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Heaven's Gate (Part 7)

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 Things to beware of in 1997:
 The West-coast and Middle-America.  Middle-Europe and the Near East. 
 Package to 'old friend' led to gruesome find
 BEVERLY HILLS - It was a routine-looking Federal Express package, delivered
 to a high-rise office building just a few blocks from tony Rodeo Drive.
 Perhaps the only clue that something was amiss was its return address -
 InterAct Entertainment Group - the same place it was sent.
 The addressee, Rio DiAngelo, a Website designer at the firm and an
 ex-member of the Higher Source cult, took the parcel home Tuesday night
 without saying a word. On Wednesday morning, he appeared in the office of
 the company's president, Nick Matzorkis, and made a chilling announcement
 that would lead the two to discover 39 bodies some 100 miles away.
 "He informed me that the entire Higher Source crew had committed suicide,"
 Matzorkis said, recalling that DiAngelo showed him the Federal Express
 package containing two videos and a note from the group. "The letter said
 "By the time this is being read, we will have shed our containers,' which
 is how they refer to their bodies."
 Two hours later, before notifying authorities about a possible mass
 suicide, Matzorkis sat in his Lexus truck while DiAngelo entered a Rancho
 Santa Fe mansion to check on each and every one of his former friends. "He
 went and saw every dead body," Matzorkis said. "He knew whose bed was
 The dead had purple shrouds over their heads and wore brand-new black Nike
 sneakers, with a white swoosh on the side. "They went out and got those
 tennis shoes for this purpose, for whenever they would decide to leave this
 planet," Matzorkis said.
 DiAngelo, a shaven-head man in his early 40s, was hidden away somewhere
 Thursday, on Matzorkis' advice. And Matzorkis, 34 - co-owner of 1-800-U.S.
 Search, a lost-relative location service that has been featured on
 "Leeza,"; former founder of the cartoon syndicate "Ziggy and Friends
 Production," and producer of a Madonna CD - was clearly relishing his 15
 minutes of fame.
 In an office adorned with covers of the entertainment trade papers, Variety
 and the Hollywood Reporter, Matzorkis said that about 16 members of the
 cult had done freelance work for him on the Internet over the last eight
 months. Computer whizzes and clean-cut, they were androgynous, self-styled
 monks who wore buzz cuts, dressed in cotton clothes and talked about
 leaving Earth on an UFO that would trail the Hale-Bopp comet. One female
 member said the men, who like all followers were celibate, had their
 testicles removed, he said.
 The cult had even approached Matzorkis about producing a TV
 movie-of-the-week, which would chronicle the group's history from its
 inception 20 years ago as the "UFO Cult," he said. Matzorkis said he never
 read the script he was given, but deemed the project "unrealistic."
 Now, says Matzorkis, he thinks the group fingered him to be some type of
 after-life spokesman. On his computer, he pulled up a cryptic E-mail
 letter, dated Sept. 26, 1996, and signed, "Thanks, Higher Source Crew."
 "Nick," it began, "When we met you last month we told you just a bit about
 our monastery, but as you probably suspected, the unsaid picture was a
 whole lot bigger than what was said."
 After mentioning that the group was at "extremely critical crossroads," and
 thinking about going more public, the letter continued: "For some reason,
 we do tend to wonder if there is a greater purpose than our doing websites
 for you, that put us in contact with each other. But of course, that is yet
 to be determined."
 Matzorkis stopped reading, and shook his head. "I think that is determined
 right now," he said.
 Two minutes after DiAngelo told him about the Federal Express package
 Wednesday, Matzorkis said the duo were en route to the suicide scene. The
 businessman said he didn't call police because "I thought that there were
 truths and probably untruths."
 "I thought maybe suicide to them is we go to the house and find that
 there's no one there and they're beamed up," he said. "In all actuality,
 they're living in Europe."
 But after talking with his employee on the way down, Matzorkis said he felt
 a sense of dread. One of the videos featured the cult leader "Do," speaking
 about how the members spirits would transcend space. On the other tape,
 pairs of followers spoke spontaneously and "about how excited they were to
 be ridding their faults and moving on."
 When they pulled up to the Mediterranean-style estate, Matzorkis said he
 told DiAngelo he would pick him up in 10 minutes. He drove down the block
 and back, then sat in the car in the driveway for another three minutes
 before DiAngelo emerged, he said.
 "He looked white as a sheet as he approached the truck and he got in the
 car," Matzorkis recalled. "He said, "They did it."'
 Matzorkis said he asked what they had done, and DiAngelo replied, "They all
 committed suicide'... He said they're lying in their beds, in cots,
 "I said, did it smell? I was trying to get to the bottom of whether this
 was real," Matzorkis recounted. DiAngelo answered yes.
 As Matzorkis drove off, he said a surprisingly calm DiAngelo remarked, "I'm
 surprised how well this vehicle is dealing with this," referring to his own
 Matzorkis said he convinced DiAngelo to immediately make an anonymous call
 to local authorities from a pay phone. He said his worker related the
 address and said "40 people are dead in this house."
 When the two returned to his offices, Matzorkis said he had DiAngelo make a
 similar anonymous call to the Beverly Hills police. Then, fearing that the
 calls were not taken seriously, Matzorkis in mid-afternoon said he notified
 the sheriffs department again in Rancho Santa Fe and the Beverly Hills
 police, explaining that he had driven an employee and ex-cult member down
 to make the grisly find. Sheriff's deputies discovered the bodies just
 after 4 p.m.
 DiAngelo, who left the cult about five weeks ago, now believes he was
 spared to carry on some sort of message, Matzorkis said. Shortly after
 finding his onetime comrades dead from a drug and alcohol mixture, the
 computer programmer declared, "being chosen for this is not an easy task,"
 Matzorkis said.
 The man who played a key role in uncovering one of the worst mass suicides
 in U.S. history, however, was nowhere to be found Thursday. Phone listings
 and voting and property records didn't turn up DiAngelo's name, and
 although the building manager said people had been in Matzorkis' penthouse
 Beverly Hills apartment, no one answered the door.
 Matzorkis, meanwhile, kept busy with one interview after another. "Nick to
 the set!" shouted a publicist, interrupting an interview so Matzorkis could
 zip over to ABC-TV to chat with Peter Jennings.
 As for DiAngelo, Matzorkis said he felt his employee wasn't ready yet to
 handle the publicity. "I felt that he might be disappointed in the end
 result. He was fearful that people would just glom on to what seems to be
 the insanity of it."
 (Contributing to this report was Copley News Service reporter Hildy

Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 8)