Heavens Gate is the popular name given to a small UFO
contactee group that gained international notoriety in March
of 1997 when 39 of its members committed suicide in an effort
to ascend to a higher level of consciousness. The group had
been in the news in the 1970s when the founders, Marshall
Herff Applewhite (19311997) and Bonnie Lu Truesdale
Nettles (19241985), had made a widely reported tour across
the United States in their initial recruitment drive to gather
people in the expectation that they would soon be taken from
Earth in a flying saucer. However, they had dropped out of
sight for several years and their continued existence through
the mid-1990s remained known to a relative few.
Heavens Gate appears to have been born on the minds of
Applewhite and Nettles in the years following their meeting in
March of 1972. They operated a metaphysical center called the
Know Place in Houston, Texas, for a while during which time
Nettles, who was quite knowledgeable of occult lore, introduced
Applewhite to theosophy. They closed the center at the
end of the year and left Houston for the West Coast in January
of 1973. As they began to speculate on their role in life, they
concluded that they were the Two Witnesses mentioned in the
biblical Book of Revelation, chapter 11, who would appear at
the endtime and be murdered and then resurrected. This selfunderstanding
would be the source of the names by which they
would be popularly known, The Two and Bo and Peep.
They believed that the Earth was about to undergo a renovation
and that their job would be to locate a select few who would
be taken off the Earth to The Level Above the Human
(T.E.L.A.H.) in a flying saucer.
In 1975 and 1976, the group recruited more than one hundred
people, mostly young adults, but ceased to recruit more
as of April 21, 1976. During this period Applewhite and Nettles
were the subject of intense media coverage and one book. They
then turned inward and began to train the members of the
group in the disciplines that would prepare them to transcend
their earthly situation. They were quite mobile for several years
but then settled in Texas where they remained through the
1980s. The groups number slowly dwindled, and Nettles died
of cancer in 1985.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the group began new efforts
at recruitment by producing a video that was shown on community
access television. Then in 1993 it ran an ad in USA Today
with a Final Offer. In 1994, Applewhite introduced the idea
that transcending the earthly situation might come by way of
suicide. The group was on the move again, this time making its
way westward. Members finally settled in Rancho Santa Fe, a
suburb of San Diego, California. By now their numbers had
dwindled to fewer than 50 people.
During the time in Rancho Santa Fe, the group searched for
a new home, in a land that would be more hospitable to their
monastic lifestyle. They had developed an ordered life that resembled
that of a monastic group with its disciplines of poverty,
celibacy, and obedience. Some of the men had been castrated
as a means of quelling their sexual urges.
The beginning of the end came early in 1997 when a new
comet was spotted and rumors were circulated that something
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Heavens Gate
was following it as it approached. The group began to think
that the spaceship, piloted by Nettles, was on the way. As the
Hale-Bopp Comet reached the point in its orbit closest to
Earth, which happened to coincide with the spring equinox,
the 39 remaining members of the group, including Applewhite,
committed suicide. Their bodies were found on March
26, 1997. The group was dressed in black shirts and pants and
Nike sneakers. Each member was lying in a bunk bed with a
purple cloth over himher. They had died over a three-day period.
Fifteen died the first day, 15 the second, and the last nine
on the third. Of these, eight had been relatively new recruits
who had joined in the early 1990s. A month later one additional
member, Wayne Cooke, committed suicide. Another member,
Chuck Humphrey, spent a year trying to make sure that
accurate information about the group was made available and
archived, and then in February of 1998, he joined his colleagues
in death. He set up a website that is still available (as
of June 2000) in several mirror sites on the Internet. It contains
the major book published by the group, How and When Heavens
Gate May Be Entered.
Of several groups that have experienced multiple violent
deaths among its members, Heavens Gate is unique in that all
who died appeared to have been consenting adults who had
thought out their act of suicide. Since its end, the group has become
an important topic of study for those interested in new
religions and violence.
Heavens Gate. httpwww5.zdnet.comyilhigherheavens
gateindex.html. June 14, 2000.
Hewes, Hayden, and Brad Steiger. UFO Missionaries Extraordinary.
New York Pocket Books, 1976. Rev. ed. as Inside Heavens
Gate; The UFO Cult Leaders Tell Their Story in Their Own
Words. New York Signet, 1997.
Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently.
New York Seven Bridges Press, 2000.