Twenty years ago, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult killed themselves in the largest mass suicide in the United States. Led by co-founder Marshall Applewhite, the devotees explained they were “exiting their human vessels” in the group death. Heaven's Gate, a new podcast by Pineapple Street Media, shines a light on the dark details of the members who were convinced they were achieving eternal extraterrestrial life. Click through Radar’s gallery of the shocking evidence photos from the death scene.
Heaven’s Gate cult members committed suicide in March 1997 because they believed ending their lives would allow their souls to then live eternally, beginning their after-life in a spaceship that followed the Comet Hale-Bopp. Hosted by Glynn Washington of Snap Judgment, the podcast Heaven’s Gate delves into the shocking deaths two decades later.
The group was told by cult leader Applewhite they “would have to shed every attachment to the planet,” meaning their bodies.
A video manifesto was left by the dead cult members. “The little people I had been looking for had come to take me home,” on man said, reading from notes. “You can think this is all fantasy … But this is no illusion, and some of you will know it after we go.”
“We’re about to return to whence we came,” Applewhite said in the video manifesto. “I can lead you into that kingdom level above human. That can’t happen unless you leave the human world that you’re in and come and follow me. Time is short. Last chance.”
The mass suicides took place in a 9,200 sq. ft. mansion in a gated community in San Diego’s upscale Rancho Santa Fe area. The cult paid $7,000 cash per month in rent for the Mediterranean style home.
The group of 39 were all found dead wearing matching black shirts and black sweat pants, brand new Nike Decades shoes and armband patches that said “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”
Inside their pockets each cult member had a five-dollar bill and three quarters. One of the tenets of the cult was to carry the $5 bill to pay a “vagrancy fee,” and the quarters were to use a pay phone to call for help.
A gruesome detail of the deaths emerged — they were committed in three groups. Fifteen people killed themselves on March 24, 1997, fifteen more on March 25 and the final nine on March 26, 1997.
All of the cult members were found lying face up on their bunk beds with a purple cloth covering their heads and chests. They had placed plastic bags over their heads to suffocate themselves.
The Heaven’s Gate cult members took a deadly cocktail of phenobarbital mixed with applesauce and vodka.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Brunk was the first to enter the mansion following a tip from a pay phone about the mass suicide. “It doesn’t appear that we have any survivors,” he reportedly said. “Does anyone have the number for homicide?”
As the Hale Bopp Comet glowed, the Heaven’s Gate cult members had a final group dinner at Marie Callendar’s on March 21, 1997. They all dined on turkey pot pie, blueberry cheesecake, iced tea.
The few remaining members of the cult still maintained the website.
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