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Heaven's Gate (Part 10)

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 Things to beware of in 1997:
 The continued breakdown in societal mores. 
 March 28, 1997
 Mysterious Couple Appear To Be
 Founders of Suicide Cult
 Associated Press Writer
 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Marshall Applewhite, found dead with 38 other suicide
 victims near San Diego, was not always roaming the West preaching about
 UFOs and exhorting others to follow him to eternity.
 Applewhite, 66, was considered a gifted singer and likable music professor
 in the 1960s who had potential for a career on stage. His 69-year-old
 sister, Louise Winant of Port Aransas, Texas, got a sinking feeling when
 she heard of the mass suicide.
 "It's not surprising," she told Corpus Christi, Texas, television station
 KRIS. "He has so much charisma, he can convince others of almost anything."
 Asked if that included suicide, she said, "Yes."
 Applewhite was born in Spur, Texas, the son of a Presbyterian minister. He
 attended high school in Corpus Christi and studied music at the University
 of Colorado.
 "He did a lot of work with musicals," retired professor Charles Byers of
 Mesa, Ariz., told The Denver Post. "He was happy-go-lucky, popular with
 Applewhite played the lead in "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma" at the
 university, Byers said. Then he and his wife went to New York so he could
 become a professional singer. They reportedly had two children.
 "They broke up," Byers said. "He didn't get the roles. He was doing a lot
 of commercials, making a living."
 In 1966, Applewhite was hired as a music teacher at the University of St.
 Thomas, a private Catholic college in Houston. He sang 15 roles with the
 Houston Grand Opera before leaving in 1970, according to a New York Times
 Magazine profile.
 It was not long before his life took a strange turn when he met a nurse
 named Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, then about 44. Applewhite's sister said
 they met when her brother had a "near-death experience."
 "He had an illness in Houston and one of the nurses there told him that he
 had a purpose, that God kept him alive," Ms. Winant said. "She sort of
 talked him into the fact that this was the purpose -- to lead these people
 -- and he took it from there."
 The couple opened a store in Houston called the Christian Arts Center,
 selling information on astrology and other religious-type materials.
 Soon they left to travel and developed beliefs that they were reincarnated
 aliens. Others followed, and in 1975 the two received quite a bit of
 attention when they convinced 25 Oregon people to sell their belongings,
 leave their children and trek to the Colorado desert to await the arrival
 of a UFO.
 One of them, Robert Rubin, 48, who now works at a store in Waldport, Ore.,
 said the group soon ran out of money.
 "We went all around the United States," he told The Oregonian newspaper.
 "We tested the (charitability of the local) churches. We had nothing. We
 left everything behind, no money, no anything."
 Calling themselves "Bo" and "Peep," "The Him and the Her," or "The Two,"
 Applewhite and Nettles described life as only a transition to another, and
 the only way to make the trip was to rid oneself of possessions.
 "There were a lot of Biblical references to what they did," Rubin said.
 "Something out of Revelations. ... They said when they did, a few days
 later they'd be taken off in spaceships."
 Applewhite and Nettles called their group Human Individual Metamorphosis,
 or HIM, and recruited members from California, Colorado, New Mexico and
 Oregon. Media attention and investigations by police forced the group
 Robert Balch, a student who said he infiltrated the cult during the 1970s,
 was quoted in James Lewis' book on cults titled "The Gods Have Landed."
 According to Balch, "Bo and Peep" used to camp until they came into an
 inheritance and then rented homes in Denver and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
 Balch said the group was extremely secretive in the 1980s. They were rarely
 heard from, and Nettles died in 1985.
 But in 1993, under the name of Total Overcomers Anonymous, the group ran a
 full-page advertisement in USA Today entitled "UFO Cult Resurfaces with
 Final Offer," according to Balch.
 "The ad focused primarily on the group's beliefs, which appeared to have
 changed little in the last 18 years. However, it had an apocalyptic tone
 that was much more dramatic than anything I had heard in 1975," Balch
 "The earth's present 'civilization' is about to be recycled -- 'spaded
 under.' Its inhabitants are refusing to evolve. The 'weeds' have taken over
 the garden and disturbed its usefulness beyond repair."

Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 11)