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Evolution of a Cult

March 30, 1997

1931: Marshall Herff Applewhite is born to a traveling Presbyterian minister and his wife, who raise a family full of religion and music.

Late 1960s: Applewhite lands professorship at St. Thomas University in Houston. He teaches music and sings in the Houston opera, but his emotive nature chafes against the school's formal traditions. Applewhite was reportedly homosexual--despite his wife and two children--and too sexually outgoing for the east Texas community.

1970: Applewhite is dismissed from St. Thomas University in wake of a scandal involving his relationship with one of his students. He is devastated.

1971: Applewhite's father dies in San Antonio.

1972: While at a Texas hospital for treatment, Applewhite meets Bonnie Lu Nettles, a nurse. The two form an instant bond and embark on a series of ventures.

1973: While digging septic tanks along Oregon's Rogue River, Applewhite and Nettles have an epiphany. They realize that they are the two witnessess to the end of the world cited in the Biblical Revelations and that they will be assasinated. The Heaven's Gate ideology takes root.

Spring, 1975: A Los Angeles metaphysical guru invites a group of about 80 people to a meeting. Within days, two dozen of the group rendevous in Golden Beach, Ore. with Applewhite and Nettles. The cult begins.

Summer, 1975: A large meeting in Waldport, Ore. garners the group 33 new recruits, but also their first spate of negative publicity. Members are besieged by bad press.

April 21, 1976: At a meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, Applewhite and Nettles announce--over jeers--that they will no longer accept new members. The 80 cultists retreat to a campground near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and begin wearing uniforms, then start nomadic travels through the Southwest.

Late 1976: After two members of the group received inheritances totalling $300,000, the group gives up its camping lifestyle in favor of homes in Denver and then the Dallas-Ft. Worth Area.

1985: Nettles dies of liver cancer. Applewhite declares he is channeling her spirit, and leads the group into an intensive retreat as they become increasingly apocalyptic.

1993: The group resurfaces, now down to just 24 members and calling itself "Total Overcomers Anonymous." They place a full-page ad in "USA Today" warning readers that the end of Earth is nigh. They liquidate their assets and resume their travels.

1994: The cult hits the road, spreading in small groups to public libraries from Brimingham, Ala. to Minneapolis, in search of new recruits. They pay a visit to Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols, sister of one member, looking for advice in "going public."

June-Sept. 1995: Cult spends three months at an isolated converted youth camp 50 miles southeast of Albequerque, but abruptly tells neighbors they have been "called to California."

Oct. 11, 1995: The group uses the Internet to publish Applewhite's text, " '95 Statement by an ET Incarnate." Hostile reaction and ridicule is taken as a sign to "begin our preparations to return 'home.' "

Oct. 1996: The group moves into their final home, an opulent mansion atop a hill in Rancho Santa Fe.

Jan. 17, 1997: During a follow-up program on his radio talk show, Art Bell debunks the theory that a UFO was trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet.

March 26, 1997: The bodies of Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers are discovered in Rancho Santa Fe.

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