39 LOST LIVES
Dana Tracey Abreo
For Abreo, 35, Heaven's Gate was a family affair.
Her half-brother, Gary Jordan St. Louis, had persuaded her to join the cult that
he belonged to. He also committed suicide.
She grew up in Twain Harte, Calif., and moved to Denver after high school to
attend paralegal school. She lived in a number of apartments in the east Capitol
Hill area from 1990 to 1993.
``As soon as I heard it, I knew it was them,'' said Guy St. Louis, Abreo's other
half-brother. ``To them, it was the only way to leave the planet -- to leave their
bodies behind and escape.''
Robert John Arancio
Arancio, 46, apparently handled some of the recruiting business for Heaven's
Dallas County, Texas, records show that he and fellow cult member Cheryl
Butcher received business permits in August 1993 for Total Overcomers
Anonymous -- the name that cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite used for his
group then -- and Omega Agency. The businesses sent out recruitment videos
featuring Applewhite's smiling face and soft, reassuring voice.
Arancio used a Richardson, Texas, post office box for business and a Mail Boxes
Etc. store in Dallas as his home address.
Raymond Alan Bowers
Bowers, 45, was a depressed, downtrodden guitar player when he joined
Heaven's Gate 18 months ago. His wife had divorced him, and his brother had
drowned in a freak accident while they were working as commercial fishers in
Devastated, Bowers left his family and business and headed to south Florida. He
lived with a former owner of the Depot Bar and Grill in Jupiter, where he
occasionally performed. His friends say he had musical talent but little hope for
the future. Bowers moved into a garage apartment in a wooded, rural area north
of Jupiter. But after a few months he skipped out on his rent and disappeared.
``Nothing made him happy,'' landlord Margo Bruynel said.
Bowers was happiest when playing his guitar and jamming with Denny
Nickeson. Nickeson and his wife, Karin, befriended Bowers. But when it came
time to leave, Bowers told the Nickesons, `` `I don't keep in touch with friends.
I've been hurt too badly before,' '' Karin said. ``We never heard from him again.
It doesn't surprise me. He was lost. He cried all the time. I don't think life meant
much for him.''
Bowers was arrested once in October 1994 in Florida for possessing cocaine.
Susan Ventulett, Bowers' sister, said her brother first met members of
Applewhite's cult 22 years ago during a lecture at Stanford University. When he
ran into them again in 1995, he joined.
``He was a spiritual person who saw good in everybody,'' Ventulett said.
LaDonna Ann Brugato
Brugato, 40, was rarely heard from again after joining Heaven's Gate three years
ago. She was one of nine children of a Newberg, Ore., real estate agent and a
math teacher, and she had been a computer programmer in Englewood, Colo.
Brugato, also a talented violinist, may have been on a spiritual quest before
joining the cult.
Her former landlord, Al Wallace, said Brugato's canopy bed had diamond-shaped
crystals on each corner. Another large crystal hung from the ceiling.
``It clearly left me with the impression that this was some New Age experimental
worship place that she used to commune with her gods,'' Wallace said.
Joe Brugato said his daughter joined Applewhite's group ``at a very vulnerable
time in her life.''
She gave her family little information about the group, or what she was doing. In
just two letters to her family Brugato described herself ``as a traveling minister.''
She emphasized she was very happy with God,'' her father said.
He hired private investigator Gary Crowe to help find her. Crowe said that given
another week, he probably would have found her alive. He had tracked her to an
address, a mailbox company, in La Jolla, Calif., 10 miles from the suicide scene.
Margaret June Bull
``Peggy'' Bull, 53, joined Applewhite as one of his original followers in the
mid-1970s, after graduating from the University of Washington and teaching
English in Barcelona, Spain.
``I thought it was harmless,'' said her brother, John Bull, assistant dean for
continuing education at Central Washington University.
``But when we received a video from Peggy that had (Applewhite) declaring
himself the second coming of Christ and that he intended to lead his flock to
redemption, I got a real bad feeling then,'' he said.
Peggy Bull last returned to Ellensburg, Wash., where she grew up, three years
ago when her mother died.
Gwen Sorensen was a year behind Peggy in school but rode horses with her in
the Wranglerette Riding Club.
``I didn't know Peggy real well, but I knew her enough to know she was a
genuinely nice person,'' Sorensen told The (Ellensburg) Daily Record. ``It
surprises me she would do this because she just didn't seem to be the type.''
Cheryl Elaine Butcher
Butcher, 43, left Springfield, Mo., in 1976 to take up with a group in Oregon led
``She didn't call it a cult. She didn't consider it as a cult. She was happy,'' said
her mother, Virginia Norton, of Springfield.
Norton said her daughter never mentioned suicide pacts or beliefs in UFOs.
Mother and daughter last saw each other in 1993 in Dallas. Butcher was living
there with other members of the cult.
Norton tried to contact Butcher over the years, but Christmas cards and notes
came back unopened: ``She was with me for 21 years, and with the group for 21
Michael Howard Carrier
Carrier, 48, listed as his address a Pack 'N Mail store in the Dallas suburb of
Richardson, Texas. This is the same address that fellow cult members Peggy Bull
and Gary St. Louis also used. No other information was available.
Suzanne Sylvia Cooke
Cooke, 54, was carrying a New Mexico driver's license when she committed
suicide with other members of Heaven's Gate.
But she had no family in New Mexico. She did, however, live with other cult
members until last year at a 40-acre youth camp near Mountainair, N.M. The
camp had a huge structure with walls made of old tires. They called it ``Earth
Betty Eldrie Deal
Few details of Deal's life have emerged. Her last known address was a Mail
Boxes Etc. store in Far North Dallas. At 64, Deal was among the oldest to die.
Ernst, 40, was a native of Calgary, Canada. Described by friends as a good
student and fun-loving teen-ager, she joined the cult shortly after graduating from
She gave away her possessions, left Calgary and cut off contact with her past.
Her family, which knew she was with the Heaven's Gate cult, was vacationing in
Los Angeles when they heard of the mass suicide. Her father, Edwald Ernst,
drove to the coroner's office to claim her body.
``For 21 years, I tried to find them,'' he said. ``We had one visit, maybe one
phone call. She told us only that `I'm doing the best; I'm happy.' But I think she
Lawrence Jackson Gale
All that is known about Gale, 47, is that his driver's license lists his address as
Lake Forest, Calif.
Darwin Lee Johnson
Johnson, 42, was a musician and played in a band called Dharma Combat,
former band manager David Fratt told a Salt Lake City television station.
Fratt said the band, which played at area clubs, wrote songs about death and
LaMontagne, 45, lived most recently in Las Cruces, N.M. She was a gifted nurse
whose world collapsed with the death of her father two decades ago.
Her father ``was her knight in shining armor,'' said her brother, Andrew
LaMontagne, of Windsor, Vt. ``When he passed away, Julie just freaked out.
And then she met those people, and it was all over.''
Ann Sheridan, assistant dean at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,
recalled LaMontagne as a dean's list student with a love of nursing. She
graduated in 1974 but her father's death soon after derailed her nursing career.
LaMontagne joined the cult as a personal nurse to Applewhite after the group
recruited in Amherst in 1975. She wrote later that she wanted nothing more to do
with her family. They last saw her in 1990.
LaMontagne's brother blamed Applewhite. ``He's a monster. He took my sister.''
At 72, Leonard was the oldest among the dead and seemingly among the least
likely to join a cult.
Leonard grew up in Des Moines and raised two daughters and a son there with
In the early 1970s, she moved to Colorado, where she met members of the cult
now linked to the mass suicide. A few years later she decided to join the group, a
move that shocked her family.
``Grandmothers don't run away. The kids are supposed to run away,'' said her
son-in-law, Angelo Bellizzi of Seattle.
Yet, Bellizzi said, there was always a restlessness about Leonard.
``She was always groping and looking for something that interested her,'' he said.
Jeffrey Howard Lewis
Lewis, 41, was a former massage therapist from San Antonio who cut off his
beard and dreadlocks to join the clean-shaven cult.
Although Lewis' relatives knew he was a member of a UFO-related cult, they did
not at first think he was part of the Heaven's Gate suicides. Jerry Lewis, his
brother, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, ``It did remind us of his situation,
but we didn't realize he was connected with them.''
Lewis said his brother joined in the mid-70s, after Navy duty in San Diego, and
was a member for about 10 years. After being out of the group for years, he
rejoined three years ago. ``Even when he was out of the cult, he talked about it a
lot,'' Jerry Lewis said. ``He had a lot of emotional ties, and he felt he didn't have
the meaning that he had when he was in the group.''
Gail Renee Maeder
Maeder, 27, wanted to live forever. And the cult told her that she would.
``They promised her she would never die,'' her mother Alice Maeder said. ``Her
mind was controlled.''
Maeder left Sag Harbor, N.Y., five years ago, moving to California with her
``At first she seemed happy,'' said her father, Robert Maeder. ``But then she
broke up with her boyfriend, lost her business and fell in with the wrong crowd.''
Though terribly worried, Maeder's parents feared that she would cut off all
contact with her family if they criticized her decision to join the cult.
Maeder stopped calling about six months after she joined, but she sent card for
Christmas, birthdays and her brother's high school graduation. ``If only I had
seen what was down the road, I would have pulled her back from California
before she got involved,'' Alice Maeder said. ``I never believed I'd never see my
Steven Terry McCarter
McCarter, 41, listed his address as Albuquerque, N.M.
Joel Peter McCormick
When McCormick's roommates called in 1994 to tell his mother they hadn't seen
him for 10 days, Megan McCormick drove nonstop from Madison, Wis., to
Seattle to find her son.
When she arrived, Megan McCormick discovered her son he had left to join the
UFO cult then known as Total Overcomers. McCormick, 29, later wrote his
mother saying, ``I'm doing fine and continue to grow toward the future.''
McCurdy-Hill, 39, was a Cincinnati postal worker and computer buff who
learned about the cult from the Internet.
To join the group, she and her husband left everything behind in September,
including their five children. Her husband, Steve Hill, went with her but returned
home before the suicide.
Friends and co-workers of McCurdy-Hill described her as an outgoing, cheerful
person who showed no signs of inner turmoil until shortly before she left to join
Steve Hill's mother said her son and daughter-in-law became secretive. They said
they were leaving, but they wouldn't say where they were going.
In August, Eartha Hill took the couple's children, including their newborn twins.
``I couldn't leave them in that house,'' Eartha Hill said. She said as much to her
daughter-in-law. The younger woman's response: ``She said, `Here, they're
David Geoffery Moore
Moore, 40, grew up near San Jose, Calif. He fell in with the cult in 1975 as a
disaffected 19-year-old and saw his family just twice after that.
His mother, Nancie Brown, described her son as an emotional, often angry
teen-ager. She said he struggled to find a future for himself until he attended his
first cult meeting in a neighborhood park.
Alarmed, Brown began researching the cult and even published a newsletter
about the group. The publicity prompted her son to call Brown to say the cult did
not want to be in the spotlight.
``And I said, `Fine. We don't want to interfere with you. We just want the
occasional contact. We want to know you're all right.' '' Brown told the New
Nancy Dianne Nelson
Nelson, 45, told her Mesa, Ariz., co-workers she was a nun who lived in a
monastery with two men who were highly knowledgeable about computers.
But her driver's license said Nelson lived in a mobile home park in Scottsdale,
In Mesa, she worked for Richard Mickle, an osteopathic surgeon during periods
in 1995 and 1996. Her co-workers knew her as ``A.J.''
Mickle knew nothing about Nelson's cult connection.
Norma Jeane Nelson
Nelson, 59, not only was a fan of the popular Star Trek movies, she believed she
was from Star Trek. She once told a former neighbor in a North Dallas apartment
complex that she was from The Next Generation TV series. ``We just looked at
her in surprise,'' says Cynthia McGowan, the former neighbor. ``It just didn't
dawn on us that she was in a type of cult. We thought that maybe she was crazy.''
Thomas Nichols, 59, had a connection to the stars long before his final flight was
supposed to take him beyond Earth. His sister, actress Nichelle Nichols, played
Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek television series.
Last week, she went on Larry King Live to talk about her brother. In keeping
with cult beliefs, he had cut off all communication with his family for 20 years.
Nichelle Nichols says her brother resurfaced when their mother died several
years ago. He wanted to reassure relatives that he was well.
In 1994, Thomas Nichols also wanted his sister's advice when the UFO cult now
known as Heaven's Gate planned to go public. Apparently, Nichols knew the
arrival of Comet Hale-Bopp would be a momentous event.
``There's a tragic irony they should choose Hale-Bopp, this wonderful comet, this
wonderful celestial event once in our lifetime, that it would be this event that
would trigger their decision to leave their bodies, as they called it, to go on
another plane,'' Nichelle Nichols says.
Susan Elizabeth Nora Paup
Paup, 54, had a favorite topic: UFOs. But for someone who believed in
spacecrafts trailing comets en route to pick her up, she lived a very earthly
In September 1995, she signed the lease on a piece of property cult members
used as a compound in Manzano, N.M., for $3,400 a month.
In April 1996, Heaven's Gate members suddenly left the area.
``It's shocking. They were very, very, very nice people. They were always
smiling,'' says Patsy Gustin, who rented three small offices for $250 a month to
members of the group.
Gustin cried last week when she saw her ex-tenants saying goodbye on
Paup also had befriended Rachel Heard, 11, whose mother worked nearby.
Rachel said she would sit by the computer while ``Nora'' worked, and that they
would chat about UFOs.
Margaret Ella Richter
Richter, 46, of Oroville, Calif., began to separate from her family soon after her
3-year-old marriage failed in 1975.
She went to Los Angeles and earned a master's degree in computer science at
UCLA. But for the next 22 years, relatives say, she came home for visits only
Her sister, Jean Long, says Richter sent family members a ``recruitment tape''
that explained the cult's beliefs and asked the viewer to join.
Richter also ``would write letters and she was concerned for us,'' Long says. ``It
never sounded like they were going to hurt themselves. . . . It never sounded
violent in any way.''
For Long, the separation was hard because she had always idolized her sister.
``She was so smart,'' Long says.
Richter, whose maiden name was Field, graduated from Las Plumas High School
in Oroville in 1969. She was class valedictorian, a Presidential Scholar and a
National Merit Scholarship winner.
``She just had this extreme mental power,'' says Jane Hammer, her high school
counselor. ``She was involved in all these things. She was very friendly, very
open and very outgoing.''
Judith Ann Rowland
Rowland, 50, was from Dallas.
Michael Barr Sandoe
Sandoe, 26, was so well-liked at his Abingdon, Va., high school that he was
easily elected senior class president.
Sandoe came from a good family. He attended meetings of the French Club and
the Key Club, a civic organization for young people. His father was a minister.
Family and friends say the change in his life may have come during Sandoe's
time in the Army. Sandoe was a paratrooper and Ranger who served in the
Middle East during Desert Storm in 1991.
``People say there were lots of changes after he came back from Desert Storm,''
says Jenni Markham of Abingdon, Va. Markham's son Shannon, also 26, was
friends with Sandoe. ``He was always laughing, having fun. He was never
serious,'' she says. ``He didn't get into trouble.''
His mother, JoAnne Sandoe, said he ``worked and traveled'' after he left the
She had no idea he was involved with the Heaven's Gate cult. Nor, apparently,
did many in their town of 7,000 near the Tennessee border. ``It's just something
we don't believe,'' Markham says. ``Everyone is very emotional about it.''
Brian Alan Schaaf
Schaaf, 39, listed a KOA campground in Las Cruces, N.M., as his last known
Joyce Angela Skalla
Skalla, 57, used a Santa Fe address.
Gary Jordan St. Louis
St. Louis, 44, was president of his junior class. But he changed after graduating
in 1971 from Downey High School in Modesto, Calif.
``He kind of flipped out,'' said Vicki Zaiger, a family friend. ``He was brilliant
with computers, and he worked for the government in Colorado for a while. But
he was secretive and didn't keep in touch with his parents.''
St. Louis, who had a New Mexico driver's license, was a longtime cult member.
He played a leading role in Heaven's Gate. He convinced his half-sister, Dana
Abreo, of Denver, to join the group. She too died.
His brother, Guy St. Louis, joined the cult for a short time in 1974 but soon left.
``It just wasn't for me. I guess I kept my feet on the ground,'' he said.
Gary St. Louis left a tape behind with his former girlfriend, Shelly King of
Hayden Lake, Idaho, explaining his decision to board a spaceship to a higher
``I want everybody who may see this, or to know, that I have chosen to leave,''
he said. ``I want to rejoin my Heavenly Father, and my classmates, the students
of my Heavenly Father.''
Susan Frances Strom
Strom, 44, was the daughter of retired U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom of Omaha,
Neb. She loved plants, animals and the Earth, and she had planned a career in
Strom graduated from Omaha's all-girl Marian High School in in 1971. She was
remembered in school as athletic and intelligent.
Strom attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. But in 1975, one year
before graduation, she turned her attention to the cult.
Lyle Strom last saw his daughter in 1987. He said he hadn't spoken with her
recently and didn't know how long she had lived in California. He thought her
cult membership was just a phase.
``I thought, sure it would be short-lived and she would be back home. I have no
answers. It did not seem consistent with her character and personality.''
Strom, the second-oldest in a family of seven, was the only one of her father's
children not in attendance when he was sworn in as a U.S. District judge in
Denise June Thurman
Thurman, 44, gave Austin, Texas, as the address on her license.
David Cabot Van Sinderen
Van Sinderen, 48, was the son of the former chairman and CEO of South New
England Telephone Co., the oldest local telephone company in the nation.
His father, Alfred White Van Sinderen, 72, of Woodbridge, Conn., is an alumnus
of Yale University and of Harvard University's business school.
Van Sinderen is the second-oldest of six children. His parents divorced when he
was a teen-ager.
He was the third generation of his family to attend the Gunnery, a Connecticut
boarding school. He graduated in 1966 and attended college at Oregon State in
Corvalis. He later worked in park and forest conservation jobs.
In 1976, he saw a flier for the cult, attended a meeting and joined the group that
has come to be known as Heaven's Gate.
He traveled with fellow members in Arizona, Colorado and Texas.
Van Sinderen also was an officer of two Dallas-based companies tied to the cult
during the mid-1980s.
In June 1995 he purchased property on a 40-acre former youth camp near
Mountaineer, N.M., according to an official of the insurance company that sold
Members of the cult lived at the former camp until about eight months ago.
He was found with a California driver's license.
Family members said they had seen Van Sinderen only about four times since he
joined the cult, including a family reunion he arranged in 1985. The family is
planning a memorial service.
``While we did not completely understand or agree with David's beliefs, it was
apparent to us that he was happy, healthy and acting under his own volition. It
seemed to us that the group members were a supportive family unit and David
was spiritually fulfilled in his life with them.'' a family statement said.
``He always tried to reassure us not to worry about him -- that the lifestyle he
had chosen was the right one for him. He dealt with us honestly and we
respected his wishes.''
Medical examiners have not confirmed identities of four Heaven's Gate members
who committed suicide last Wednesday. What is known about them:
A man, 50, was born in New York and died with an Arizona driver's license and
a passport issued in Los Angeles.
A woman, 63, had a driver's license with an Albuquerque address.
A man, 44, was born in Michigan and died with a Minnesota driver's license and
a passport issued in Los Angeles.
A woman, 41, born in Texas, died with a passport issued in Seattle.
Contributing: Carol Castaneda, Tom Curley, Gale Holland, Linda Kanamine,
Jonathan Lovitt , Patrick O'Driscoll, Richard Price, Dawyna Pring, Tom
Squitieri, The Associated Press and Reuters.
PHOTOS, B/W,AP(13); PHOTOS, B/W, Denver Post (3); PHOTO,
B/W,King-TV; PHOTO, B/W,The Modesto Bee; PHOTO, B/W,WTOL and