Heaven’s Gate IV: Finding the Bodies

The mass suicide of Heaven’s Gate members seemed well planned, but not everyone died in the initial suicide pact. In this article, you will learn details about the mass suicide, including a connection to Star Trek, where some beliefs of group members had incorporated elements from the show.

The crime scene was a sight to see as the California weather caused many of the bodies to decompose. Autopsies were performed on the deceased and leaded that they took cyanide and arsenic. They had laced their applesauce and pudding with the drugs. Some people washed down the drugs with vodka. To induce asphyxiation, plastic bags were placed over their heads after they ingested the poison.

Police found the dead lying in their bunk beds. Their faces and torsos were covered by a square of purple cloth. In each of their pockets, there was a five dollar bill and three quarters. Everyone wore the same black shirts and sweat pants. The shoes on their feet were brand new black-and-white Nikes. They wore armband patches that read ‘Heaven’s Gate Away Team.’ The bodies of the suicide victims ranged in age from 26 to 72 years old. All of the bodies were later cremated.

Police believe that the members died in three groups that spanned over three successive days. The remaining participants seemed to have cleaned up after the previous group had died. Fifteen members died on March 24, fifteen again on March 25, and nine on March 26. Applewhite the leader was the third to last member to perish. Two women stayed with him and were the only ones found without bags over their heads. In a crazy twist, Thomas Nichols (the brother of Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura in the Star Trek television series), was amongst the suicide victims.

There was one member of the group that did not take their own life with the rest of Heaven’s Gate. Weeks before the suicides, Rio Di Angelo made an agreement with Applewhite to leave the group so that he could make sure that Heaven’s Gate videos and literature would still exist in the future. He had made a videotape of the mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, but did not show it to the police until 2002 , five years after the suicides had taken place.

When the mass suicide of Heaven’s Gate took place, the media was quick to publicize the events. They portrayed the group as an example of a cult suicide. The suicides linked to the religion continued after the mansion incident. Two former members of the group (Wayne Cooke and Charlie Humphreys) later committed suicide in a similar fashion to the other members. The two men made a suicide pact in May of 1997, but Humphreys survived. In the end, he killed himself in February of 1998.