by Willy Wegner, translated by Claus Larsen
On March 27, 1997, 39 bodies were found in a luxurious villa near San Diego in California. All were members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, and all had committed suicide. This is the story of how it got that far.
On September 14, 1975, in Waldport, Oregon, in the Bay Shore Inn, almost three hundred people had gathered to listen to a man and a woman, referring to themselves as “The Two”. They claimed to come from a “higher level” to help those who wanted to be helped, in transforming to this superhuman level:
- Why are they here?
- What have they come for?
- When will they leave?
This is not a discussion about UFO-observations or phenomena.
Two persons say, that they are about to leave the human level and literally (physically) enter the next evolutionary level in a spaceship (UFO) within a few months! “The Two” will describe how the transfer from the human level to the next level is possible, and when this can be done.
This is not a religious or philosophical organization wishing to recruit members. But this information have already made many people devote all of their energy to the transition process. If you have ever played with the thought that there had to be a real, physical level beyond this limited Earth, you want to be at this meeting.
The couple travelled Oregon during the autumn of 1975. In the beginning, they were only known as “The Two”, but later, they called themselves “Bo” and “Peep”. Their real names were Marshall Herff Applewhite (Bo) and Bonnie Lu Truesdale Nettles (Peep).
Over time, they had taken many different and curious names, like “Do” and “Ti”. This also applies to their followers, with names like Rkkody, Stmody and Yrsody, almost as a demonstration that names were insignificant at the level they had reached, way above normal human beings.
Bonnie Nettles was a nurse by profession, and had worked at a hospital in Houston, Texas. She was also a member of the Theosophic Society, and had been involved with a meditation group that channelled messages from the spirit world. Additionally, she was also interested in astrology and mysticism.
Herff Applewhite had in his younger days studied to become a priest, but later took a degree in music at the University of Colorado, and later had a job at the Catholic school St. Thomas in Houston.
He was described as a charismatic teacher, with a knack for fundraising. His musical activities got good reviews in local Houston media. Applewhite was married and had two children, but toward the end of the 1960’s, he was in constant conflict with himself and the double-life he was leading: Along with being married, he had several homosexual relationships. In 1970, he got into trouble: At the height of a promising career, he was fired because he had a relationship with one of his students.
Had he been in conflict with himself due to his previous double-life, it now became much worse. He became embittered, had a severe depression and began to hear voices. In his own words, his life began falling apart. Applewhite decided to have himself committed at a psychiatric clinic.
After a couple of years in this confused state, he accidentally met Bonnie Lu Nettles at the hospital where she worked. It is not clear whether it was there that Applewhite let himself be castrated, a drastic solution that should be viewed in context with his bisexuality.
Bonnie would prove herself to become his personal platonic “Salvation Army Girl”. She introduced him to theosophy and the world of mysticism. After a number of botched attempts of running a business focused on the mystical, they left Houston together.
The couple believed they were meant for glory, and that they had a mutual mission here on Earth. Bonnie left her husband and four children, and for a while, they were drifting, taking odd jobs to make ends meet.
Some time in 1973, Applewhite received a vision, founded in the biblical book of Revelation, chapter 11, which tells of God’s two witnesses, prophecising for 260 days:
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. Revelations 11,3
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. Revelations 11,7-12
Applewhite and Nettles realized that they were these two witnesses, and that they should spread the message from God, after which they would be assassinated, only to be resurrected and ascend to the heavens in a cloud – which could only be a spaceship.
The year before Bo and Peep became known, they visited the International UFO Bureau (IUFOB) in Oklahoma City, headed by Hayden Hewes, on June 13, 1974. They appeared unannounced and presented themselves as Bonnie and Herff. They made it clear to Hewes that they weren’t of Earthly origin, but needed his organization to spread their message.
Cautiously, measurements were taken. A member of IUFOB were to read the license plate on their car, but failed. A glass of ice tea were served, so their fingerprints could later be lifted off the glass. Additionally, a 90-minute interview was taped with The Two.
When it was almost over, Hayden Hewes was told a “thought-code” he was supposed to “send”, if he wanted to get in touch with The Two. Hewes followed them to the door, and said goodbye. On the way in, he changed his mind and turned around – but The Two were gone! No cars in the street, neither parked or moving. They had simply disappeared, wrote Hewes later.
The fingerprints revealed that The Two were wanted by the authorities. To add to the mystique, two months later, the files containing Bonnie and Herff’s information were stolen from Hewes’ office. The tapes were not kept at the office, and would later be published in the book “UFO missionaires extraordinary”. After the suicides in San Diego, the book was republished, this time as “Inside Heaven’s Gate”.
Applewhite was wanted because of a 1974 arrest in Arlington, Texas. He was charged with car theft, a rented car he “forgot” to return. That cost him four months in jail.
Only months after The Two began to hold meetings, Hayden Hewes tested the “thought code” he had received. The two times he did it, he received a phone call from one of the cult members: “Yes, what do you want?” Hayden Hewes could hardly hide his fascination. The mystique was definitely real.
The Mission begins
In the spring of 1975, The Two began their mission in Los Angeles. After a lecture before an occult group, they had about twenty followers. It was at this time they took the names Bo and Peep, and named the cult HIM, an acronym for Human Individual Metamorphosis. Their followers were coupled in platonic relationships, so that they could go through the same development as Bo and Peep. Only a few followers stayed with The Two, while the rest were sent out, in pairs, to spread the message.
On September 14, 1975, they held a meeting in Waldport, Oregon, and it was this meeting that got the media interested. After this, the myth making began in earnest.
Several papers wrote, that a dozen people had disappeared after participating in the Waldport meeting. The families and friends were worried, because they had only been told that the missing persons had chosen to go away with Bo and Peep. Despite that they hadn’t been reported missing by the police, but had left voluntarily, the police nevertheless tried to find out what had happened to them. The only thing they discovered was that they had gone to some camp in Colorado, to prepare for their exodus from Earth in a spaceship. A couple of postcards arrived from Colorado, to verify this.
In the meantime, the myths came rolling in. While the group’s whereabouts was always changing, some thought that they would fast themselves to death in some remote area. Others that The Two had had dead eyes, and still others thought that the group members would kill themselves in their quest for another, “higher” life. A fear that in the end proved justified.
After the Waldport meeting, one or two meetings followed, one in Denver. There was to be another meeting in Chicago, but it was discovered that two men had joined solely to find a friend who was a member. This resulted in the cancellation of the meeting, and that the group was split into smaller groups, which could spread the word on their own. Bo and Peep disappeared.
At this time, the press was extremely negative in their coverage of the cult. Some churches even spoke of blasphemy. Family members threatened to go to court in order to get in touch with those relatives who had left them for the cult.
Some of the groups set up meetings, hoping that Bo and Peep would appear. But it didn’t happen – officially. The write Robert Sheaffer noted:
“It was possibly in 1976, while I was living in Maryland, that I saw one of these posters, announcing a meeting in College Park, at the University of Maryland. It looked like it could very well be a recruiting meeting for the Bo-Peep cult. I attended and wasn’t disappointed. Several hundred people had turned up to listen to the six cult members.”
They told about the UFOs upcoming “harvest”. Those who were ready to be “harvested” (to follow The Two and their teachings) would be taken up by UFOs and taken to the next level of existence. The rest would stay behind and perish in a global armageddon.
The speakers were very evasive with regards to details about their group. They said that they were travelling from one camp to the other, while they were waiting for the time of harvest. They spoke about their leaders with great veneration, and claimed that they didn’t know where The Two were at the moment. It was hinted that they were in a camp far away, maybe in the Mid-west. That was a lie, since Applewhite and Nettles were sitting in the audience, easily recognizable from press photos. I came early and recognized them both immediatedly. I expected them to speak, but they chose to remain seated in the hall among the audience.
In the absence of Bo and Peep, more and more people left the cult. In the beginning of 1976, the number of followers were significantly reduced.
In training camp
Shortly after, Bo and Peep resurfaced again to reinvigorate the almost hundred followers that patiently had stuck on. Near Laramie in Wyoming, a camp was set up, where they were to prepare for and adjust to a life in space. The mission was over, no more followers were to be recruited. At this time, the group was totally shut off from the rest of the world.
The camp was divided into smaller units, with two people in each tent. Bo and Peep were always living in a camper in the outskirts of the camps, and in each camp, two of Bo and Peep’s trusted followers were in charge of communication with the rest of the members.
There were several rules, or rituals. E.g., the members were living with a new partner each day of the week, so they only stayed with their usual partner once a week. This was meant to strengthen the group.
Another rule was to reduce all talk to the barest minimum. For days, all communication was “unnecessary” and they could only say “Yes”, “No” or “Don’t know”, if they were to answer a brief question. Otherwise, small handwritten notes were used.
The daily life was planned in detail, with the goal of training for the upcoming life on the Superhuman level. In the unfortunate event that someone would have a relapse to the human level, the camp had a special zone designated, where one could “reload”.
In this camp, the cult began to wear uniforms. Guards were posted, so nobody outside could see the uniforms. This apparent paranoia also meant that the members were trained to dismantle the whole camp in 15 minutes and be ready to leave the place.
Despite the almost complete isolation, money was needed. Some members were occasionally sent to the city to work on “the human level”, which they otherwise denied and did everything to liberate themselves from. One group of about a dozen members were sent to Phoenix, Arizona, to work, but soon after, away from the discipline of the camp, they had all relapsed to the human level. The work group fell apart.
Roof over their heads
Camp life had reached the end. Bo and Peep got money, alledgedly an inheritance of a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Where the money came from exactly, or how much it really was, is uncertain. It enabled Bo and Peep to rent a couple of surburban houses in Denver, Colorado. They moved in during the night, and the windows were sealed off so they could wear their uniforms in private. Despite having a roof over their heads, discipline was still strict and planned in detail.
Not everyone managed to cope, and if someone didn’t obey the rules, the ultimate punishment was excommunication from the cult. But the banished always got a paid ticket to wherever they wanted to go. It should be noted, that members were always free to leave the cult at any time.
The cult existed in this way for several years, relatively unnoticed. But in 1985, something dramatic happened: Peep, formerly known as Bonnie Lu Nettles, died from liver cancer. Her death was explained to the cult as if she had left her earthly container and had gone to the higher level.
According to the cult’s own explanations, as they appear in the book “How and when Heaven’s Gate may be entered” from 1996, the first 13 years were spent in isolation, from 1975 to 1988. The materials they presented in the book is described as Early Classroom Materials: E.g., the first posters, the first statements from Bo and Peep, and a list of 60-70 locations where public meetings were held from 1975-76.
Through the last two years of that period, a booklet with the title “’88 Update: The ufo two and their crew” was published in 1988. This booklet was sent to New Age centers, businesses with health food, preachers, UFOlogists, monasteries and the like.
In the late 1991 and early 1992, a series of videos were produced, titled “Total Overcomers Anonymous: Beyond Human – the last call”. The recordings of 12 meetings contained the cult’s thoughts, ideas, etc., partly through questions to Herff Applewhite. Transcripts from these videos, spanning more than 13 hours, can be found in the cult’s book, and could also be found on their website.