On March 26, 1997, the world was shocked to learn of a mass suicide incident that happened in Rancho Santa Fe, California. 38 cult members plus their leader died in groups through ritual suicides; there were no noticeable signs of trauma or blood. Their death was strategically coordinated to coincide with the Comet Hale-Bopp, given they believed they were from a higher level than ordinary humans. Here are some mind-blowing Heaven’s Gate cult facts you probably didn’t know.

1. Heaven’s Gate Cult Members Insured Themselves Against Alien Abduction

The Heaven’s Gate cult members had so much faith in what they believed that they purchased an alien abduction insurance policy. One of the agreement terms was that the insurance company would pay out $1 million per person in case any of the members was abducted, impregnated, or killed by aliens.

2. It Was Started By Marshall Apple White and Bonnie Nettles

The Heaven’s Gate cult was started by Marshall Applewhite, a music professor, and Bonnie Nettles, a nurse interested in theosophy. While how they met remains unclear, Applewhite was convinced that he knew Nettles from before, probably in another life.

Together, they went through the works of Helena Blavatsky and Richard Bach. After extensive pondering of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the pair were convinced they were chosen to fulfill biblical prophesies, so they started the cult.

3. The First Heaven’s Gate Cult Member Stayed for a Month

In May 1974, the Heaven’s Gate cult registered its first member, Sharon Morgan. She had abandoned her children to join Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles but left a month later. This forced the leaders to change their recruitment strategy; they claimed they were extraterrestrial beings from another planet sent to Earth to perform an experiment. This seemed fruitful as they bagged the group’s first eight members in 1975.

4. Heaven’s Gate Cult Leaders Were Briefly Arrested

When the first recruit, Sharon Morgan, left, both Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles were arrested and charged with credit card fraud even though Sharon (the victim) consented. During this time, a background check on Marshall Applewhite revealed that he had previously stolen a car he still used. Even though the credit card fraud allegations were dropped, he served six months in jail for the car theft.

5. The Cult and Cult Leaders Renamed Themselves Several Times

Before settling for “Heaven’s Gate,” the cult had several names. It was initially called Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM) before becoming Total Overcomers Anonymus and others that were not formally documented. On the other hand, the cult leaders went by several aliases, the most notable being “Do and Ti” and “Bo and Beep.”

6. Heaven’s Gate Stopped Recruiting New Members in 1976

By 1976, the cult had gathered enough members, according to its leaders, so it stopped admitting new ones and became reclusive. Tougher rules were set, affecting how the members behaved. Sexual activities were banned, and drugs were prohibited. Some men, including Applewhite, traveled all the way to Mexico to undergo castration.

7. The Cult Members Rented a $7,000 Per Month House for their Suicide

Famously referred to as “The Monastery,” the Heaven’s Gate cult members rented a $7,000 per month bungalow in preparation for their mass suicide in 1996. They paid the amount in cash.

8. Members Died By Committing Ritual Suicide

In 1997, a few dozen members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide by taking phenobarbital, a type of medication used to treat specific types of epilepsy, mixed with apple sauce and vodka. After that, they wrapped plastic bags around their heads to induce asphyxiation.

9. The Suicide Took Three Consecutive Days

The suicide process of the 29-member cult (21 women and 18 men) took three days. This was partly because those who died first had to be cared for by the remaining ones. Once a person died, a living member would lay their body neatly in their bed, covering their torsos and head with a purple cloth. This represented unity in and general agreement for the mass suicide.

10. There Was a Dress Code for the Mass Suicide

On the day that they would transcend to a “higher level,” the Heaven’s Gate cult members were required to wear black shirts and sweat pants, complemented with athletic shoes from Nike. They also had armbands with patches reading “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”

11. Marshall Applewhite Was a Massive Nike Fan

Marshal Applewhite, one of the cult’s co-founders, was a massive fan of Nike. As such, he made his congregants recite the brand slogan “Just Do It.” however, instead of “Do,” they pronounced “Doe,” which was Applewhite’s nickname.

12. There Is a Reason Why Every Member Carried a Specific Amount of Money in their Pockets

Another ritual that the Heaven’s Gate members undertook was carrying a five-dollar bill and three-quarters in their pockets on the day of the suicide. While many explanations have been presented, the most viable one is that the members were humorous about their exit.

They thought it would be nice for each to leave behind a five-dollar bill to cover the vagrancy law costs while the quarters were for calling home using the pay phones.

13. It Was Categorized as UFO Religion

Based on what the members believed, theology scholars described the Heaven’s Gate cult as a mixture of Christian millenarianism, ufology, and New Age, making it a UFO religion. They believed the group members could escape their human nature and ascend to heaven, which they referred to as the “next level.”

14. The Heaven’s Gate Cult Is Still Up and Running

More than two and a half decades after the mass suicide happened, the Heaven’s Gate website is still up and running. It’s unclear who pays its bills for domain and hosting. However, anyone can still visit it and find information relevant to the group and what it stood for.

15. Heaven’s Gate Cult Doubled up As A Web Design Firm

To sustain their activities, the Heaven’s Gate cult members doubled up as web designers. Some of their main clients included a Christian music store and Diego Polo Club.

16. The Mass Suicide Sparked a Debate on Nike’s Products

After widespread media reporting of the Heaven’s Gate cult incident, there was growing pressure for Nike to discontinue their “Decade” line of shoes. Because they were the footwear that the cult members wore when they died, there was an increasing negativity on the brand. The company was eventually forced to discontinue the line.

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Last Update: December 10, 2023