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Independent research on Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate News Week of 5/7/97

May 8, 1997

Can a comet make interest in astronomy soar?

By Matt Mygatt, Associated Press Writer (selections)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Astronomy's billboard in the sky -- Comet Hale-Bopp -- is fading in the Northern Hemisphere, leaving behind a renewed sense of cosmic wonderment on Earth.

``I think most people are in awe about the universe, about the solar system, about our place in it. It really taught people that we are not alone here on the planet Earth,'' said Yervant Terzian, chairman of Cornell University's astronomy department at Ithaca, N.Y.

Reta Beebe, an astronomy professor at New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, bemoaned the tendency of TV disaster dramas to create a scary image for comets among third- and fourth-graders she has talked with.

``Unfortunately, the popularization of asteroids hitting the Earth has created fear,'' Beebe said. ``It's kind of sad.''

Comets have been considered a sign of impending doom for centuries. And Hale-Bopp was shadowed by rumors that it was being trailed by a UFO, fueled by an amateur astronomer's announcement on late-night talk radio that he detected a mysterious object behind the comet.

Astronomers later demonstrated that it was a star. But the members of the Heaven's Gate >>cult<< who killed themselves in late March apparently believed their suicides would lead to a rendezvous with a spaceship.

May 7, 1997

Former Heaven's Gate cult member fears more suicides

By Dana Calvo, Associated Press Writer (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A former member of the Heaven's Gate cult said Wednesday he is worried that at least six others might follow ``classmates'' in suicide.

``They're probably wondering what the next step is for them. I'm concerned about them,'' Dick Joslyn said from his home in Tampa, Fla.

``I don't see this as a copycat,'' said Larry Trachte, a chaplain who teaches a course on cults at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. ``It's just an extension of the same process. They lost their whole faith community.''

A former member who uses the name Sawyer said Wednesday that Humphrey tried to kill himself when he could no longer work on the site because someone had ``commandeered'' it.

``As long as he had a task to do, things were fine,'' Sawyer said by telephone from his New York home. ``He was supposed to spread information about the `next level' and maintain the Internet site.

Trachte said he wasn't surprised by Joslyn's fear of more suicides.

``They haven't been deprogrammed. They haven't reoriented themselves to the world's reality,'' he said.

No surprises in autopsy of ex-Heaven's Gate member

By Dana Calvo, Associated Press Writer (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- One month after 39 Heaven's Gate cult members killed themselves, two former followers reserved a suburban hotel room where they eventually tried to follow their ``classmates'' to salvation.

Cooke, 55, of Las Vegas was found face-down on the hotel room floor hours after consuming a mixture of the barbiturate phenobarbital and vodka and placing a plastic bag over his head, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office said Wednesday after performing an autopsy.

Humphrey, 56, of Denver also had traces of alcohol and barbiturates in his system when he was taken by ambulance to a hospital, authorities said. He was in serious condition and breathing through a respirator Wednesday, said Sue Pondrom, a spokeswoman for Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas.

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.

The two men wore clothes similar to those worn in the mass suicide. Crist said each had a $5 bill and three quarters in his pockets -- just like the other cult members who reportedly carried the bills after one was accused by police of vagrancy.

They had mailed suicide videos to various news organizations and friends.

``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,'' Cooke said in a letter sent with a video to CNN. ``I'd rather gamble on missing the bus this time than staying on this planet and risk losing my soul.''

``I wish I had the strength to have stuck it out and gotten stronger and continued to be a part of that crew,'' he had said.

Last month, Humphrey told reporters he left the group after growing impatient with the leaders' unmet promises.

The latest suicides were discovered after Cooke's daughter, Kelly, received a package stating her father and a friend were in the San Diego area planning to commit suicide.

Ms. Cooke called Stahl, who then contacted sheriff's deputies.

Deputies found both men at a hotel about four miles from the Rancho Santa Fe mansion. Cooke was found face-down with a plastic bag on his head. Humphrey had a plastic bag near him.

Ex-Heaven's Gate cult members wanted to spread beliefs

By Dana Calvo, Associated Press Writer (selections)
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Two former Heaven's Gate members who tried to commit suicide like 39 other ``classmates'' were frustrated in their attempts to spread the group's beliefs, friends and a relative say.

``What my father had been intending as his purpose was to get out information,'' said Cooke's daughter, Kelly. ``More and more dissent was arising within class members. My father was getting further and further away. He did not want to fight.''

``I could sense (suicide) was a possibility,'' she said.

Humphrey was frustrated by the lack of attention given to the group's beliefs, said former cult member and Humphrey friend Dick Joslyn.

``He was a little discouraged by the inability to get the word out,'' he said in an interview from his Tampa, Fla. home. ``He made it clear to me that when his work was done, he would go too.''

Heaven's Gate members believed that they had to shed their ``containers,'' or bodies, in order to catch a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet for a ride to the ``Level Above Human.''

In the months before the mass suicide, members spread the group's theology using their World Wide Web site.

A former member who uses the name Sawyer said Humphrey decided to attempt suicide because he could no longer work on the cult's site. He said someone had ``commandeered'' the site.

Humphrey, 55, of Denver also had traces of alcohol and barbiturates in his system, authorities said. He was breathing through a respirator Wednesday and could not talk, said Sue Pondrom, spokeswoman for Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas.

Glance at events leading to Heaven's Gate suicide attempt

By The Associated Press (selections)
March 26: San Diego Sheriff's Department deputies discovered the bodies of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members.

April 18: Former cult members Dick Joslyn and Charles Humphrey and Nancie Brown hold a news conference in San Diego to explain the cult's beliefs.

April 28: Humphrey reserved a double room at the Holiday Inn Express four miles from the original mass suicide site.

May 5: Humphrey and Cooke arrived at the hotel by taxi about 2 p.m.

They paid $59 in cash for the room and left $60 in an envelope at the desk to cover pickup charges for four Federal Express packages. The packets contained goodbye notes and videos sent to news organizations and friends.

May 6: Deputies learned in the morning that Cooke's daughter, Kelly, had received information her father and a friend were planning to commit suicide.

At 12:25 p.m., deputies discovered Cooke and Humphrey on the floor of the hotel room. Plastic bags and purple cloths were found near their black-clad bodies with Nikes.

Ex-cult member commits suicide

Another former Heaven's Gate follower found unconscious in hotel room (selections)
ENCINITAS (AP) -- A former Heaven's Gate member was found dead and another unconscious Tuesday inside a hotel room where authorities said they attempted to imitate the cult's mass suicide.

The body of Wayne Cooke, 54, of Las Vegas and an unconscious Chuck Humphrey, 56, of Denver were found by deputies at 12:25 p.m. after the San Diego County Sheriff's Department received a phone call from CBS reporter Lesley Stahl, who had spoken with Cooke's daughter, said Sgt. Don Crist.

``They did have a note similar to the one that was found at Heaven's Gate, suggesting they were going to meet with their leader on the other side of the comet and suggesting suicide,'' Crist said.

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

Cooke was married to Suzanne Sylvia Cooke, who committed suicide with the other members in March. In an interview on CBS' ``60 Minutes'' after the suicide, he said he wished he could join the group.

At a San Diego news conference last month, Humphrey said he left after growing impatient.

``I left the group because it had been 15 years, because many of the things we were told were going to happen didn't,'' he said. ``I got tired of waiting.''

Cooke's daughter, Kelly, received a Fed-Ex package stating her father and a friend were in the San Diego area planning to commit suicide using the same concoction used in the earlier suicides.

Deputies were able to track the package to the Holiday Inn Express in Encinitas, about four miles from the mansion.

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