25 Things You’ll Wish You Never Knew About the Heaven’s Gate Suicide Cult

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On March 26, 1997 thirty-nine people were found dead inside a mansion in Rancho Sante Fe, California. They were all wearing identical clothing, had identical haircuts, and, except for two of them, they were each covered in a purple shroud. The group was Heaven’s Gate, a cult led by Marshall Applewhite, who was one of the 39 people found in the house. Over the course of a day, the group members had each ingested phenobarbital mixed with applesauce and vodka, and had covered their heads in a plastic bag to ensure their deaths. It is, to this day, the largest mass suicide in US history.

Many people remember the Heaven’s Gate cult for the images of their bodies being discovered that were plastered all over the news in the early nineties (most notably their identical Nike sneakers), but the group had been around for almost 30 years before they decided to commit suicide together. Here are some interesting fact about Heaven’s Gate that you may not have known.

Heaven’s Gate believed that there was a place called The Evolutionary Level Above Human, a physical place where they could go if they shed all attachments to the human world. For awhile, this meant giving up sex, belongings, individual interests and all relationships with family and friends, but eventually they came to believe they also needed to give up their human bodies, which they referred to as “vehicles”.

According to the belief system of Heaven’s Gate, they thought that evil aliens had taken control of human civilization and purposely led them away from the Kingdom of Heaven with distractions like money, sex, and attachment to physical things. But there were also other aliens, good aliens, that had come down to Earth from space and implanted themselves inside a human vessel to show humans the way to the Next Level. They believed that Jesus and their leaders Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles (who died of cancer before the mass suicide) were examples of these higher beings inside a human form.

In 1997 the Hale-Bopp comet was passing by earth. It was the brightest comet ever to be observed in the 20th century. It was visible with the naked eye for 18 months. An amateur astronomer in Texas claimed that he had observed something following the comet, which he deduced to be a UFO. Heaven’s Gate believe his claim, and believed the UFO following Hale-Bopp was the gateway to the Next Level they had been waiting for.

The two founders met at a psychiatric hospital in the early 70s. Applewhite was a patient, Nettles worked at the hospital. They founded the group and started looking for followers after creating a religious doctrine together.

For awhile, Heaven’s Gate toured around the country giving lectures on their beliefs. But after a visit to Waldport, Oregon, they simply disappeared, along with many members of the town who had gone to one of their lectures. The group had decided they would be safer if they split up, so they started sending members to live all over the country.

All members took new names, most took names that ended in -ody.

The cult members occasionally called home but were not allowed to talk for more than a few minutes, and were closely supervised when calling.

Since the group wasn’t allowed to have sex, some group members were voluntarily castrated to control their sexual urges. This took place in their shared living space.

You know the diet where you are supposed to eat nothing and only drink lemon water and cayenne pepper and maple syrup to lose weight? Heaven’s Gate all did the Master Cleanse for three straight months in order to purify their bodies.

The group had a ledger where they kept track of all money they spent or earned. The final entry in the ledger was that one of the members found 6 cents on the ground.

They designed the website for the San Diego Polo Club.

In the mansion a list of approved and not approved films was discovered. They did not provide much explanation for why they could or couldn’t watch certain films, for example, they were allowed to watch Whoopi Goldberg film Eddie and not the James Bond film GoldenEye. They were allowed to watch a NASA video about space exploration but it had a note attached that read, “This might prove to be a few laughs. This is the official version of NASA’s Apollo moon mission.”

The group was incredibly structured. All food had to be cooked exactly the same way, every time.They had to sign in and out every time they left the house. They kept their living space very clean and even took the trash out the morning of their suicide.

The night before their mass suicide, the group went to a Marie Callender’s restaurant and all ordered a meal of a garden salad, turkey pot pie, cheesecake with blueberries, and iced tea.

In Star Trek the term “Away Team” is used to refer to any group that moves from the spacecraft to another spacecraft or planet. The Heaven’s Gate members were fans of Star Trek and put this phrase on their patches as a tongue-in-cheek reference to their belief that they were going to be transported from Earth to another level of existence by way of UFO.  

This was pocket change in preparation for their journey to the Next Level.

Wayne Cooke and Charlie Humphreys did not kill themselves in the California mansion with the rest of the group. They committed suicide later in solitary with the group.

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A few weeks before the suicide, DiAngelo left the group with the approval of Applewhite. He was sent a videotape after their suicide which prompted him to inspect the mansion. He was the first person to discover the bodies. DiAngelo claims to still be a follower of Heaven’s Gate’s doctrine. He has written a book about Heaven’s Gate. 

After the 39 cult members were all found dead wearing Nike’s Decade shoes: black sneakers with a white swoosh and white soles, Nike decided to discontinue the line out of respect. But some “sneakerheads” are obsessed with finding a pair. Decades can be found on ebay listed at over 6,000 dollars.

He said of the comet that Heaven’s Gate had believed to be harboring a spaceship, “Tonight . . . forget about the world for a minute, go outside, look up in the northwest and take a look at this comet. It’s a beautiful object. It’s lovely. It’s one of the most magnificent celestial objects you will ever see. But for all its beauty, its magnificence, its splendor, all it is is a dirty snowball that’s orbiting the sun. Nothing more.”

You can still visit www.heavensgate.com, an extremely 90’s looking website that is still run by members of Heaven’s Gate. The site flashes an ominous “Red Alert” message at the top of the screen. It is dense and hard to read. The “About us” section begins:
Two thousand years ago, a crew of members of the Kingdom of Heaven who are responsible for nurturing “gardens,” determined that a percentage of the human “plants” of the present civilization of this Garden (Earth) had developed enough that some of those bodies might be ready to be used as “containers” for soul deposits.
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It goes on in similar language are equally as wordy sentences for another 16 paragraphs and that’s just one section of a very long website that also includes last statements from some of the members who committed suicide.

Not only is the website still up, the email is still active. This post from reddit shows an email chain from a few years ago.

His WordPress is here. His YouTube channel is here.

They rewrote the lyrics to Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music to be about Ti and Do. It’s pretty haunting.