Nettles, Bonnie Lu Truesdale (1924–1985)
Bonnie Lu Truesdale Nettles, cofounder of the Heaven’s
Gate group, known for having ended its existence with the suicide
of 39 members in 1997, was born in Houston, Texas. She
grew up in a Baptist home, married, and became the mother
of four children. She graduated from the Herman Hospital
School of Professional Nursing in 1948 and subsequently
worked as a registered nurse. In midlife, she developed an interest
in things occult and in February 1966 joined the Houston
Lodge of the Theosophical Society in America, which she remained
affiliated with until she allowed her dues to lapse in
1973. She also attended a group centered upon channeling
various noncorporeal entities.
In 1972 she met Marshall Applewhite. At the time Nettles
was heading toward a divorce, while Applewhite had already
been divorced and subsequently lost his teaching job because
of an extramarital affair. The two developed a friendship and
then a partnership in what was called the Christian Art Center
where they offered classes in religion, art, and music. It was superseded
by the Know Place, a metaphysical center, a reflection
of the theosophical and occult teachings that Nettles introduced
to Applewhite.
In 1973 the pair left Houston for the West Coast. They slowly
began to see themselves as the Two Witnesses mentioned in
the Bible (Revelation 11) who spread a message of judgment,
are martyred, and then are resurrected and taken to heaven in
a cloud. They identified the cloud as a flying saucer. They developed
a perspective that interpreted biblical passages in light
of contemporary thought about extraterrestrial contact. They
believed that Jesus had ascended to heaven (the Level above
Human, or T.E.L.A.H.) in a spacecraft and that Applewhite
had arrived on Earth from that same T.E.L.A.H. realm and
brought with him the Heavenly Father in the person of Nettles.
They began gathering followers in Los Angeles, California,
and then set out on a tour that took them north to Oregon and
eastward to Chicago, Illinois. Now known as Bo (Applewhite)
and Peep (Nettles), they offered prospective members deliverance
from Earth in a spaceship in the immediate future. Amid
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Nettles, Bonnie Lu Truesdale
news coverage that ranged from hostility to ridicule, the group
continued to gather members, but in 1976, Nettles announced
the doors to the next level were now closed. The group did no
further proselytizing and began to concentrate on teaching
their followers. In 1977, they received a windfall in the form of
a large inheritance received by one of the members. They
began to rent houses in which to live, but moved frequently to
avoid attachments to any location or home. They also withdrew
contact from family and friends.
In the early 1980s, Nettles became ill from cancer. In 1983
she had one eye removed, but the cancer continued to spread.
It eventually affected her liver and in June of 1985, she died in
Dallas, Texas. Her death seemed to contradict the group’s
teachings, but Applewhite was later able to explain and justify
her moving on ahead of the group. The group stayed together
for another decade until the surviving members, including Applewhite,
committed suicide at the spring equinox 1997.
Perkins, Rodney, and Forrest Jackson. Cosmic Suicide The
Tragedy and Transcendence of Heaven’s Gate. Dallas Pentaradial
Press, 1997.
Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently.
New York Seven Bridges Press, 2000.