³ ³ ³ ³ ΙΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝ» Ί T R U S T N O O N E Ί ΘΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΝΌ ³ ³ ³ ³ /\ +--+ +----+ / \ //======// ===\\ / \ // // \\ / \ //====// ==\\ +------------+ /// \\======================================/// \\====================================/// Things to beware of in 1997: Attempts to persuade you that 'these laws are neccessary'; especially when 'these laws' refers to laws inhibiting, retracting, or otherwise resulting in encroachments upon personal liberties or outright attempts to repeal constitutionally granted freedoms. ------------------------------------------------------------------- From the Chicago Tribune, 3/28/97: MYSTERY DEATHS Suicide with a vision of apocalypse By Charles M. Madigan TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER ANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. -- In the confusing rhetoric that surrounds this mystery, the victims spoke of themselves as being among the chosen, angelic presences who would escape the gritty bonds of Earth and rise to a brighter reality with God in the eternity of space. They would accomplish this in a space ship, which was hiding just behind the brilliant tail of Hale-Bopp, the rare comet making a close enough pass toward Earth to touch the souls of those who believe God sends messages in the night sky. "It was an immaculately planned mass suicide," said one of the chief investigators of the case Thursday as police in this enclave of multimillion-dollar mansions and dream-wealth Californians struggled to understand just what happened, and why. Thirty-nine members of a cult called "Heaven's Gate" packed for their space journey, dressed in black from neck to toe. They were clean down to the soles of their new Nike running shoes. Some had pages of paper instructions to help them on the first phase of their journey. They put $5 bills and some quarters in their pants. They also slipped identification papers into the big pockets of their black shirts so everyone would know who they were. Some of them even were found with passports or birth certificates. They formed three groups to prepare for the trip. The first group of 15 then ate a mixture of either pudding or applesauce, spiked with a barbiturate. They washed that down with a vodka drink, sat back to relax and die, comforted and watched all the time by the second group of 15. Their job apparently was to make certain that all the bodies were in the correct pose, arms at the side, feet a few inches apart, relaxed, comfortable, covered from navel to forehead with a rectangular piece of purple cloth. Group two followed exactly the same course, monitored by the final members, in group three, and the last two people who died. The authorities know that because only two people had plastic bags over their heads and no purple cloths to grace their remains. There was no one left to help them on their journey. There were enough plastic bags with elastic strings on hand so that all 39 of the victims could have opted for suffocation instead of death from the alcohol-drug overdose. Because they are said to be faster, plastic bags over the head are common in drug-alcohol suicides. The process took days, with the bodies of the first dead decomposing even as the members of the final group consumed their pudding and awaited the quiet, unyielding embrace of the alcohol and phenobarbitol that would kill them. That is all police had to say about the matter Thursday afternoon, a full day after the suicides were discovered. The case of the death of the obscure cult known as Heaven's Gate is just that simple and that complicated at the same time. A collection of people identified thus far only by age, sex and state of residence abandoned what they viewed as their human shells, apparently at the urging of a man who has been on this strange mission for more than 22 years, so they could go to space to be with God. They had a lot to do with computers, sending many of their messages over the Internet and making their money through a company called Higher Source, which designed Web pages, usually for clients in the entertainment business. But they were hardly alienated young computer nerds. Sample Web sites designed by The youngest Heaven's Gate Higher Source: victim was 26. The oldest was 72. * Pre-Madonna * Kushner-Locke There were 21 women and 18 men. Company Two were African-Americans; the * The San Diego remainder were white, including Polo Club one or two Hispanics. People who * British Masters had hired them to construct Web * Keep the Faith pages considered them polite, * 1-800 Harmony professional and highly Music & Video talented, if a little strange because of their closely cropped hair and unisex dress. They were good, if a bit unusual, neighbors to the super-wealthy who populate this part of the California dream. There were signs something was happening. Of late, the Heaven's Gate Web site on the Internet had become more and more apocalyptic, particularly as the Hale-Bopp comet approached. It spoke of beings existing at a higher level and of the impending journey to that place. It was all mixed in with talk about Jesus and his father God and how time was approaching to complete God's plan. While a lot of this helps serve as something of an explanation, none of it makes much sense to the uninitiated. "Why did they do this?" asked San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender in his department's first formal attempt to explain the mass suicide. "I have as many penetrating questions as you do." Adding a philosophical note, he said, "We may never really know." San Diego County Medical Examiner Brian Blackbourne was the one who called the deaths immaculately planned. He seemed surprised that the mansion in this wealthy hilltop community where the tragedy played out was as clean as a house awaiting special guests. There were no marks on any of the bodies indicative of violence. There were no signs of struggle. There was no mess. The living disposed of the trash and tidied up before they took their place in line to die. There was a strange three-minute police video of the scene of the suicides, disturbing on one level because the whole process seemed so orderly and neat. The video showed only a few of the bodies and was much more solemn and deliberate than even the mildest of the TV police reality shows. Doors would open into darkness then a light would illuminate a bunk bed with its occupant in eternal rest, with everything just so. The bodies on bunk beds rested on white quilts, with their hands at their sides. A pair of glasses was folded near the knees of one body. Some of the fingers seemed blue. Two sheriff's deputies were briefly hospitalized after being overcome by the odor of decomposition. By Thursday afternoon, police were reluctant to say much at all about identification of the victims. Hundreds of families missing children and other loved ones had called to ask whether they were in the group. In one case, the medical examiner said, the answer was yes. He would not say who that was. Because of what was found at the scene and the early autopsy results, the medical examiner said the vodka-phenobarbitol combination was the likely killer, enhanced by plastic bags. But it could takes weeks for all the toxicology reports to come in and many more weeks before the "cause of death" slot can be filled in. Even while police were trying to figure out where the case would go next, a clearer picture began to emerge of Heaven's Gate and the man believed to be at the head of the cult. He has long been identified by Heaven's Gaters as "Do," but most likely was a man named Marshall Applewhite, said to be among the dead by CBS News, tagged as head of the cult by ABC, and quite familiar to experts who have watched the development of cults in the United States over the past few decades. On Thursday, he apparently was the balding man in the black shirt with white buttons who played the central role in a video sent by Heaven's Gate to former members and media contacts. It looks like something out of an old "Twilight Zone," with the now-wrinkled old man sitting on what looks like a cheap plastic lawn chair, but manipulated in such a way that there are three images of him, one stacked behind the other. "You can follow us, but you cannot stay here," the man said in a segment of a video in which he promises his followers they will be rising to "a higher level." "The planet Earth is about to be recycled. Your only chance to survive or evacuate is to leave with us." CBS News found an old video, this one from 1974, in which Applewhite spoke of rising from the dead. At that time he was claiming that he and his followers would be dead for 3 1/2 days, and then they would just get up and walk away. Then, he said, he would find life after death in outer space. There also was a report of an arrest in Texas years ago for car theft which came after a policeman checked out Applewhite's license when he began talking about having a life in space. The latest video includes a visit from some followers, including a woman who discussed her reasons for following Applegate's suggestion that she end her life. "Maybe they're crazy for all I know," she said. "But I don't have any choice but to go for it, because I have been on this planet for 31 years and there is nothing here for me. "And they were saying to the person I was with that they felt the last, final ingredient would be for the vehicles to be dead, you know, what humans call 'dead'. And so I said 'Great, You know if that's what it takes, that's better than being around here with absolutely nothing to do."' From another direction, there was a report that the modern Heaven's Gate group might be an extension of, or an imitation of, a 1975 movement started by Applewhite and a woman named Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, who died in 1985. Another cult expert traced distant roots to something called "Go In Peace," which first showed up in 1955 and included people who believed they were sent by God as prophets to clean up Jesus' mistakes. Applewhite was a music teacher at the University of St. Thomas in Houston before emerging as the leader of a small band of people who seemed to believe spaceships would be taking them to heaven someday. Applewhite and Nettles called themselves "The Two" and embraced a philosophy that encouraged followers to give up all their stuff, including friends, lovers and children, and devote their lives to the group. But there are big gaps in this Heaven's Gate history that police undoubtedly will be trying to fill over the next few days. There is some hope that a better explanation for what happened might be inside any of the many computers they removed from the house. A police commander said Thursday that the San Diego investigators have not had time to crack the computers yet. The 39 bodies were discovered Wednesday afternoon by a Beverly Hills businessman, Nick Matzorkis. One of his employees, a former Heaven's Gate member, had received a package that included a letter and videotapes announcing the group had committed suicide. The video and letter state the cult members believed a UFO would be coming by to pick them up, hidden behind the tail of the comet. The group's Internet page said whether Hale-Bopp actually had "a companion" was "irrelevant." Tribune staff writer Vincent J. Schdolski reported this account from Los Angeles, Tribune staff writer Charles M. Madigan reported from Chicago and Tribune staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed from Rancho Santa Fe.