On e-mailing the defunct address of a 70's death cult... and getting a response

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Heaven's Gate was a religious UFO cult started by Marshall Applewhite (above) in 70's California. The group, inspired by the hyperbole of Applewhite, considered it their goal to shed themselves of all human characteristics (family, friends, individuality, jobs, sexuality, money etc.) and to ready themselves for 'the next level', to where they would ascend as the world was 'recycled' in an imminent catastrophe. Also, in what might be called a sort of male-bonding vacation, eight of the male members decided to travel to Mexico together and have themselves castrated.

Anyway, in 1997, Applewhite claimed that the promised alien spacecraft was trailing behind the Hale-Bopp Comet, and that the only way to board it would be to leave their earthly vessels behind. Police later found 39 bodies lying neatly in bunk beds at their Rancho Santa Fe compound. Each body was covered by a purple cloth, and carried one five dollar bill and three quarters in the pocket.
The Heaven's Gate members were very tech-savvy for their time. Their compound was paid for by a number of their members who worked in web design. Today, you can still visit their website, and see the urgent, 90's flash graphic on the homepage, indicating that the comet was the marker that 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.
It was while perusing their site that I came across the email address, still offering availability of the group's informative materials.
You would assume that this was a now-defunct remainder from their proselytising days, but from what I'd read about the group they were very particular about details, and very keen to get the word out. Perhaps there was an auto-response set up on this account? There was only one way to find out.
The response came on the same evening in which I'd sent the email, and it didn't seem automatic. Who was this person? Was I communicating with an evolved being in another galaxy? Or was it just another Nigerian businessman who wanted to send me millions of dollars in exchange for a small deposit?
Naturally, I had many more questions.

It turns out that the group had 40 members in 1997, and only 39 of them had committed suicide. One of the members, Rio D'Angelo (real name Richard Ford) had temporarily left to start a new job, just before the mass suicide had taken place. A few weeks later, he received a package containing all the farewell videos of his friends. He returned to the compound and videotaped the bodies that lay still in their beds. His video was not shown to police until 2002. Perhaps this was him? Or perhaps not - the person emailing mentions 'Rio' in the third person.
Whoever it is, they clearly possess the same calm certainty in their own extraterrestrial fate that their fellow members exhibited in their exit videos before they committed suicide. And, 18 years on, it makes you marvel at the persuasive powers that a 'cult' leader - someone who offers new hope and a new identity to burnt out people - can have, even beyond the grave.


Unknown said...

He speaks remarkably good english, I must say.

P.S. The fact that you're so in awe of the leader's skills worries me...