's Gate without ever feeling he belonged. He suspects part of his feeling of exclusion was his shaved head and weight-lifter's build, part the relative speed with which he and his wife were awarded their cult names, Lukody and Davody.

He also says that, having immersed himself in the cult's teachings for months before living among its members, he found the reality far short of the ideal. He was especially disappointed, he says, after seeing the separate "castle" Applewhite kept for himself and two female assistants in a nearby neighborhood they knew as Mount Olive.

From the start, Hill says, he chafed at efforts to control his thinking. He was scolded for surfing the Internet; the regimentation of daily life reminded him of Army boot camp. Again and again, he says, overseers instructed members to re-package the cult videotapes Applewhite had ordered hand-addressed to movie stars and prominent media figures.

"He wanted attention," Hill says of Applewhite, who along with the farewell video left behind a letter to the media. "He wanted publicity, but couldn't get it. So he arranged this grand finale." Hill also felt Applewhite "was looking for a way out. He had people in there for 27 years, and they were growing weary. You could see it in their faces."

"I got on the Internet and took off like a great big hurricane," he says. Long a science fiction buff, he logged hours on the hundreds of Web sites devoted to UFOs and aliens. Cataloguing sites by the score and cross-referencing one scrap with another, he came to regard all information he read as equally plausible, including a purported photo of an alien autopsy.

When he came across the Heaven's Gate Web site, "it fit," he says. "It was perfect." The text explained that evil on Earth -- Hill interpreted this as the couple's persecution -- was the work of Luciferians. And the graphic announced that the good people would ascend to a Higher Level on a spaceship leaving in 1996.

He e-mailed the site, and without waiting for a response made preparations to move. By the time cult members responded -- a span of more than a month, Hill says -- he had quit his job, given his belongings to the poor and begun arrangements to leave his children with relatives.

"You're not going without me," McCurdy-Hill told him, through tears. Believing their home phone was tapped and that they were being followed, they went together to pay phones to talk to the cult members. The twins were born Aug. 9. Yvonne, believing the doctors were Luciferians, insisted her husband be in the delivery room for the Caesarean. The couple named the girls DoRae and TeJa after the cult's founders, who called themselves Do and Ti. Barely two weeks later, the Hills flew to Las Vegas for a "screening" meeting for membership in the cult.

Every member of Heaven's Gate was accompanied constantly by a "check partner" who monitored the other's behavior; McCurdy-Hill started out so reluctant that she was assigned two.

Back in Ohio, Hill moved as if in limbo. He made no effort to see his children, staying with friends and drifting between jobs. He kept in touch with Heaven's Gate by e-mail until, remembering how much Yvonne liked foreign cars, he sold his computer to buy a used Saab. His plans to retrieve her from the cult were scarcely better formed than that when he saw the helicopter shots of the Rancho Santa Fe mansion on the evening news.

"I said, `That's it, then. She'll be coming home any day.' I knew she wouldn't have done that."

The next day, when he saw his wife's face on the farewell video -- "There's nothing here for me," she said -- it was 48 hours before he could think straight. He made his way to her parents' house, where for the first time in six months he saw his older boy, Joshua. The 6-year-old had changed so much that Hill at first did not recognize him.

"Hi Daddy," the boy said. "Where's Mom?"

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

April 30, 1997

Street linked to cult suicides gets new name

AP Wireservices (selections)
RANCHO SANTA FE (AP) -- A group of homeowners has been working quietly to change the name of the street where 39 Heaven's Gate cult members killed themselves.

Colina Norte, which drew worldwide attention when the cult committed mass suicide last month inside a hilltop mansion, will be known as Paseo Victoria, named for a child who lives on the short cul-de-sac.

Residents confirmed last week they had met in recent days to vote on a new name because of continuing concerns about a string of ``strange'' visitors to their neighborhood.

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