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Heaven's Gate (Part 3)

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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

                     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
                       * 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

                     "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

                     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

                     "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

                     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.

Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 4)