March 30th, 1997
Editor: Joseph Trainor
Thirty-nine members of a UFO sect called Heaven's Gate were found dead Wednesday at their rented mansion, Rancho Santa Fe, in San Diego County, California.
The group had rented the home last October and were led by Marshall Herff Applewhite, 66, aka Father John, aka Do (pronounced Doe), formerly "Bo" of "Bo and Peep," aka "the Two," itinerant UFO apostles who first became prominent in the 1970s. (See Newsweek magazine for October 20, 1975.)
Applewhite's consort, Bonnie Lu Truesdale Nettles, aka "Peep," died of liver cancer in 1985.
The victims ranged in age from 26 to 72. All but four have been identified. Among the victims were Thomas Nichols, brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who starred in TV's original Star Trek, and David Van Sinderen, son of a former chairman of the Southern New England Phone Co. (SNET).
The official cause of death has not yet been determined, but Det. Lt. Jerry Lipscomb of the San Diego County Sheriff's Dept. said there was no suspicion of anything but suicide.
"Overdose and suffocation, self-inflicted," Lipscomb said, "Nothing in this investigation that would suggest anything but." (See the New York Post for March 29, 1997, page 3)
Dr. Brian Blackbourne, San Diego County medical examiner said toxicological tests on five of the victims showed that three had lethal levels of phenobarbitol. "Since the lethal level is 6 grams, it would take 50 tablets of 135 milligrams each to commit suicide." (New York Post, March 29, 1997, page 2)
Yet puzzling discrepancies remain in the official version concerning the original discovery of the crime scene.
On Tuesday, March 25, Richard Ford, aka Rio DiAngelo, a former member of the group, received a videotape in which the 39 members, including 18 women and 21 men, said farewell, announcing their intent "to shed their physical containers" and be lifted up to a UFO reported to be following the comet Hale-Bopp. Also receiving a tape was Rev. Rick Strawcutter, pastor of a nondenominational Christian church in Adrian, Michigan.
(Editor's Note: The Hale-Bopp "companion," aka "the Saturn-like object" or SLO and the "Hale Mary," was first spotted in November 1996 by amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek. Professional astronomers dismissed Shramek's claim, contending that the object was an eighth-magnitude star, SAO 141894, that had been photographed out of focus. However, other observers sighted and photographed "an anomalous object" an estimated 2,000 kilometers behind the comet until January 10. Also, the SOHO satellite, which photographed the solar tsunami that day, caught an image of an oval-shaped object above the sun. A week later, a NASA press release described the SOHO image as "a proto-comet." There have been no further sightings of the Hale Mary or any other anomalous object since January 10.)
The following morning, Wednesday, March 26, Ford told his employer, Nick Matzorkis, 34, of Beverly Hills about the tape and expressed fears that Applewhite's group may have comitted suicide. The two men then drove to San Diego, arriving at about 11 a.m.
"DiAngelo (Ford), who left the cult five weeks earlier, entered the palatial Spanish-type home where his former computer-whiz comrades lived and worked. Matzorkis told him to be out in ten minutes."
"' I didn't want to sit there so I took a five-minute drive and a five-minute drive back and he still wasn't in front of the house,' the businessman recalled."
"I'm wondering, 'What's happening? Is he dead in there, too? Then I finally saw him walk out. He was white as a sheet.'"
"'You trying to tell me there are dead bodies in there?' Matzorkis asked."
"'Where are they?'"
"'They're laying in the beds and cots.'"
(See the New York Post for March 28, 1997, page 6)
Incredibly, after viewing the dead, Ford did not Phone the San Diego County Sheriff's Dept. for over an hour. "Only after he leaves the mansion of mass suicide does he call the local cops at 1:34 p.m."
"DiAngelo (Ford) returns with Matzorkis to L.A. closely listening to news radio and hears nothing of what he tipped the cops to."
"He then becomes such a responsible citizen that he calls the Beverly Hills Police Department at 3 p.m. and they referred him to the San Diego Sheriff's Office, which said it knew nothing." (Steve Dunleavy's colum, New York Post, March 30, 1997, page 6)
Arriving at the crime scene at 3:30 p.m. were Deputy Sheriff Robert Brunk and Deputy Sheriff Laura Gacek. From the moment, the officers pulled up to the manion, Deputy Brunk "knew something was wrong. The drapes were pulled, the windows were closed and the outdoor lights were burning in the sunshine." (New York Times, March 30, 1997, page 1)
During the CNN news conference at 7 p.m. Pacific time, Deputy Brunk said he found the front door locked, circled the house, found the windows all closed, and found a side door unlocked. He also said, "I was the first to enter the building."
Deputy Brunk then "sensed the unmistakable stench of death. Dreading his instincts and hoping against hope, he radioed his partner, Laura Gacek, and waited." (New York Times, March 30, 1997, page 1)
When Deputy Gacek confirmed the odor, the officers entered the darkened room, spotted "the bodies, all white and ages 18-24" who "bore no signs of trauma." (See USA Today, March 27, 1997, page 1) At the news conference, Deputy Brunk said he and Gacek then left the premises and radioed for backup.
According to San Diego Sheriff's Commander Alan Fulmer, "deputies wearing surgical masks 'encountered a noxious, pungent odor,' and two were sent to the hospital for blood tests. A hazardous materials (Hazmat) crew was on the scene." (USA Today, March 27, 1997)
At the news conference, Deputy Brunk said he and Gacek were given a blood test. The results of the blood test were not released.
Nor were the results of any chemical tests performed by the Hazmat crew at the crime scene.
A videotape aired on KCOP-TV shows a deputy in a yellow jacket wearing a respirator, not a surgical mask. (See USA Today for March 28-30, 1997, page 1)
An AP photo of the house shows an open window on the right-hand side (facing the front door), just around the corner about 40 feet (12 meters) from the door. (See the Boston Herald for March 28, 1997, page 3) The window's white drape is clearly visible.
"The foul smell deputies encountered when they entered the house was not nerve gas but the odor of decomposing bodies, officials said."
"'There were no gas fumes in the house. The only smell coming out of that house was that of dead bodies,' said Cmdr. Alan Fulmer." (See the New York Daily News for March 28, 1997, page 3)
Heaven's Gate, the UFO group headed by Marshall Herff Applewhite, had links to 19th Century occultists, including Madame Blavatsky and novelist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.
The house at 18241 Colina Norte is just down the street from the San Dieguito Reservoir, a favorite spot of Mrs. Katherine A. Tingley, a disciple of Madame Helena P. Blavatsky. Mrs. Tingley moved to San Diego in 1896 and founded an ashram of the Theosophical Society at Point Loma. The center opened February 25, 1897, with a ceremony attended by several prominent people in San Diego, including the mayor. (See the San Diego Union for February 26, 1897)
Like Applewhite, Mrs. Tingley believed that a major cataclysm would sink most of California and end Western civilization. She predicted that San Diego would survive to become the capital of an island nation called "Nueva California."
She also had an interesting vision of alabacore tuna swimming through the drowned halls of the Assembly building in Sacramento.
Another one of Madame Blavatsky's disciples had a vision in India in 1907 of San Diego in the year 2100 as "a gleaming white city and capital of the New Age world."
Interestingly enough, in 1907, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, wrote a short story entitled "Extract from Captain Stormfield's Trip to Heaven," in which the hero leaves Earth for "an extended excursion among the heavenly bodies" on the tail of a comet.
In the story, the hero has his passport on him, plus five dollars and three 25-cent pieces for the fare.
Many of the Heaven's Gate victims had their passports on their persons and $5.75 in their hands.
(See New York Post, March 29, 1997, page 6)
In a strange twist, the comet Hale-Bopp has the same initials as Helena Blavatsky.
Also, the acronym for Evolutionary Level Above Human (ELAH) spells HALE backwards. (See the Boston Herald for March 29, 1997, page 3)
The Southern Ontario CSETI working group, led by Jennifer Jarvis, spotted three orange-sphere UFOs over Lake Ontario at 8:14 p.m. on Saturday, March 22, 1997.
The group had gone to the lakeshore at Oakville, Ont., near Port Credit to skywatch when "three orange orbs, lights, but not emitting light" appeared over the lake midway between Oakville and St. Catharines, Ont. on the south shore.
"These things were brilliant orange-to-yellow, hovered, and did not fade out. They submerged," Jarvis reported. "All three went below the surface of the water."
Despite rainy weather, the group continued its vigil throughout the week, periodically spying the same type of orange-sphere UFO. On Wednesday, March 26, 1997, one orange globe reportedly "returned signals" from the CSETI group before submerging.
Jarvis's group went to Grimsby, Ont. on Saturday, March 29, 1997 to triangulate the UFOs' position over the lake.
On Thursday, March 27, at 7:40 p.m., Peter K. left his house in Oshawa, Ont., 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Toronto to look for the comet Hale-Bopp and saw "the most unusual aerial display I ever hope to see. Two objects coming from the southwest to the northeast at very high altitude. Only lasted 4 or 5 seconds before they disappeared into the light pollution on the northern horizon."
At 8:10 p.m., Peter went outside again, saw some cirrus clouds moving in, went to the other side of the house to look eastward and spotted three orange- sphere UFOs. He then called his girl friend Sonja in Bowmanville.
At 9:52 p.m., he went outdoors once more and saw "ten of these things. Saw two flying west to east, followed by a formation of four (two pairs) at much lower altitude. Spectacular! Saw another pair going east to west and a few singles going south to north and north to south." (Many thanks to Jennifer Jarvis and Errol Bruce-Knapp for this story.)
On Monday, March 24, at 10:06 p.m., a deafening explosion was heard in the skies over South Yorkshire, not far from the Derbyshire line in Britain.
Detectors at the Seismic Unit at Edinburgh University, Scotland, picked up vibrations from the explosion, which they likened to "a sonic boom that could have only been made by the Concorde, a military jet at low altitude, or a bolide."
Witnesses at Marjorie Hill, South Yorks. claim to have seen a UFO hovering above the peak, "shining light beams at the hillside" at the time of the explosion.
The explosion sparked rumors of an airplane crash. A search of the area, including six RAF Tornado jet interceptors, turned up no wreckage, and the search was called off on Tuesday, March 25.
By then, however, rumors of "a saucer crash and retrieval" had spread throughout Britain. One story told of a glowing orange triangle hovering over Wigan, Lancashire. But Tim Matthews, head of the Lancashire UFO Society, disputed that report.
Matthews said LUFOS observers saw no "flying triangle" take off from the Warton British Aerospace research facility at Preston that night, and his group received no calls about UFOs at Wigan or anywhere else in Lancashire. (Many thanks to John Hayes, Graham Birdsall and Tim Matthews for this story.)
On Wednesday, March 26, 1997, at 8 p.m., Jesse W. and his friend, Josh M., were out looking for the Hale-Bopp comet on Cheltenham Drive in Mount Healthy, Ohio when they "saw a large white light 50 to 60 degrees above the horizon." The UFO was "surrounded by 'smaller' lights" and "a red light was seen on the side" of the UFO. They watched the display for five minutes until the UFO flew away to the north.
Also at 8 p.m., David S. was working at a warehouse in Wilmington, Ohio when co-workers called him outdoors to witness a strange display in the sky. Looking east toward Hillsboro, Dave saw "a large orange fireball, which disappeared and then reappeared. It would fade as another reappeared, almost in perfect configuration with each other, assuming the shape of a boomerang."
Dave's co-workers had been watching the display since 7:30. At precisely 7:40, they told him, four fighter jets had appeared in the northwest sky. The jets had flown southeast, straight towards the orange lights. "As the lights would 'come on,' the jets would fly into the general vicinity as if playing a game of cat-and-mouse," Dave reported. The orange globes appeared eight times between 7:30 and 8:45 p.m.
At 9:15 p.m., John B. and his girlfriend were in Loveland, Ohio and saw "several lights which held stationary and then accelerated at rapid speed. There was also a main object and smaller objects in triangular formation. The main object was 'absolutely huge.'" The UFOs flew away to the north.
Veteran UFO investigator Jerry Black received an anonymous tip from Wilmington, Ohio airport that two F-16s from the Air National Guard base in Springfield would be on "maneuvers" for the next few hours.
On Thursday, March 27, 1997, Kenneth Young of Tri-States Advocates for Scientific Knowledge (T.A.S.K.) Phoned the Ohio Air National Guard at Springfield. A sergeant told Young that eight F-16s from the 162nd Fighter Squadron had engaged in "night intercept air combat exercises" over Clermont County. The orange globes seen, he reportedly explained, were "military flares," which are used to "divert enemy aircraft sensors and heat-seeking missiles" during combat. (Many thanks to Kenny Young of T.A.S.K. for this story.)
On Tuesday, March 25, at 11 p.m., student Brian Eddowes walked out of the Lilly Library on the East Campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. As he stepped into the quad, he spied a bright light in the western sky, hovering over the Union Building.
"I noticed an orangeish light about 30 degrees above the horizon," reported Brian, who was with six other students in the quad at the time. "It was motionless, and for some reason I took time to observe it. Suddenly it changed shape and dropped really low, and then after 10 seconds, changed shape again to a series of red and blue lights...the way to describe the UFO lights was there did not appear to be any 'glare' about them and no noise at all."
Brian said the lights flew away in the direction east-northeast. (Email interview)
On Saturday night, March 15, 1997, Ms. Kathleen N. spotted two "large bright lights" just outside her window in Oakton, Virginia.
"The lights passed by my house as I looked out the window," she reported. "Then I became curious and popped up to see where the lights were heading."
"As I looked out the back window, the lights had suddenly turned and were coming back across my backyard, at above the trees. I was astonished. Then I went out onto the porch and looked up. To my amazement, I saw many rows of smaller white lights with a few red lights in the middle. I could not see a craft, but it seemed like I was looking up (at) the underneath of a craft with lights on the bottom."
"The two bright lights had moved quickly, but these lights were moving slowly. It moved in a straight line above the trees. As it flew away, I noticed a low-level hum and a swoosh." (Email interview)
On Tuesday, March 4, 1997, at 9 p.m., a very large silver-gray domed saucer flew over the city of Piracicaba, in Sao Paulo state, Brazil. Hundreds of people watched the immense, disc-shaped UFO, estimated to be 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter, move slowly over the city. Eyewitnesses described the UFO as "an immense flattened disc with a small dome and flashing multicolored lights."
At 11 p.m., two hours after Piracicaba sighting, another jumbo saucer of the same description was seen by dozens of people in Santa Gertrudis, S.P., a small city near Piracicaba. From beneath the UFO, "several small objects were seen to emerge." These objects flew around for 20 minutes and then reentered the giant saucer, which flew away towards the west.
On February 26, 1997, at 11 p.m., five male Brazilian students driving home in Ribeirao Preto, S.P. "saw a light come down and hover in front of the car they were driving." The UFO then took up position behind the car and pursued it into the city. The high-speed chase lasted five minutes. Afterward, the UFO rose quickly and flew away at high speed. (Muito obrigado a Eduardo Castor Borgonovi para eses casos.)
Ufologists from Agrupacion de Investigaciones Ovniologicas (AION) set up a research project in Punta Arenas, Chile on Monday, March 24, 1997.
On Thursday, March 27, 1997, several AION members "spotted some lights make strange movements" north of the southern Chilean city. "One of the UFOs split into two. Then behind these lights appeared a UFO about 40 meters (125 feet) in diameter, full of strong lights, hundreds of them, flashing like the globe in a discotechque." The UFO dropped smaller orange spheres and then flew away after five minutes." (Muchas gracias a Luis Sanchez para ese informacion.)
The western end of Lake Ontario, now being investigated by the Southern Ontario CSET working group was the site of a baffling aircraft disappearance nearly 20 years ago.
"On December 22, 1977, Craig Carlisle, an American pilot, took off from the airport at Oshawa, on the north side of Lake Ontario, in a twin-engine Cessna, N404SA. His destination was Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, by way of Buffalo, New York, and the first leg of the flight was over the western end of Lake Ontario."
"According to Major Al Ditter, spokesman for the Canadian Forces Base at Toronto, the aircraft left Oshawa at 9 p.m. and in less than half an hour was at midpoint in its flight over the lake. At this point, the controllers at Toronto's International Airport handed control of this flight over to the Buffalo controllers."
"However, there was a problem. The Buffalo controllers could not find any such flight on their radar screens and they informed Toronto Control of this fact. When the Toronto controllers checked their screens, they discovered that they too had lost the aircraft's blip. In the minute or so it had taken to transfer the flight, the plane had suddenly vanished."
"After two days of searching this thirty-by-forty- mile stretch of water without any success, the search was called off...Aircraft number N404SA had been added to the long list of others that have mysteriously vanished without a trace." (See GATEWAY TO OBLIVION by Hugh Cochrane, Avon Books, June 1981, pages 67 and 68)
That's it for this week. We'll try to play catch-up with our UFO sightings and, more importantly, run an important announcement from John Hayes in next Sunday's issue. See you then.
UFO ROUNDUP: Copyright 1997 by Masinaigan Productions, all rights reserved. Readers may post items from UFO ROUNDUP on their websites or in newsgroups provided that they credit the newsletter and its editor by name and list the date of the issue in which the story appeared.