On March 26, 1997, the bodies of 39 men and women were discovered in a mansion in the gated, upscale community known as Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego. The bodies were later identified as members of the Heaven’s Gate religious organization, considered by many to be a doomsday cult.
The 39 men and women are believed to have taken their own lives by consuming applesauce and pudding laced with drugs. Each cult member was wearing matching black outfits chosen to remember the Star Trek crew as well as black Nike “Decades” sneakers. Their dead bodies were neatly placed on bunk beds, their heads on pillows, blankets covering their bodies.
The suicide coincided with the passing of the Hale-Bopp comet. Allegedly, Heaven’s Gate cult members believed that there was a spacecraft just beyond Hale-Bopp, and they needed to leave life on his Earth behind in order to board the ship. As such, they referred to themselves as the Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”
Here’s What You Need to Know:
1. Heaven’s Gate Was Founded by Marshall Applewhite.
Marshall Applewhite was born in Texas in May of 1931. He served in the U.S. Army before returning to Texas where he studied in Austin. He briefly taught in Alabama before going back to Texas where he met and befriended Bonnie Nettles in the early 70s. Applewhite soon began calling himself “Bo” and “Do.” Applewhite and Nettles studied religion and mysticism together. They decided they were “The Two” mentioned in the Book of Revelation, meaning that there was an important mission for the two of them. While Applewhite and Nettles were very close, by all accounts, there relationship was strictly platonic. They began calling themselves divine messengers and began attracting converts in 1975. Applewhite soon had his first run-in with the law when he failed to return a rental car and was arrested.
Following Applewhite’s release, Applewhite, Nettles and their small group of followers continued traveling toward the West Coast. As they traveled, more and more people joined their group. Applewhite and Nettles told the group that they would soon be visited by a group of divine extraterrestrials. The group was a mix of religion and science fiction. For Applewhite and Nettles, aliens bridged the gap between God and men. A spaceship full of aliens did not indicate a hostile takeover; it meant stepping over into the next place.
From the late 70s into the 80s, the group increased in size and monetary power. Believers were supporting the group not only religiously, but financially. This gave Applewhite and Nettles the ability to set up a base for Heaven’s Gate in San Diego. Heaven’s Gate had a home, and as the 90s rolled around, the group had a new way of recruiting more people: the internet.
Heaven’s Gate had its own website, as described in more detail below, and even shared initiation videos. The official Heaven’s Gate website can be found here.
2. Heaven’s Gate Had a No-Sex Rule & Voluntary Castration
Applewhite and Nettles described the next world after this one, or the next place, as “The Next Level.” The Next Level is a place where sex between individuals does not exist.
“Getting control of the vehicle” was the goal of the class. At the Next Level, there is no gender. Thus it was necessary to “re-program.” The problem, as DiAngelo explains it, was that “the vehicle has a mind of its own.” Sensuality “is the strongest addiction there is. It doesn’t matter if it’s male-female, female-female, male to male, female to dog. You think about it and it changes your whole vibration.” Sexual partners weren’t even necessary. “You can do it yourself, and you can do it for free,” Rio DiAngelo, a Heavens Gate survivor, explained to Newsweek.
Interestingly, while he was working as a teacher, Applewhite had a sexual encounter with a young man, which other people found out about. This caused some sort of emotional turmoil within Appleshite. Perhaps it was a personal struggle with his own sexuality, or the shame he felt about possibly being forced out of the closet.
In order to prepare for The Next Level, as far as Heaven’s Gate was concerned, Applewhite wanted sex taken out of the equation completely. So, in order to accomplish that, he promoted voluntary castration among the group’s male members. Applewhite himself was one of nine men who agreed to have his penis castrated.
“DiAngelo says he gradually tamed his own sensual addiction, though ‘dreams are tough to control.’ But for others sexual temptation was too much. Before DiAngelo joined up, two members had quietly gone to Mexico to be castrated. The others increasingly talked about getting ‘neutered.’ Finally, about a year ago, [Applewhite] himself decided to lead the way. ‘He did it to his own vehicle just to make sure. He protected us in every way, says DiAngelo. [Applewhite] had trouble finding a doctor willing to perform the operation, however; most wanted him to see a psychiatrist. The one he got ‘goofed,’ as DiAngelo put it. Do healed very slowly. Still, five others eagerly followed. ‘They couldn’t stop smiling and giggling,’ says DiAngelo. ‘They were excited about it,'” explained D’Angelo.
“The Next Level was a place without gender, and that led to castration. Applewhite and other members underwent the procedure to help ensure they remained celibate. Applewhite, who had been fired as a music professor at the University of St. Thomas in 1970 after administrators learned he had sex with a male student, sought cures for his homosexual urges. He wanted to find a way to have platonic relationship where he could develop his full potential without sexual entanglements, said one reporter who infiltrated the group in 1975. Castration, Applewhite believed, could make that easier. Ultimately, the group instituted a strict no sex, no human-level relationships, no socializing rule,” wrote Rolling Stone.
3.The Arrival of Hale-Bopp Meant The Spaceship Was Ready.
As previously mentioned, Heaven’s Gate heavily focused on the connection between men, extraterrestrials and God. Members of the group strongly believed in heavenly signs and say God in comets, stars and meteors. For Heaven’s Gate, Hale-Bopp was not just a comet. It was a heavenly messenger–a signifier that the time to step over is now.
“he arrival of the comet Hale-Bopp was the sign they had been waiting for. The Earth would be “spaded over.” The chariot would swing low in late March, when the comet burned brightest. Deliverance was near,” wrote Newsweek.
Hale-Bopp’s orbital period is 2,533 years. Its next predicted perihelion is 4380. Its radius is 37 miles around and it orbits the sun.
4. The Mass Suicides Began On March 19, 1997
Members of Heaven’s Gate each died with the same amount of money in their pockets; money for paying the toll to get to The Next Level. They wore all-black Star Trek-themed outfits. They notably wore Nikes brand Decades sneakers. Each body was neatly placed on a bunk bed and covered with a blanket. The cult members died in shifts. After each shift, a surviving member would clean up and make sure the bodies were nearly placed on a bed and covered. The shifts took place over several days, leading up to March 26, 1997.
Members of Heaven’s Gate killed themself by ingesting barbituates. They chased the drugs with applesauce and pudding.
The police finally raided the mansion on March 26, 1997, where they found 39 bodies of men and women ranging from their 20s to their 70s. Some had been decomposing for a week. Upon hearing news of the mass suicide, additional cult members would kill themselves. A few members of Heaven’s Gate survived, and some exist today, though Heaven’s Gate is no longer considered to be active.
5. Heaven’s Gate Still Exists In a Time-Frozen Website
Heaven’s Gate’s official website has been essentially frozen in time since 1997. It is still active and can be accessed from any browser. There is not a definitive answer as to who keeps the site up and running, including paying for it, though some people have a pretty good idea.
“Two surviving members likely still operate the cult’s website. One of the ways that Heaven’s Gate paid the bills was with a web design group called Higher Source. Their website is still online. The pair most likely behind the Higher Source website are Mark and Sarah King according to Motherboard.’The information must be available to mankind, in preparation for their return,’ the page’s admins told Reddit’s blog. ‘We don’t know when that will be but those who are interested will find the information,'” wrote Rolling Stone.
Additionally, an interview with a surviving Heaven’s Gate member can be found here.
If you are looking for a piece of Heaven’s Gate nostalgia, Nike Decade sneakers can be found here.