Cults are nearly always sinister, with deaths, rules and sacrifices all being made. However, the Heaven's Gate cult was something very different indeed.
Who was Marshall Applewhite?
Applewhite was the leader of a religious cult, known as Heaven’s Gate, in Texas during the 1990s.
He was a self-proclaimed prophet, drawing rhetoric from science fiction and scripture.
He led his group of followers to commit mass suicide in 1997.
His close partner, Bonnie Lu Nettles, decided they were ‘the two’ mentioned in the ‘Book of Revelation’, meant for an important mission.
Applewhite was born on the May 17th, 1931, in Spur, Texas.
Before his odd calling, he appeared to have a relatively normal life.
He graduated from Austin College in 1952 and got married that same year.
He spent two years in the Army Signal Corps.
Applewhite was said to have a few talents, including being a musical talent and skilled in drama. He would sing opera and was a brilliant public speaker.
In the 1960s, he tried to make it as an actor in New York City (NYC), but had failed, according to various reports.
He then became an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, where he served as a choirmaster for numerous groups.
He then returned to Texas to lead the musical department at a university in Houston.
His turn to religion
While in Houston, Applewhite’s life began to fall apart. He and his wife divorced in 1968 – they had two children together.
There were rumours that Applewhite struggled with his sexuality, and in the 1970s, left his job due to a mental breakdown of sorts.
A couple of years later he met Nettles, a nurse with strong knowledge of the Bible, and in addition she had interest in unusual spiritual matters.
Applewhite and Nettles spent months on the road together after realising/deciding that they were on an ‘important spiritual mission’.
The pair believed that their calling allowed them to break laws… this led them to be arrested in 1974 for credit fraud.
The charged were actually dropped, but Applewhite had another crime to answer for – the theft of a rental car. He had borrowed one in St. Louis and never returned it.
He was sentenced to six months is prison. During his confinement, Applewhite attempted to refine the beliefs she shared with Nettles.
They both believed that they came from what they called “Level Above Human”, a physical and literal version of Heaven in outer space. They also believed that they were sent to aid others in reaching this “Next Level”.
To Applewhite and Nettles, the human body was just a vehicle, and in order to ascend from this world to this Heaven in space, people must separate themselves from what is human in them – including all desires and dreams.
They believed that a UFO would take them to the “Next Level” after completing their mission.
This part of the story is very interesting, and still discussed today. In fact, the Rockstar game Red Dead Redemption II, an easter egg can be found relating to the cult. If you travel to a certain hut on the map, you will find inside a few skeletons.
Then once you leave the hut, you will see a UFO overhead for a few seconds – a reference to the cult and its story.
The cult grows
Wanting to share their knowledge with others, the pair began to travel again.
Due to them talking (mainly Applewhite, however) at informational sessions they set up, people were rather interested and wanted to be involved.
The couple were developing a following.
In 1975, they attracted around 20 members after a meeting in Oregon – which caught the attention of national news.
They were both the centre of a book written in 1976 titled U.F.O Missionaries Extraordinary.
Becoming nervous about public judgement and involvement, Applewhite and Nettles sent their followers to travel as missionaries and to keep a low profile for a while.
At its peak, the group had around 200 followers.
The couple wanted to make sure that they had obedient and dedicated followers, and subsequently spent many years living at campsites with their followers. They would try to curb the members’ human nature.
There were strict rules in the cult, such as no sex or alcohol – many male members, including Applewhite, were castrated. All members’ hair was cut short and looked similar – this was to not differentiate between gender.
Moving into the 80s, the group moved indoors and rented houses in many areas, including Dallas.
Some members got jobs on the outside of the cult using fake names.
This was odd in the sense that no one in the cult was allowed any contact with anyone outside the group – however they did need to make money but this was the only exception to outside contact.
Despite things seemingly going well for the group and for the couple, Nettles died of cancer in 1985 – this caused Applewhite much grief and heartache.
In the late 1980s however, Applewhite regained his fervour for proselytising and started spreading the word about the impending end of the planet.
The group then made a series of videos called Beyond Human – The Last Call that featured information about the group and the “Next Level” in the early 90s. There were broadcast by satellite.
In 1995, the discovery of the Hale-Bopp comet caught the attention of Applewhite.
He believed the comet was a sign that a spaceship was coming to take him and his followers to the “Next Level”.
By 1996, the group was actually operating a successful computer business, and even lived in an exclusive neighbourhood in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
They produced even more videos, attempting to convince others to join them when they leave.
In 1997, a day or two after the group ate a last meal of sorts at a restaurant, the comet drew even closer.
It was then that the Applewhite and all his followers took their own lives by drinking a mixture of vodka and barbiturates.
The bodies of the group were found a few days after their deaths – all dressed exactly the same and covered with purple shrouds/blankets.
It was said that the group died in shifts, helping each other die and covering the dead with purple blankets. They were also found with plastic bags tied over their heads.
Written by Melissa, who you can follow on Twitter @melissajournal
Serial killers share many of the same tropes, such as animal cruelty, being bullied, and the want for attention. In this case, Jesperson ticks all three boxes.
Who is Keith Jesperson?
Jesperson is a serial killer who murdered eight women between 1990 and 1995.
His victims were often raped and strangled, and some of them were people he knew, even if only acquaintances... to read more click HERE