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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)