Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate Mass Suicide Cult

March 29, 1997


Heaven's Gate
Heaven’s Gate


The only thing that made this organization remotely interesting is that they were involved in the most plentiful group-suicide in US history.

Someone described Heaven’s Gate, as The brainchild of a sexually troubled former opera singer.”

It is rumored that co-founder Marshall Applewhite (above) was a gay. There is also a rumor that he had one or more affairs with male students when he was a music teacher. He is believed to have checked himself in to a hospital two decades prior to the suicides, in order to “cure” his homosexual feelings. One theory being proposed is that he was unable to accept his sexual orientation because of the homophobia that he experienced in his youth.  That almost never happens..  This motivated Applewhite to live a celibate life and to create a group which also suppressed their sexual behavior. This group however, were to evolve into extraterrestrials by severing all links to modern society and human desires.  They were forbidden to have human contact.  Not just that.  He and several group members had themselves castrated,


cas-trate (k s tr t )

tr.v. cas-trat-ed, cas-trat-ing, cas-trates

1. To remove the testicles of (a male); geld or emasculate.
Gulp.  (or not.)


You can risk it and search Google Images for “castration”.  I was curious, I wanted to see what they actually did.  I regret that now.  Buh.

It gets better.  As I understand it, the Heavens Gate folk thought they were sent to earth as angels from outer space.  They were waiting out their time on Earth until they could depart to the next level. They were going to “hitchhike” onto a spaceship that would be following the Hale-Bopp (she bop and we bop) Comet that would be soaring past the Earth on April 1.

Factoid:  The Hale-Bopp comet was discovered in 1995 by scientists Alan Hale (Skipper!) and independently by Thomas Bopp.

According to one cultee, “The April 1 approach of the Hale-Bopp comet provided the marker we’ve been waiting for the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to

“their world” in the literal heavens.”



In October of 1996 the organization moved in to a beautiful 9200 sq. foot home located at 18241 Colina Norte, in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.  It is a quiet street with no streetlights and no mail delivery because the lots were so big.  (No Mailbox!)  It was purchased in 1994 for $1.325 mil by Sam Koutchesfahani. He rented the home to the Heavenites for reportedly $10,000 a month.  According to a neighbor, Koutchesfahani told him that he rented it to members of a cult, and that they were paying him in cash because they didn’t want to pay taxes.”


An elegant coffin of an apocalyptic cult.


Within the house,



many common words were changed, so that members would not remember their human past when they were eventually carried off into space. House became “craft” or “temple” and the kitchen became “nutri-lab.”  The home’s entry hall had limestone flooring.  How do I know this?  Here’s how.


They watched Star Trek endlessly, breakfasted on strawberry crepes at a local pancake house and boldly knocked on high-end businesses looking for work designing their websites. They were big with computers.  Huge.  They were designing professional websites long before the internet took off.

They would rise at 4am every day to gaze at a star in the northeastern sky that they considered their home.

Lest I forget, one of the people involved was the brother of Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols. You could not make this up.

All the men and women had crew cuts, and referred to each other as brother and sister. Computers were everywhere. The bedrooms all had metal frame bunks. The living room had a big screen 60″ TV with jumbo speakers. On the mantle was a drawing of an extraterrestrial with a  caption, “A Member of the Next Level”.  On a table was a clue phone.  It was disconnected.

Visitors to the house would be told to remove their shoes and put on surgical booties.

“We are a religious group and shoes are contaminating.”

According to neighbors, the cult was ideal.  Members were quiet and kept to themselves.

While the house was occupied, it was on the market for $1.6 mil. Every time a real estate agent tried showing it, there was always some sort of religious meeting going on. A few days before the suicides, the agent was asked not to show the house to potential buyers because it was their “Holy week”

Their “Last Supper” was on March 21st at Marie Callender’s restaurant.



According to a tabloid, “Each member wore a different colored long sleeve buttoned down shirt and pants. They indulged in identical meals of turkey pot pies, salad with tomato vinaigrette dressing, blueberry cheesecake.
Useless Factoid:  They squeezed extra lemons into their iced teas.

“Every time I set a dish of food in front of them, they oohed and aahed like it was the best thing they’d ever been served.”

I love that, and I think we should all do that from now on.

They paid the $351.00 bill in cash. Unlikely quote: One staff member asked if it was a special occasion leader thingy supposedly responded,  “Oh, it certainly is! This is our “Last Supper” We’re leaving on a special journey!”

At 4pm they got up and left, leaving behind 15% tip.  We like them.

Each of the members recorded “Goodbye” videos.

Findadeath friend Tracy sent this:  My husband Scotty and I knew one of the Heaven’s Gate members. His name was Michael Sandoe. My husband was a friend of his, partied with him and shared a room with him when they were both stationed in Germany serving in the Army as Airborne Ranger/Infantry Paratroopers. He seemed like such a normal, typical all American kid. He was interested in women, partying and having a good time. He was also down for a fight whenever there was one in the bars! He was a good soldier, NICE guy and acted like a real “man’s man”.

He was one of the guys that was castrated. When we came back from Germany in the early 90s we lost touch with most of our friends.  We were watching TV the night when the Heaven’s Gate story broke. They started flashing members faces across the screen and suddenly my husband almost jumped out of his skin and he said, “They just showed Sandoe’s face. Sandoe was a part of this Heaven’s Gate.” We were shocked and BLOWN AWAY. We called the San Diego coroner’s office and sure enough, they confirmed it was Sandoe.


Six days later, on March 26, 1997 at 3:15pm, A former cult member called the police and suggested they investigate the home.

Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Fulmer drove up. “The house appeared to be completely secured, all the blinds, windows, doors seemed to be closed.” He did find one of the side doors opened (then it wasn’t completely secure), so he entered. He proceeded up the stairs noticing a “pungent” smell, and discovered the first 10 bodies in the living room.  Further exploration found a total of 39 bodies, 21 women and 18 men.

Each was dressed in dark pants and dark sneakers, all lying peacefully on their backs. But not just sneakers. Nikes. You know, with the comet swoosh on the side?  Get it?  They didn’t miss a trick.



“This is a Jonestown.”  – San Diego County district attorney Paul Pfingst.

The scenario wasn’t violent, but peaceful. One officer described the scene as if the dead were sleeping.  The bedrooms (great picture ANNE!),

with the bodies had stacks of books, videos and fresh cut flowers.


The cultees had driver’s licenses and passports in their pockets   Each had a patch sewn on their garment that read, “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” – a Star Trek (see?) reference.  Most were under purple shrouds.



Not the best product placement Nike could hope for.  Just Do It.

Packed flight bags or suitcases stood at the foot of every mattress and may of the victims carried $5 bills and rolls of quarters.
This was to be their “toll” to get on the spaceship.  Yes, they take US Currency in space.  (thx kc.)

They were lying on white or yellow comforters, some with eyeglasses folded neatly on the pillows. An abandoned wheel chair stood beside one bed, one of the bodies was tucked into a green and blue plaid blankie.



“To call it, bizarre is, I think, to understate it.” – Governor Pete Wilson

During the investigation, the bodies were laid side by side and wrapped in white sheets, to confirm the identities of apparent cult members and help piece together the scenario.  The bodies were taken two by two on a forklift to a waiting semi-truck-turned-cooler, then on to The San Diego Medical Examiner.

Every hour or so, attendants in blue hospital scrubs would wheel another body out from the autopsy room on a gurney. Forklifts would then transfer each corpse to the trailer, depositing it at the end of a row of bodies wrapped in white sheets.

The dead had ingested Phenobarbital and alcohol.  It had been determined that the suicides were performed in three cycles, or “waves”.  The first, probably 3 days before the bodies were discovered.  They had mixed the equivalent of 50 pills per person with applesauce and washed it down with a shot of vodka. Atta girl.  Some of the cult members hadn’t ingested fatal amounts, so plastic bags were tied over their heads to make double sure they achieved their goal.

On to the next.  It was speculated that the group members tapped to die in the second or third suicide waves may have removed the bags from the dead’s heads, tidied the house (and the bodies), and then covered them with the purple cloths.

The final two to die were not shrouded in purple, but did have plastic bags over their heads.

Ted Turner called the mass suicide, “a good way to get rid of a few nuts.”

Did I mention they were Trekkies?

This case became one of the first internet sensations.  It was just as most houses in the world were being equipped with personal computers, and people realized they could visit the Heaven’s Gate website for themselves.  The group still exists.

In an interview on CNN’s Larry King Live, Nichelle Nichols said her 58-year-old brother had joined the group about 20 years ago. He had very little contact with his family in subsequent years, she said, “My brother was a highly intelligent and a beautifully gentle man.”  “He made his choices, and we respect those choices.” Unlikely quote #2, “If Tommy was searching for Heaven’s gate, I hope to God he’s found it now.”

The bodies were individually dispersed and disposed.  Here is a cyberspace memorial for the group.

Scientist Hale (Bopp) himself stated, “Almost from day one, I have heard claims that the Hale-Bopp is an alien mother ship or is under intelligent control or some such” And now, this has been carried to an extreme. 39 people have now lost their lives as a result of this ignorance and superstition.  “Tonight” forget about the world for a minute, look up in the northwest and take a look at this comet. It’s a beautiful object. It’s lovely. It’s one of the most magnificent celestial objects you will ever see. But for all its beauty, its magnificence, its splendor, all it is a dirty snowball that’s orbiting the sun. Nothing more.

Almost two years after the event, an auction of the groups belongings went on the block. People bid on books (Disneyland of the Gods, Star Trek Encyclopedia, Aliens from Outer Space), televisions and other household items… and the 19 bunk beds on which the cultettes were found.

JD and Kathy from the Hollywood Museum of Death show up in this video.  They scored metal bunk beds, which (among other treasures from the house) are now on display in their cavalcade of horrors.  Visit.  Learn.  Tell them Scott sent you.


Proving that they had a sense of humor, cans of Comet cleanser were also available. Seriously.



Not an actual can of the cleanser that was for sale, but hell if Jane Withers didn’t put that product on the map.

Thankfully we have the National Cult Awareness Network to protect us from incidents like this happening in the future.  Whew!

Did you know that The Church of Scientology owns and runs the National Cult Awareness Network?

The death house never sold.  Weirdly, the price was jacked up to just under 3 mil (despite the notoriety, and the fact that they were charging a $300.00 “donation to the seller’s choice” of charity to anyone who did a walk through.  In 1998 the house was foreclosed on and sold by the bank (WAMU) to a neighbor (Who was tired of people gawking.  TACKY.) for half it’s value, $668,000.00.  The neighbor had the entire home demolished, aside from the tennis court.  The street name and house number was changed to 18239 Paseo Victoria.





The lot sold for it’s “LAND VALUE” to a builder who built a spec house.  The spec house was completed, and put on the market for just under $10,000,000.00.  While on the market, it was being rented for $25,000.00.  Jeeez.  (Where the f*ck do these people come up with this kind of money.  I’m worrying about next month’s rent.)  In early 2010 the house finally sold for $4,000,000.00.   Oh, and did I mention it was paid for in cash?  Psh.



HUGE Thanks to my friends Anne Parisi for her fantastic photographs, Harry Martin for real estate info, and Steve Smith.

Please don’t send me emails telling me that Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper, didn’t discover the comet.  I know that.  It was a joke.



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