Content note: This post contains details about suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.
It was March, 1997 – a Wednesday – when 911 received a bizarre tip from an anonymous caller.
The phone call was made from a payphone, and claimed that dozens of people had died by suicide at a villa in Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego.
The police didn’t take the tip seriously. It took them two hours to arrive at the scene, and what they found would be burned into the eyes of a generation.
Sheriff Deputy Robert Brunk could not believe what he saw. “It doesn’t appear that we have any survivors,” he said over the radio. “Does anyone have the number for homicide?”
Investigators found 39 corpses, a number of which had started to decompose in the heat of Spring. There were 21 women and 18 men, aged from 21 to 72.
At that moment, it was the largest mass suicide to have ever occurred on U.S. soil.
The team who created the Missing Richard Simmons podcast, one of the most successful podcasts of 2017, have embarked on a new project; an exploration of one of the 20th Century’s most infamous cults.
Chris Bannon, the chief content officer of Midroll Media says, “At the center of all this, there’s a great question: what leads people to follow a leader to the point of self-destruction? That seems especially relevant right now.”
Heaven’s Gate was an American ‘UFO cult’ founded in 1974 and based in California.
The group was developed and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, who met during Applewhite's stay in a psychiatric institution, where he was cared for by Nettles who was a nurse.
They both committed to contacting extraterrestrials, and travelled across the United States searching for followers. Applewhite told his acolytes he was the second coming of Jesus Christ, and they preached that God was an alien.
Both claimed they were from another planet named 'the Next Level', and purported that those who followed them would gain access to a higher evolutionary level.
As Heaven's Gate gained momentum, they became invested in the delusion that Earth was on the verge of being "recycled," and their only chance of survival was to evacuate immediately.