The Heaven’s Gate Suicides
RED ALERT! Hale-Bopp brings closure to: Heaven’s Gate. This is the greeting one receives upon visiting the Heaven’s Gate web page. It is a haunting message that was left behind when 21 women and 18 men took their own lives on March 23, 24, and 25, 1997. This mass suicide was under the supervision of Marshall Herff Applewhite, the cult’s charismatic leader. Heaven’s Gate was not Applewhite’s first cult. It was the latest of three organizations that he and his partner, Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles had founded. The first of which was “Human Individual Metamorphosis” which was founded in 1975. This group disbanded with the death of Nettles from cancer in 1985. He formed a new group called “Total Overcomers Anonymous” in 1993. He relocated this group to the infamous San Diego mansion where he lived on to become one of the 39 suicides in March of 1997.
The Heaven’s Gate cult was founded under unusual beliefs. Applewhite preached that Jesus was an extraterrestrial and that the core of oneself was an alien in place of the traditional belief of the soul. All the cult members believed themselves to be aliens as well. The members were prohibited from sexual activity and were denied sexual identity by means of unisex clothing and unisex treatment. Eight men of the cult, including Applewhite, went so far as to undergo voluntary castrations. It is theorized that Applewhite instituted this complete prohibition of sexuality because of his avoidance of his own sexuality. Applewhite was a homosexual and even tried to rid himself of his “burden” by committing himself in the 70’s when it was thought by some that homosexuality could be cured. It is also hypothesized that the lack of sexuality was due to the belief that aliens have no sexual organs seeing as they modeled themselves as extraterrestrial monks and nuns. These delusions are what lead them to their untimely deaths.
The chain of events that resulted in the deaths of 39 mislead men and women was set in effect by what could have been mechanical error. An amateur astronomer reported photographing a huge “Saturn-like object” trailing the tail of the comet Hale-Bopp. Applewhite received news of this young mans discovery. He came to the conclusion that this object was a UFO that was meant to take the cult members to the ”next level”. The suicides occurred when this comet’s course was closest to the earth. The members were found in bunk beds wearing black Nike’s and black unisex costumes. They had plastic bags and purple shrouds over their heads. In their blood, medical examiners found a virtual cocktail of drugs. All of the members had ingested Phenobarbital that was, mixed with applesauce or pudding and most of them chased this with vodka. Some of the members also took Vicodin and numerous others suffocated under plastic bags.
In late March of 1997, 39 men and women put themselves to death under the convoluted leadership of Marshall Herff Applewhite. Who is to blame for this tragic chain of events? Was it the amateur with the telescope? Was the Internet to blame? In my personal opinion, no one but Applewhite and his followers were culpable. Who knows, maybe the cult did hitch a ride with that UFO. Maybe they did make their way to the next level, but as far as I know they have been reduced to a mere bit of trivia here on earth.
1. Dornan, Rusty. “Suicide probe focuses on the cult’s stash of pills.” Cnn.com 29 March 1997.
2. Heaven’s Gate- When and how it may be entered. 20 March 1997
3. LaMotte, Greg. “Tests confirm cult members ingested drugs, alcohol.” Cnn.com 5 April 1997.