What Happened To The Bodies Of The Heaven's Gate Cult Members?

The first San Diego sheriff's deputy to arrive at 18341 Colina Norte on March 26, 1997 stepped into a horrific scene. The two-story Rancho Santa Fe mansion was filled with bodies — 39 total. Some were laying on the floor, some on cots, most had purple scarves around their heads and shoulders, and all of them were laying on their backs. An anonymous caller had left a tip with police to check out the mansion and its monk-like, religious renters who were so silent and inconspicuous that neighbor Bill Strong thought they were a "nonspeaking order," as The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted at the time. But behind closed doors they'd been saying quite a lot.

Authorities at the time drew comparisons to the mass suicide of 53 members of the Swiss, sun-revering cult Order of the Solar Temple three years prior in 1994. The comparison wasn't without precedent. The 39 individuals found dead in Rancho Santa Fe — including their leader Marshall Applewhite — had indeed died by mass suicide by drinking a mixture of phenobarbital, apple juice, and vodka over the course of three days. Cult members believed that their consciousnes would beam aboard a UFO cloaked by the Hale-Bopp comet passing through our solar system at the time, and they were all prepared for their "'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level," as the still-running Heaven's Gate website reads. They also didn't consider their actions suicide. By all accounts it seems that some individuals were buried and others cremated. 

Collected and cremated or buried

Early accounts of the Heaven's Gate members' bodies state that they were scheduled to be either buried or cremated, like a 1997 report from Deseret News. Presumably such a decision would have fallen to the surviving family members of each cultist, if such people existed. However, we've only got scattered information about what happened to the bodies of individual cult members, outlined on Find a Grave. Thirteen, its seems, were buried, while nine — including leader Marshall Applewhite — were cremated. The fate of the remaining bodies remain unknown or unrecorded. Out of all of those who were cremated, Heaven's Gate second-in-command John Craig has received the most biographical attention in various articles. According to People, his ashes were spread over the San Juan Mountains in springtime. 

One additional cult member not present at the scene in 1997 was Heaven's Gate co-founder Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles, who created the cult along with Applewhite in 1972. Nettles was a nurse who met Applewhite while he was undergoing psychiatric treatment following his dismissal from a music teaching job at University of St. Thomas in Houston after he'd been found having an affair with a student. Nettles died in 1985 from an unspecified type of cancer and was cremated — her ashes were scattered over White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas. But while Applewhite was also apparently cremated, we have no information on where his ashes were scattered, or if they were scattered at all.

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